Community Involvement Way of Life for Deal Family
By Susan Thompson
Bill Deal was born September 6, 1936 in Des Moines and raised on a farm near Bagley. He passed away at his home in Florida on November 24, 2016. During his 80 years of life, Deal had an impact on Guthrie County and beyond — an impact that continues even after his death.
Deal graduated from Bagley High School in 1954, before spending four years at Iowa State University. He taught ag education in Correctionville for one year before marrying Patricia Heiland. He then joined the Navy as an officer, and served for three years out of Norfolk, Virginia.
That’s where the couple’s first daughter, Tamara, was born. The next year, Deal’s father died suddenly, and Bill returned to Iowa to harvest the crops and take over the cattle operation. He was honorably discharged from the Navy and the family moved back to Bagley, where daughter Cyndi was born the next year.
Cyndi Atkins now lives in Pella with her two children, Benjamin and Megan. “My parents set an example of community involvement,” Atkins says. “From the time I was a little girl, I remember Dad's involvement in church activities, serving on the school board, and being part of service organizations. Mom was involved in local women's service organizations, and spent decades playing music for our church. An important part of their legacy is sharing their time, talents and gifts with others.”
Both girls attended Yale-Jamaica-Bagley schools, better known as YJB. Bill served on the school board for six years. Tammy and Cyndi were active in 4-H, and Bill spent hours teaching them how to lead the first calves they would show.
Bill often asked his girls to help out on the farm. Tammy, as the oldest child, says she usually got called first. “I was driving tractors before I was old enough to legally drive. I remember one time Dad had me help pull stumps with a small Ford Tractor,” she says. “It must have looked dangerous because when Mom saw what was happening, she put a stop to it.”
Tammy attended Iowa State University, and later worked for Procter & Gamble. “I was sitting with co-workers one day and everyone was talking about the worst jobs they ever had. When it was my turn, I said my least favorite job was castrating pigs,” she says. “No one else in the group had done that job.”
Bill was successful in farming with Pat as his partner and office manager. He won yield contests. He was named an Outstanding Conservation Farmer. The farm operation included a small hog operation and a small cowherd and feeder cattle operation as well as raising corn and soybeans. In 1974, pork production became the center of the family business, when Bill and Pat built Fair Deal Hog Farm with his mother and brother.
Located between Bayard and Bagley, the 500-sow operation was a state-of-the-art facility. It eventually expanded to 750 sows and included a grain mill and finishing facilities. At its height, the operation was producing almost 10,000 pigs annually. Bill confided some people thought he was crazy for trying to set up a hog confinement business. “Dad was an early adopter and this turned out to be a very good business decision,” Tammy says. “Ultimately it was what led to him being able to support so many charitable causes.”
Bill was named a Master Pork Producer in 1983. He was a member of the Guthrie County Pork Producers for more than 40 years, and served as a director and county president for several years.
In the late 1980s, Bill and Pat decided to build a new home at Lake Panorama. The house is located on the east side of the lake, near Lake Panorama National, and includes an indoor swimming pool and adjacent tennis court. “Dad and Mom had never played tennis before, but they enjoyed learning,” Tammy says.
Fair Deal Hog Farm was sold to neighbors. The farmstead also was sold, and the couple moved into their new home in January 1990. Bill was active in both Masons and Lions for more than 50 years. He helped start the Bagley Lions Club. When he and Pat moved to Lake Panorama, he joined the Panora Lions Club and Panora Masonic Lodge.
“Mom was the first person in her family to go to college,” Tammy says. “She majored in elementary education, and Dad in agricultural education. They both believed in the importance of education, so they supported educational opportunities and student scholarships.”
In 1998, Pat Deal died of pancreatic cancer. In her memory, Bill approached the Panora Library Board about donating funds for a new library. Daughter Cyndi Atkins wasn’t surprised.
“When I was in elementary school, it was a special summer treat for Mom to load us in the car and drive to a nearby town with a library. When Dad wanted to find a place to honor and remember Mom after her death, the Panora Public Library was the perfect place,” Atkins says. “Our entire family attended the opening of the library. It meant a great deal to us to know this facility would be around for so many people to enjoy.”
Judy Contner was president of the Panora library board when Deal offered to contribute $250,000 to a new library. “The estimate for the new library was more than $1 million. Bill’s gift helped us get commitments from others to make the new library possible,” Contner says. “For instance, we were able to get a $200,000 Vision Iowa grant, because we already had the matching money required.”
