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Jeffrey L. Deardorff

Deardorff, Reverend Dr. Jeffrey L

On April 24, 2022, Rev. Dr. Jeffrey L Deardorff of Arlington Heights passed away at age 72. He is lovingly remembered by his wife of 47 years, Rose; his children Heather (Jesse) Cherney and Sarah (Sean) Miller; grandchildren Hannah, Andrew, and David; his sister Cherie Wright of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; and his mother, Lois Deardorff, of Media, Pennsylvania. He was predeceased by his father, Leonard Deardorff, of Media, Pennsylvania.

Pastor Jeff had a wide and varied ministry as a music teacher and Presbyterian pastor in Iran, Indonesia, Fincastle, Virginia, Arlington Heights, Illinois and Hebron, Indiana. As a champion of social justice, he launched long-term ministries in Central America, the Dominican Republic, the Lakota Indian Reservation, Ghana, and the Chicago area.

Born in Philadelphia, Jeff attended suburban schools where he studied choral and instrumental music, and became proficient as a classical and jazz piano player. He worked summers gardening at the University of Pennsylvania and spent as much time as possible at the Jersey Shore, teaching himself to surf. A chipped lower front tooth and scarred lip are testimony to his skills on the waves.

Jeff received a Bachelor’s in Music from West Chester University in 1971, studying during his junior year at the Vienna Conservatory of Music and proudly performing with the Vienna Boys Choir and the Vienna orchestra. He fell in love with international travel and was drawn to Iran in 1971, where he served
several years as a Volunteer in Mission with the Presbyterian Church, teaching band, choir, and elementary music classes in the Community School of Tehran. Later, he shared his love for music with his daughters, frequently playing the piano for their little dances. He even had special music for marching up the stairs to bed during their toddler years.

Throughout his life, Jeff embraced international travel and culture, sharing with his daughters the desire to see the world as big and open to them. A love for other cultures could even be seen in small gestures. For example, his family teased him for always trying to speak the language of whatever server or busboy was tending their table. While he may not have gotten the pronunciation right, he always got a smile and often made a connection. He related to people with ease, and loved it, never holding back or being afraid to try.

In August 1972, while teaching in Iran, Jeff met Rose (Rosella Mast) who taught there as well. He was persistent in pursuing her, even interrupting a date she was on with someone else to pull up a chair and join the conversation! During that year, they bonded with travel and the exploration of other cultures throughout the Middle East. Upon their return to the U.S. in 1974, they were married. Jeff, feeling the call to pastoral ministry, went on to attend Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He received his Doctorate of Ministry in 1977.

In 1977, Jeff and Rose headed to Indonesia where they taught music and theology among Chinese Indonesians in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. They worked with Indonesians to build small rural churches and created outreach projects for ex-political prisoners, especially those who had been societal outcasts
after the purge of the communist party.

In 1980, Jeff was called to Fincastle Presbyterian Church in Fincastle, Virginia. While serving this historic church in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jeff and Rose had two little girls, Heather and Sarah. Jeff was a natural father, gentle and nurturing, and excited about every milestone his daughters reached. While in Fincastle, Jeff tapped his passion for launching programs that heal society, spearheading the Presbytery’s work among impoverished churches in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

In 1986, the Deardorffs moved to Arlington Heights, Illinois, where Jeff, as Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church, worked for 25 years in pastoral care, social justice, and mission. Jeff led work groups to the Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Ghana, Katrina hurricane relief, the US/Mexico border, and the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic trips in particular were a special project for the Deardorffs, often including Rose and, when they were older, daughters Heather and Sarah. To this day, the Deardorffs carry on close friendships with partners in the Dominican Republic – a wonderful part of Jeff’s legacy.

Jeff was a deep thinker, but had little use for frills and pomp. Certainly he enjoyed a good sermon and rousing hymns, but he was most in his element sitting bedside with the sick or elderly. Among his most notable accomplishments was his work with the homeless population. For years, he was dedicated to building programs and services that would improve their lives. It was personal for him. He knew their names, and they knew his. He left a permanent mark in the northwest suburbs, including his work to
help establish and extend the PADS program, Journeys from PADS to HOPE, and Faith Community Homes. He also championed outreach to low-income individuals living on the backstretch of the Arlington Heights Racetrack, and with prisoners in Cook County Jail.

