March 2015

Thoughts from a Member – The Meaning of Brotherhood

Hi, my name is Jack Deakins, member #1449530. Let me tell you a little of my story.

I’m a 36-year-old father of four. I also have a very beautiful supporting wife Pam. I have been a hard worker my entire life. I built huge tents for 10 years and ran my own crews making very little money and even less appreciation. I was tired of working my butt off for a company that didn’t value me or care about my family. I was tired of struggling, of living paycheck to paycheck and barely getting by. Something had to give. There had to be something better. 

There was!

I decided to apply to be a union ironworker apprentice! Best decision I’ve ever made. I passed all my interviews and tests and before I knew it I was in school. Loved it! I was learning so much and my kids thought it was neat that Dad was in school, too.

I was working and making some real money. Things were changing fast and for the better. Word got around to one of the teachers, who also was a foreman that I was a hard worker. Jake Williams asked me if I wanted to come work with him. I went to work and did everything asked of me — climbing, crawling in holes, always staying busy and throwing all I had into my work. I was asked to do 18-hour emergency shutdowns with short notice. I did everything asked of me and was happy to do it. I was making good money, learning so much and was appreciated. 

Now Jake isn’t an easy man to impress. He’s a big tough guy who served our country in the military. I’ve seen him go off on a guy for slacking up — not taking school or the union seriously. Jake took me under his wing because I worked hard and he knew I wanted this just as bad as anyone wanting to take care of his or her family. I never had to wait for a job. I was wanted. My life was so great now. I let my wife quit her job. She always wanted to be a stay at home mom. At the time our baby Ruby was one. I was working lots of hours and making good money so I was able to do that for her. Everything was perfect. Every time I came home from work I was greeted by my family, who was so proud of me. I was a hero.

In March 2013, I started getting really bad stomach pains. I tried to do what I’ve always done and man up, work through it. After three days of that, the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t take it! So I went to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. They ran a whole bunch of tests and had me attached and into all the machines. Something was definitely wrong. On March 17, 2013, at the age of 33, I was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma and hepatocellular cancer. The first being very rare, incurable, inoperable, and terminal. The hospital gave me six months to live. Basically gave me a tissue and said go home and enjoy the rest of your life! My wife and me were destroyed! That’s a hurt I just can’t explain. I was at the top of my world, a great career, everything going so wonderful, then, bam! It felt like a door was slammed in our face.

Not wanting to give up or accept this, I went to Kettering Hospital for another opinion. They immediately put me on chemo and radiation. They put a port in my chest that connects to my main artery in my neck. Scary stuff. First I carried around a bag of chemo for 28 days and went to radiation daily. I’ve had as much radiation as one man is allowed to have. I was also given two to five years now, which was better but still crushing. I went from making a good paycheck to the government wanting my entire family to survive on $700 a month. I fell into a deep depression and I had no idea what we were going to do. I thought for sure I was going to lose the car I had been paying on for the last three years. I thought I would no longer be able to afford where I live. I didn’t know how I was going to afford to feed my kids or anything for that matter.

Then one morning I heard what sounded like the world coming to an end, but in fact it was about 30 motorcycles. My brothers had come to rescue us! It was the Journeyman Ironworkers Motorcycle Club Dayton 290 chapter. Those guys picked me up, let me know they were my brothers and that wasn’t going to change. They let me know they were going to throw a poker run in October to raise money to help our family. Then they gave me an envelope with money to get by until then. I was shocked and knew I was part of something bigger than life.

Jeff Bush, Jake Williams and all those guys threw me the coolest ride. I didn’t have my own bike but Jeff rode me around. There was games and prizes and a band and at the end of the day a huge envelope full of money! Wow, and I was just a second year apprentice at the time I got sick. I felt so much love. We used the money wisely and paid off the car, got ahead of our bills and were finally able to breath for the first time since the cancer wrecked our lives.

That’s not it. We used the money to get ahead, but it didn’t last forever. Christmas was coming and at the beginning of December we had a hundred dollar bill. I was stressing wondering how I was going to buy my kids Christmas. They are great kids and have been through a lot. I felt so horrible not being able to give them a good Christmas like we’ve always had. The ironworkers from Local 290, all of them, from the motorcycle club to the guys and gals out of the hall, raised money and we had an amazing Christmas. God’s love was all around.

Not just that first Christmas but the following one too. Tammy Taulbee, the secretary at the Local 290 hall said God led her to my family. This woman is a very hard worker and is as tough as any one I know. She set it up to where she was getting presents for the kids through the brothers and sisters in our union hall. She even made friends with one of my daughters and made sure my kids got everything on their Christmas lists. Amazing!

I know none of these people want any sort of recognition. They did all this out of love not for anything in return. I feel like they deserve something. I would love for them to know how much they have affected my life. I would love for them to see this story in The Ironworker. Since I’ve been sick, I’ve had so many phone calls and emails from my brothers and sisters seeing how we’re doing or if we need anything. Sending my wife and me to a hotel for an evening so we could de-stress. Plane rides, hockey games, MMA fights. I’ve been handed fifties and hundred dollar bills from these men and women who work hard for their money. There have been guys that have won 50/50 drawings only to donate it back to my family.

After I got sick and was no longer able to work, I just felt like I didn’t belong anymore. Jeff Bush made calls to our union’s General Secretary Eric Dean telling him my family’s story and how much being an ironworker means to me. Now I’m an honorary member for life. So much love I can’t even begin to express how much the ironworkers at Local 290 in Dayton, Ohio mean to my family and me. I’ve always worked hard for everything I have and it has hurt my pride to rely on others, but they’ve never given me anything but love and respect.

Thanks everyone! Jeff Bush for the calls, the strength and dressing as Santa. Tammy Taulbee for taking us in. Jake Williams and Mike Yauger for teaching me so much, not just school but about friendship. All these men and women have taught me about brotherhood — Troy Wetzel and his family, Tom Cokely, Jeremy Poff, James Kinder, Will Retting, Kevin Day, Doug Kearns, Piqua Steel, T.L Harshburger, Kyle Cokely, Keith Joslin, Paul Combs, Tim Mays, Eli Brown, Shane Ratterman, Elvis Caudill, Ed Watson, Randy Carter, Steven Potter, George Holt, Mike Slagle, Faron Kelly, Justin Blessing, Bill Oneal, Brad Boy, Matt Applegate, Corey Taulbee, Shantelle Holten, Chuck Miller, James Kinder, James Proffitt and Dave Cox.

If I’ve forgotten anyone I apologize. There are so many of you. I can thank people enough to fill the magazine. I have brothers and sisters in all 50 states and Canada.

In closing, I just want to say being a union ironworker is the best thing I’ve ever belonged to. Here in Dayton, Ohio, we are brothers and sisters. Being faced with my own mortality, I’ve learned three things. God is real! All the superficial things we have and think we love will all be in the junkyard one day. And lastly, all we have for certain in this life is our souls and the impression we leave on the people in our lives. That’s how we’re remembered.

Thanks everyone for the love and calling me brother.

Your brother always,

Jack D. Deakins