Minister who was tireless advocate for the homeless dies at 72

The Rev. Jeffrey Deardorff, one of the early champions of the homeless and marginalized in the Northwest suburbs, has died.

Deardorff, former associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, worked tirelessly to provide not only shelter, but also the tools and resources at-risk families needed to move forward. He served behind the scenes with such organizations as the Hope Center - now Journeys: The Road Home in Palatine - as well as FamilyForward, formerly known as Faith Community Homes in Arlington Heights.

Deardorff died April 24. He was 72.

Beth Nabors, executive director of Journeys, worked closely with Deardorff, especially in the early years of the resource center. She called his passion and commitment to the homeless community "unmeasured."

"He was fearless in his pursuit of equity," Nabors said. "He fought for the underdog with all the strength and knowledge that he was on the side of what was right and just."

Deardorff served as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights from 1988 to 2011. He brought his background as a music teacher and pastor in Iran and Indonesia to his suburban community.

One of his first initiatives was to lead his congregation in offering emergency shelter to the homeless, as one of the first PADS sites, or Public Action to Deliver Shelter. The network of churches came together in 1989 to provide food and shelter on different nights of the week.

"He started the PADS program here and it's still going," said the Rev. Judy Hockenberry, associate pastor at First Presbyterian in Arlington Heights. "He also galvanized missions into the Dominican Republic, which we continued until 2018, and with the Native American population in Sisseton, South Dakota, which we continued until 2016."

But empowering homeless families and those at risk of becoming homeless continued to drive Deardorff. By 1992, he joined a board of directors to start the Hope Center, which was a resource center for the homeless.

He remained on the board until 2000, when the Hope Center merged with the PADS program. He remained the PADS site director at his church and regularly volunteered.

At the same time, he was one of the presidents of the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association. Among its ecumenical works was to organize a prayer service in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which drew more than 3,000 people to North School Park in Arlington Heights.

Locally, Deardorff also led his congregation members to serve at Arlington Park's backstretch. They organized a Bible school to entertain the children while their parents worked.

He and Nabors and members of the ministerial association also collaborated to start Faith Community Homes in Arlington Heights. The nonprofit organization formed in 2003 to offer rental assistance and mentoring for low-income working families through a tailored, two-year program. Now called FamilyForward, the agency has served hundreds of families who live and work in the Northwest suburbs.

"As a member of the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association, Rev. Deardorff helped lead the charge to assist low-income families in the area," said Tim Wayman, board president. "FamilyForward has been nurturing and building on the seeds planted by those churches and their faith communities ever since."

When Deardorff left the Arlington Heights congregation, he became a solo pastor at a church near Wabash, Indiana.

He is survived by his wife, Rose, and daughters Heather (Jesse) Cherney and Sarah (Sean) Miller, as well as three grandchildren.

A celebration of life will take place at 2 p.m. May 22 at First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, 302 N. Dunton Ave.

  The Rev. Jeffrey Deardorff, right, joined fellow pastors Lynn Mikels and John McFayden of the First Presbyterian Church to lead prayers during a 2002 National Day of Prayer service at North School Park in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/, 2002
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