Firefighters pay tribute to Clarendon fire chief at funeral
Jon DeYoung led fire company while getting chemo, radiation treatments
HOLLEY – Jon DeYoung’s friends and family, and many local firefighters said goodbye today to the long-time Clarendon volunteer firefighter, who served as fire chief and continued to answer numerous calls while undergoing chemo and radiation.
DeYoung, 55, died on March 10. He fought cancer for seven years.
He inspired many in the community with his dedication to the fire company, and also for his steadfast support of his three sons – Jeremy, Jon Jr. and Tyler – while they played sports at Holley and then when they followed his example in becoming volunteer firefighters in Clarendon.
“Everything in his life had to do with making a real connection to real people,” said the Rev. Aleka Schmidt, who led his service today at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Homes in Holley.
She praised DeYoung for living out four tenants – courage, honor, commitment and duty.
DeYoung was known by many in the community as a dedicated firefighter. He was also a devoted family man, who loved to hunt, go camping and spend time on the golf course. (He had more fun finding other peoples’ lost golf balls than actually playing the game.)
When his sons played baseball, DeYoung would take them to the field early and throw them batting practice. He was eager to help the coaches with the team, and offered lots of encouragement to all the players.
His sons also played soccer, basketball and ran cross country. DeYoung would bring a bike to games and meets, and ride along the 3.1 mile cross country course at different check points to cheer on the runners.
He made all the games, while working full-time in Rochester as a tool-and-die designer for Acro Industries, and responding to hundreds of fire and EMS calls.
“He was a superhero, a magician,” said his son Tyler, 25. “I don’t know how he did it.”
His brother Jon Jr., 28, is a captain in the fire company. He said his father had a drive to help other people.
Jeremy, 30, is a life member in the fire company. He said his father enjoyed being a mentor to the firefighters and Holley’s young athletes. He was patient in teaching skills and providing motivation.
DeYoung was well regarded among the fire departments in the county, especially in the eastern battalion – Holley, Clarendon, Fancher-Hulberton-Murray and Kendall. DeYoung didn’t see those departments as rivals. He saw them as one unit, said Bob Freida, a past Clarendon fire chief and one of DeYoung’s close friends.
Today at the funeral, firefighters from Holley and Clarendon served as pallbearers. Freida said DeYoung would have appreciated that, without any one department being singled out.
He supported a firefighter youth group for children, with the hope they would eventually join a fire company. That youth group mostly includes students in Clarendon, Holley and FHM fire districts.
Dan Campbell, past fire chief, and another close friend for DeYoung, shared the firefighter’s prayer at the funeral home. Campbell also said DeYoung had a great sense of humor and was a fun person to be with.
“No words can do justice to his sacrifice,” Campbell said during the service today. “We lost one of our bravest. Jon battled this disease the past seven years and never gave up.”
DeYoung was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in April 2013. In October 2014, he had surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to remove his colon, prostate, bladder and stomach. That kept the cancer away for more than three years. It was back in December 2017.
That meant more chemo and radiation. Through it all, DeYoung kept going to fire calls.
Last April 27, the Fire Company’s Board of Directors presented DeYoung with the Firefighter of the Year award.
At that time, DeYoung was fighting cancer for the fourth time, and continued to put on the turn-out gear and respond to many of the fire calls and accidents. He also attended committee meetings and training sessions.
“Regardless of everything going on he stays very active and is at the fire scenes, the trainings and all the committees,” Freida, president of the fire company, said then. “He is truly doing the job as fire chief. We wanted to recognize him for his determination and fight to continue to give back to his community.”
Despite having a rough day with his illness, DeYoung made sure to attend the banquet last April so he could present the Chief’s Award to his son, Jon DeYoung Jr., who worked three years to get new rescue tools for the fire company.
DeYoung also was able to recognize his other sons for milestone anniversaries of service to the fire company. Jeremy in 2019 reached the 15-year milestone as a volunteer firefighter while Tyler reached 10 years.
“As the Chief and father of these young men I couldn’t have been more proud,” DeYoung posted on his Facebook page after the banquet.
Freida was one of the pallbearers at the funeral today. He presented a folded American flag to DeYoung’s wife of 31 years, Brenda, a former EMT.
Freida and DeYoung both have about 35 years as volunteer firefighters. They are buddies and long-time leaders for the fire company. DeYoung was fire chief seven years, and was the deputy chief during Freida’s eight years as chief.
“He was just a good, wholehearted person,” Freida said. “No matter what you threw at Jon, he was always there.”
Freida said the two responded to many difficult calls together – serious car accidents and fires.
“I truly consider him a brother,” Freida said.
An Orleans County dispatcher gave the last call for DeYoung today at about 11:30. It was the final call for DeYoung and badge number 171.
“Thank you for 35 years of unwavering dedication to your family and community,” the dispatcher said in a message broadcast at the funeral home. “Your legacy will never be forgotten.”
DeYoung grew up in a firefighting family. His father, the late Richard DeYoung, was a firefighter in Rochester and then joined the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Company. His son Jon joined 35 years ago when he was 20.
Jon was the fire chief right up until Jan. 1. He was succeeded by his brother, Jim.
Jon was a long-time leader for the fire company. He could be counted on to do the training needed to respond in many emergency situations, from interior firefighting, motor vehicle accidents and extrications, to medical calls. He knew what to do and kept a calm head.
DeYoung lived on Brown Schoolhouse Road, 2.8 miles away from the fire hall. He was determined to get to as many calls as possible, even when he was camping with his wife Brenda in Byron at Southwoods RV Resort, where he made many friends.
If it was a major holiday, and the family was sitting down for dinner, DeYoung would still respond to the fire call. When his sons became teen-agers and young adults, they joined him on those calls.
He knew all families of firefighters sacrifice when there is training, committee meetings, parades and fire calls.
In one of his last public acts, DeYoung attended the most recent fire company banquet on Feb. 15. This time he was in a wheelchair. He insisted on being there so he could present the Fire Chief’s Award to his wife of 31 years. He wanted to acknowledge Brenda’s support behind the scenes for so many years and for her love and care in his cancer fight.