Kerry Deuel remembered for lifetime of humor, heart, service
MT. PLEASANT—April Fools’ Day in Sanpete will never ever be the same.
Its chief of fools is gone.
Some people might think that a disrespectful way to refer to a dearly departed. But Kerry Deuel, who died on Saturday, June 10 at 66, of a suspected heart attack, probably would have been the first to acknowledge the pseudo-title—and proudly.
“If we don’t laugh, we’ll never get through this life,” Deuel once said.
And no one in Sanpete was better at making people laugh than Kerry Deuel. The sentiment that he was tremendously, side-splittingly funny is so common as to nearly qualify as established fact, not simply opinion.
That’s why anyone who knew him would have nodded in agreement if they had read a Facebook comment from Mary Pipes of Manti, who, in response to his death, wrote, “I have no doubt there is quite a party in heaven tonight!”
Yet, if his humor is all people know about Deuel, they’re missing the point.
“Kerry had a heart of gold and a sense humor to match,” said longtime friend Casey Blackburn, who worked with Deuel for many years in Sanpete County Search and Rescue.
Bill Peterson, who founded “Palisade Pals,” a charitable organization that worked with children with disabilities, says Deuel was instrumental in the success of the Pals in its early days. Deuel was the liaison between the Pals and Search and Rescue, which took the Pals and its kids under their wing.
Deuel had a soft spot for children. In addition to the Pals, he spent some time every Christmas Eve at KMTI for an hour of live phone-in conversation between kids and “Santa” (played by Deuel). It was so popular, says station owner Doug Barton, that Manti Telephone Company’s switchboard would be overwhelmed and shut down.
Barton says Deuel had a way of making people feel comfortable, maybe because he personally felt comfortable around anyone, whether a pauper or the President of the United States. Deuel could just make people feel good, even while poking fun at them.
The radio is how Deuel is best known, especially because he was the voice of Jeep Posse Day every April 1 at KMTI. That day, Barton would turn his radio station over to Deuel and the Sanpete Search and Rescue for tomfoolery and fundraising. Routinely, $20,000 to $30,000 would be raised for the emergency-response organization.
If you never heard Deuel and his cohorts, there’s almost no way to explain what went on. It had to be experienced and, sorry to say, you missed out.
“People who would be traveling through would call me and say, ‘Are you listening to what just happened on your radio station?’” Barton recalls. Then they would end up staying within the KMTI broadcast area just so they could hear the program to its end. Barton jokes that he would tell them he was purposely not listening—and he prayed the FCC wasn’t listening either.
Deuel was a born funnyman. He studied theatre at Snow College where, remembered classmate Susan Bruschke (once of Ephraim, but now of St. George) on Facebook, Deuel was “always cracking jokes.”
Deuel worked as a standup comedian for a time, traveling to clubs throughout Utah and surrounding states. People say he was good.
So why didn’t he make a career out of it?
Brad Bown, who was associated with Deuel for years through the Search and Rescue and the Sanpete County Fair, said he suspects he simply loved home and family so much and didn’t want to be away from them.
Deuel had an overwhelming sense of service.
One of a myriad of examples was the fact he was the announcer for the Demolition Derby at the Sanpete County Fair from the year the derby started—about 1977—until Bown and wife, Lori, stepped down as fair board chairman and chairwoman about 30 years later.
“He said he’d stay on as long as we did, that he wouldn’t let us down. And he never did,” Bown said.
Deuel was “a man who not only would give you the shirt off his back but would break his back for someone in need,” said Ephraim resident Kerry Nielsen.
One year, Jeep Posse Days came around shortly after Deuel, in fact, had back surgery. Any other person would have used the surgery as a reason for backing out of the event. Not Deuel.
“We had a remote unit, and we sent it out, and Kerry did it from his house,” Barton said.
His service—regular, consistent and reliable—led to a Utah Volunteer Service Award.
His abiding sense of community and service most likely came from his parents. Father Verge was a founding member of the Sanpete County Search and Rescue, and even when he couldn’t go out with the crew, “would still make a pot of soup for us,” Casey Blackburn remembers.
Kerry Deuel was like his father in his determination to keep up with Jeep Posse Days long after he began having back, knee and hip problems; he announced the Demolition Derby even after those problems made it extremely difficult to climb into the announcer’s booth.
His mother was Amoir Deuel, whose love and service to Mt. Pleasant and its citizens, including as mayor for eight years, is legendary. She once said, “I love Sanpete County. It’s the best place in the world to live.”
Kerry Deuel, in action as well as word, clearly felt the same.
“God bless Sanpete,” he said on one occasion after a particularly successful Jeep Posse Days. And on his selection as Sanpete County Fair grand marshal in 2014, he said, “I’m humbled. I do love the people of Sanpete County.”
Yet his was not a life of all smiles. In his last decade, his son, Dustin Deuel, ended his own life on Thanksgiving Day. Four terrible anniversary Thanksgivings later, his daughter Megan Tanner also took her life.
One of those tragedies would be enough to stifle the life, love and laughter out of any normal man.
Kerry Deuel, was not normal, and somehow maintained his humor, his heart, his sense of home and service until his own end.
“He was an icon,” former Fairview resident Arlene Litteral wrote on Facebook.
Indeed, he was.