TALLMADGE — Edie Deyarmin said she keeps a certain saying in mind as she lives each day of her life.
"You don’t heal from the loss of a loved one because time passes," she shared. "You heal because of what you do with the time."
Edie’s son, Lance Cpl. Daniel Nathan Deyarmin Jr., died at the age of 22 on Aug. 1, 2005, while serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq. Since then, Edie has worked to honor her son’s sacrifice and help veterans through an annual 100-mile motorcycle poker run. She said the event has helped her deal with the grief she experienced following the loss of her son.
"I can sit and wallow in it or I can do something proactive, because whenever I see my son again, I want him to be as proud of me as I am of him for what he’s done," said Edie.
The Deyarmin Foundation will host its 15th and Farewell Memorial Benefit in honor of Lance Cpl. Deyarmin on June 9 at the new Tallmadge High School, 140 N. Munroe Road. The event is a motorcycle poker run, which starts at the high school at 10:30 a.m., followed by a car and truck show at 2 p.m. Money raised at the event goes to the Deyarmin Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that donates money to veterans and veterans groups. The foundation has raised more than $500,000 since its inception.
One word has been added to the title of this year’s event — "Farewell." Edie said she and her husband have decided that this will be the last poker run. While noting the couple still wants "our son remembered" and "honored," Edie said planning, organizing and running the event is a large undertaking.
"We’ve done our job of honoring Nathan," said Edie. "He’s always going to be in our hearts and he would be proud of what we’ve accomplished so far."
Noting that "[Nate was] always about family and friends," Edie said she felt she needed to enjoy more time with her daughter, two grandchildren and friends as she reaches her golden years.
How it began
Edie remembered experiencing a wide array of emotions when Nathan was killed in the Middle East nearly 14 years ago.
"When it does happen to you, it’s just overwhelming," said Edie. "You’re full of pride, you’re full of patriotism, but there’s so many different levels of different things of anger, and [asking] why."
Edie lauded the network of people who have supported her since Nathan’s death.
"Without the support that I got from my community, friends and loved ones, [Nathan’s death] was so devastating, that I don’t know if I would’ve made it through," she said.
Edie said a family friend named Ray Kozlowski approached her and proposed staging a poker run in Nathan’s honor.
"He knew that Nathan loved horsepower," said Edie, recalling that Nathan spent a lot of time with his father in the garage working on vehicles. "He loved anything with an engine."
In a six-week period, she said Kozlowski hosted meetings at his home and community members united to prepare for the first event in October 2005.
"It was awesome," said Deyarmin, remembering the first poker run at Summit Racing that featured more than 1,000 motorcyclists and 200-plus cars and trucks.
Following the event, Edie said she felt the funds "should go to veterans." She wanted to do this so she could meet veterans and thank them for their service. Planning the event, along with disbursing funds to veterans, has been beneficial.
"This helped me because I stayed busy doing stuff in honor of my son," said Edie.
About the event
Motorcycle riders from throughout the region journey to the event. Edie said people come from places such as Elyria, Toledo and Pennsylvania. While the event begins and ends at Tallmadge High School, the other stops are not publicized in advance, said Edie.
Depending on the weather, the number of participants can range from 200 to 1,000, said Edie.
There are 225 volunteers who work during the event. Ten to 15 of them are involved with planning the poker run throughout the year.
Edie said planning, organizing and carrying out the event is nearly a yearlong process and that the foundation in 2018 gave out "more than $80,000 in assistance."
Edie emphasized that no one in the Deyarmin Foundation accepts a paycheck. She said her bookkeeper told her she should collect a paycheck due to the amount of time and work she puts into the event and the foundation. Edie noted that she refuses, saying that accepting compensation "takes away from the veterans."
Another feature of the poker run is the Honor Wall. The 300-foot long wall includes photos and stories of military service members, both ones who were killed in action and ones who served in peace time. The wall is made of paper, with the photos laminated on it, and plastic PVC pipe framing is used to put it up.
One year, after hearing from Edie about the purpose of the Honor Wall, a Vietnam veteran opened his wallet and took out a small photo of himself and three friends serving in Southeast Asia; all three friends were killed in action.
Edie noted she does not normally return photos donated for the wall, but she knew this picture carried added significance for the veteran. She had 8-by-10 prints made of the photo, returned the original to the man and asked him to share information about his friends that would be displayed with the photo. Edie said the veteran attended the poker run that same year.
Edie said she was standing nearby while the man looked for his photo and when he spotted it, "[he] just broke down and started crying."
Edie credits Vietnam veterans — many of whom she noted were not treated well when they returned home from serving — with making sure that today’s returning service members are honored and respected.
"I feel that [the Vietnam veterans] do the most good by helping [today’s returning veterans]," said Edie.
She hears difficult stories from people whose loved ones have returned from fighting in a war.
A relative of a returning service member once told Edie she felt bad talking to her "because your son didn’t make it home."
Edie said she told the relative that no one is the same person when they return home from serving in combat.
"All of us lost somebody," she said. "War has an effect on everybody differently, but it affects those in the heart of it so much more."
Edie said her son — who was born in Akron and grew up in Tallmadge — "had a heart of gold."
When he was in kindergarten or first grade, Nathan was outside playing with kids at recess. When a storm approached, the teachers ordered the students to hurry back inside. A girl with cerebral palsy was not able to move as quickly as her classmates, and Edie said her son told her that no one — not even the adults — helped the girl.
Edie recalled Nathan telling her "I walked her up to the building," and then asking his mom, "Why would they just leave her out there?"
Edie said she has continued to hear stories about her son’s generous and compassionate deeds. Several years ago, a woman approached her and said Nathan had saved her daughter’s life. The woman said her daughter was at a party and then tried walking home while under the influence of drugs. As the young woman was "stumbling" along the side of a road in the dark, Edie said Nathan saw her as he was driving home from work. He picked her up, drove her home, and then walked her to the door to ensure someone was awake and could care for her throughout the night.
"He always made everybody feel as important as they should," said Deyarmin.
Meaning of the event
Edie said the poker run has been both beneficial and healing. Hosting the event, helping veterans and meeting so many supporters has shown Edie the power of the human spirit.
"It’s very humbling for me because I know there’s so many people out there that care and it’s not only just for me and my son," said Edie. "It’s for all the military."
Through the outpouring of support, Edie noted she knows her son’s name and his spirit will endure.
"It will never take away my grief," she said. "But it’s been very humbling to have the support and Nathan’s service honored, and his death honored."
Edie said that with Nathan having so many friends, "I knew he would never be forgotten, but to see as many people know about Nathan that didn’t know him before, it’s heart touching."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.