Jeff’s commitment to ecumenism was evident in the relationships he had with leaders of all faiths and the joint services he frequently organized with them, which were dedicated to peace and unity. Particularly after 9/11, Jeff worked with other faith leaders to build relationships and dedicate their communities to building a world of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. He was also open to different ways of experiencing God, including learning about the Taize tradition in France. 

In his last five years before retirement in 2016, Jeff treasured small church ministry at Range Line Presbyterian Church in the cornfields of Hebron, Indiana. He bonded with congregation members at church dinners, joked with children and youth during Christmas Eve pageants, and cherished deep friendships with new colleagues in the community.

Jeff’s family teased him for never mastering a polished look, but it just spoke to what mattered to him. His goal wasn’t to appear flawless. He was authentic. He proudly drove his rusty Geo Prism for years and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch almost every day. He opted for his Rockports over
tuxedo shoes for weddings, and was not concerned if his shirt was not squarely tucked. And he loved to be silly: rolling oranges down the aisles of the airplane to fellow mission team members, or inviting church youth over for wild “stair sledding.” Jeff would cover the flight of stairs with two twin mattresses,
and then have everyone put on their snow pants and slide down - fast! - into a pile of pillows and blankets.

Jeff loved the ocean. He was happy and excited – almost childlike – when at the ocean. On the rare occasion when he saw dolphins, he ran down the beach, waving his hat overhead, keeping pace with the dolphins as long as he could. He taught the girls to snorkel and ride waves, holding their hands when
they were nervous with a strong current, and making up silly songs when they shrieked at seaweed wrapping around their legs.

Rose was the center of Jeff’s world, and he was loyal and steadfast in his devotion. As a father with sweet and intense dedication to his daughters, he never stopped cheering on Heather and Sarah. He was overflowing with love for his grandkids, and even as his health declined, he loved nothing more than
being silly “Grampy” with them, playing “walrus” while swimming in the pool and taking a break for popsicles, Paw Patrol and a storybook.

Jeff’s faith was genuine and steady, even as his world changed around him. It never occurred to him to question the simple truth he knew to be true: that God loved him and had put him here on earth to love others. His Master was Jesus Christ, and he served Him. We miss him terribly, but we know he is in heaven, celebrating and at peace until we see him again. We give thanks for his incredible life and all that he was.

A “Celebration of Life and Ministry” will be held on May 22, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, 302 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights, Illinois, with visitation at 2:00 P.M. until the time of the service at 3:00 P.M.

Memorial gifts may be made to Pathways to Global Literacy (Dominican Republic partnership) and sent to Nancy Kilby, 922 N. Crestview Drive, Palatine, IL 60067, or to Sarah Miller, 5235 Hilltop Rd, Long
Grove, IL 60047.


Arrangements entrusted to Chicagoland Cremation Options of Schiller Park, IL

Make a donation to PATHWAYS TO GLOBAL LITERACY in honor of Jeffrey L. Deardorff


I grew up with Jeff in Lansdown, PA - he was my best friend in my pre-teen years. We used to spend hours & hours catching crayfish & sucker fish in the creek behind his house on Albamarle Ave. We also played many hours of "box ball" at the Ardmore Avenue Elementary school. Jeff & I shared our Christian values via our strong friendship and views on the importance of a relationship with God, Country and Family. I am truly sorry to hear of Jeff's passing, but glad that he is now face to face with his Savior.

Alfred Morrow Sep 21 2022 2:04 PM

We appreciated the ministry of Jeff Deardorff while living in Illinois. Jeff was a tremendous community-oriented pastor who loved Jesus Christ and showed Christian Love in a number of activities. He was always strong in showing the presence of Jesus in daily living. Dave appreciated the opportunity to be a partner in several Dominican Republic Mission trips as well as the opportunity to share local community concerns with Jeff on occasion. Jeff Deardorff's influence and impact will be in the community and among a number of people for years to come.

David Miller/Georgianna Miller Apr 29 2022 2:24 PM