Hundreds say goodbye to Lansing’s Owen Deckinga

Owen Deckinga's funeral procession was led by a Waste Solutions semi. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (February 9, 2020) – Saturday’s funeral procession for Owen Deckinga was led by a Waste Solutions semi pulling an Anchor garbage dumpster—it was the same semi Deckinga had driven just five days before. A garbage man for more than 60 years, “Big O” loved his work. As the first line of his obituary says, “Owen Deckinga, Big O, was destined in life to haul trash, and he was happiest on The Truck.”

Dealing with throat cancer and the resulting chemo, Deckinga had joked with his kids about his funeral plans, “No ham buns in the basement of the church!”—(classic Dutch funeral fare)—”I want a mariachi band and Aurelio’s pizza.” So his family made arrangements that would honor the spirit of his wishes while still maintaining enough tradition to provide them some comfort and closure after his sudden passing on February 2, 2020.

The funeral service was held at Bethel Church, where Deckinga served as an elder. The celebration of his life included Scriptural comfort, victorious hymns, and memories shared by Big O’s four remaining younger brothers. (One other brother had passed away in 2018.)

Bright lime safety stripes and denim mingled with sport coats and ties in the lobby afterward, and the procession to The View Restaurant in Centennial Park included pick-up trucks, sports cars, minivans, jeeps, and family sedans, all following the Anchor dumpster and a Chicago Disposal garbage truck. A garbage man serves all kinds of people, and Big O befriended them all.

Friends and family fellowship in the lobby of Bethel Church (3500 Glenwood-Lansing Road) before joining the procession to the reception. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Inside the restaurant, Deckinga’s son, Little O, had hired an actual eight-piece mariachi band. Trumpets and strings filled the large room with festive music while hundreds of mourners laughed over donuts, coffee, pizza, and meat and potatoes—the kind of food that fueled Deckinga and his blue-collar family and friends throughout their days of early mornings and manual labor. The crowd included teachers, veterans, pastors, business owners, construction workers, computer programmers, doctors, young families, retired seniors, musicians, and farmers. And as people took the microphone to share memories and stories, the reminiscences included some common themes—Big O loved to tell a story, he loved people, he loved Jesus, and he loved hauling trash.

At The View Restaurant (1005 S Centennial Drive, Munster, Indiana), Owen Jr (standing, in black) explained some of the reception decisions. The coffee and bags of donuts on the tables commemorated Deckinga’s traditional pre-dawn meal before heading out on his garbage route; the mariachi band was Deckinga’s own joking request to ensure that people would just have a good time at his funeral; the balloons represent the yellow of a safety vest, and the black and orange of Anchor Disposal Inc. Deckinga chose those colors when he took over the company because he always wanted a Harley Davidson but loved garbage trucks more. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

The seniors at St. Anthony of Lansing (3025 Spring Lake Drive) will miss the lay preaching and practical advice he offered. The consistory at Bethel Church will miss his straightforward presence at their monthly meetings. Fellow trash-haulers and their customers will miss his hard work and integrity. And his family will miss his loud laughter, big grin, and energetic hugs.

As Deckinga’s niece, Andrea Coston, wrote, “His legacy is more than hauling trash around Chicago, his knowledge of garbage trucks, or having an affinity for McDonald’s. …His legacy is in the interweaving of the relationships, the love he put into those relationships, and the faith that fueled the love.”

Model garbage trucks and family photos represent two of the things Owen Deckinga loved most in life. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Editor’s note: Owen Deckinga was my uncle, which is the reason I was at his funeral service and reception. But his influence reached throughout Lansing and beyond, which is the reason this story appears in The Lansing Journal.