Winter 2007 > Features


willie deegan portrait
Pursuing a life of peace and harmony: Willie Deegan
By Dustin Combs ’08

Born in the aftermath of World War II in Dublin, Ireland, with its recovering economy and shattered infrastructure, life looked bleak for Willie Deegan.

Deegan’s father, a self-employed sheet metal worker, always provided for his family, but life was anything but luxurious. The home had few comforts, with just two bedrooms – one for his parents, and one for him and his five siblings.

School was a struggle and frustration for him. “A lot of how they taught was beatings and humiliations; at times I could not take it,” Deegan said somberly while pausing between sips of coffee.

He would skip school for weeks at a time, always ending up at his grandmother’s house. “My grandmother was very good to me,” Deegan said. Sometimes she would try to convince him to go back to school. “Liam” she would call Deegan, “are you going to school today?” Knowing his parents disapproved of him skipping school, Deegan would reply, “Just give me one more day grandma.”

This harsh environment instilled a sense of gratitude in Deegan. It was the pursuit of a peaceful life that drove Deegan. After getting married, starting a family and beginning his own delivery service, life was going well; it was everything he had ever wanted.

His wife, Aileac Deegan, had other ambitions: wanting to travel and to live in another culture. At the same time, the U.S. Embassy was offering a drawing for six green cards – the ticket for her, Deegan and their four children to go to America.

Though “No” was Deegan’s initial response, over time he began to think applying couldn’t hurt. After all, who wins a lottery? A few months later Deegan’s wife came home with “great” news: they were going to America. “I nearly got sick, but what could I do? So my world went topsy [turvy].” Deegan said.

Three months later, Deegan and his family found themselves on their way to Goshen for a fresh start. After several jobs, Deegan landed at Goshen College in the physical plant to work on the grounds. It was here that Deegan and his family finally found the loving Mennonite community that they had experienced through friends in Dublin.

Deegan is still in pursuit of a peaceful life, especially a life in harmony with his environment. This love of earth and life carry over into his work; from the way that he spreads leaves in the fields to the care that he has for moles; he is known for catching them by hand before releasing them in the wild. Deegan is a constant example of how to interact with one’s environment in a gentle, compassionate way.

“It comes out in his work that he cares very much about the environment. He always wants to be outside working and is a very self-motivated person,” said Clay Shetler, director of facilities. “We are lucky to have him.”

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