Contner says Deal was involved until the end. “He could have just given his money and walked away,” she says. “I always thought it was remarkable he continued to help us raise funds.”
Bill married Judy Blackburn of Des Moines on August 20, 2000. “I didn’t know Pat, because Bill and I met after she passed away,” says Judy. “But I was pleased to support the effort to build a new library in Panora, and we held two fundraisers in our home.”
Bill and Judy continued to live at Lake Panorama, spending winters in Arizona or Florida. Bill loved to travel, and the couple took several big trips. One highlight was a river cruise in 2010 from Budapest to Amsterdam, with side trips to Prague and Paris with Tammy, Cyndi, Benjamin and Megan. Other trips took Bill and Judy to Australia and New Zealand, the British Isles and Russia. “I never thought I would be in Russia,” Judy exclaims. “We had a wonderful time traveling.”
In 2013 Bill persuaded his daughters and grandkids to take another big trip he’d long dreamed of doing. A lifelong history buff, especially WWII history, he wanted to see the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, France.
Bill had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), and participated for 15 years in LBD research studies at Mayo Clinic. LBD is a progressive neurological illness affecting an estimated 1.4 million people in the United States. “It has been described as the most common disease no one has ever heard of,” Tammy says. “It is on the Parkinson’s spectrum of illnesses resulting from abnormalities in how the brain processes a particular protein.”
Tammy was living in Kansas, running an internet marketing company she owned, and had been helping her father from there but it became clear more was needed. Cyndi asked her to consider accepting a job managing the family’s farm business and other investments. Tammy agreed. Two days after she bought a lot at Lake Panorama, Bill had a serious one-car accident on Highway 4 near the Brethren Church in 2011. “He made what the doctors said was a miraculous recovery, but it took a long time,” Tammy says. “I was going back and forth between here and Kansas, getting myself moved and trying to help as much as I could.
In recent years, Tammy worked with Bill to do some additional estate planning, so his legacy of giving would continue after his death. Locally, two funds were established through the Guthrie County Community Foundation, which is affiliated with the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.
One is the Panora Public Library Foundation Endowment. While the Deals established this endowment and donated to it, others also can donate to this fund, which provides ongoing support for the library. The other fund is the W.K. Deal Endowment, with money distributed at the discretion of the family to the Panora Fire Department, the Panora Public Library, and the Salvation Army.
While he was living, Bill endowed funds at Mayo Clinic for research in both Lewy Body Dementia and pancreatic cancer. This spring, both the Jamaica and Panora Lions Clubs sponsored fundraising events in his memory.
In April, the Jamaica Lions’ annual breakfast fundraiser brought in $1,700. On June 3, a Let’s Beat Lewy bike ride and ice cream social held in conjunction with the Guthrie County Art Council’s “Art in the Village” event brought in about $450. The money raised at both events was directed to the W.K. Deal Fund for LBD Research at Mayo Clinic.
Turning to his alma mater, Deal credited his educational experience at Iowa State and the relationships he built there in playing a significant role in his career success. Ten years ago, he established an annual lecture series to help prepare future leaders and innovators in agriculture. The lecture is organized by the Department of Agricultural Education and Studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Bill also set up the William K. Deal Endowed Agricultural Innovation faculty fellowship, to support faculty in precision agriculture and the bioeconomy. This fellowship is currently held by Zhiyou Wen, an associate professor in the food science and human nutrition department. Additional donations have helped fund study abroad scholarships and water quality research.
Another donation is in the works. The Deal’s Lake Panorama home is being gifted to the ISU Foundation to benefit the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Bill’s will called for Judy Deal to be allowed to live in the home as long as she wanted. But after his death, she decided to move back to the Des Moines area, where she was living when she met Bill.
Judy summed up Bill Deal’s life this way. “He was a very hard worker, and he always wanted to help others. He would do anything for anyone,” she said.
Following Bill’s death, his doctors expressed amazement he survived as long as he did despite the burden of Lewy body disease. And how extremely impressed they were by Bill’s pleasant demeanor, sense of humor and devotion to family, as well as science, despite the disease.
It’s clear Bill Deal’s strong work ethic and perseverance led to a successful career in agriculture, which made it possible for him to continue to help others for generations to come.