Music 18

John O'Meara

September 19, 1929 ~ November 21, 2020 (age 91)


John O’Meara, 91, of Moline passed away on November 21, 2020, at Genesis Illini Hospital, Silvis, IL. Due to restrictions on gatherings, a Jazz Funeral will be held on a date to be determined. DeRoo Funeral Home, Moline, is assisting the family.

Memorials may be mailed to the Catfish Jazz Society at P.O. Box 526, East Moline, IL 61244.

John was born September 9, 1929, in Delmar, IA, the son of Patrick Austin O’Meara and Elizabeth Agnes Costello.

John grew up on a farm in Delmar. As a young boy, he worked at the local gas station and as a house painter. He ran track in high school earning him a letter and played basketball. He graduated from Delmar High School in 1947.

John was sworn into the United States Army on Tuesday, September 7, 1948 and served in the Korean War. Captain O’Meara studied tactics and staff procedures, ordnance service management, and material familiarization. He entered St. Ambrose University on the GI Bill in 1952 earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1958.

While in college John married Donna P. Figle Sunday, August 6, 1955, at St. Mary’s Church Rock Island, IL. They had three children, John Thomas Jr, Paul Patrick, and Elizabeth (Betsy) Marie.

After graduation, he worked at the Clinton Herald and Times-Democrat as a staff photographer. This led him to a 25-year career as a commercial photographer at Deere & Co. He traveled the world with Deere and several of his photographs won national acclaim. The photograph “Fluorescent Pastoral” was accepted for the 76th annual exhibition of Professional Photography. The photograph was captured on a snowy night of the Deere Administrative Center deigned by the late Eero Saarinen. His passion for his craft inspired him to spend hours taking 1000s of shots to capture the perfect light and Rembrandt-esque composition.

Music was always part of John’s life. His father was a master violinist and mother a pianist. His family would gather in the parlor singing and dancing. John was a skilled jazz musician. He sang the standards as any crooner could. He worked a crowd with his charm and pale blue eyes. He also played drums but stopped lugging them around in his early 70s. John was a long-time member of the Catfish Jazz and the Bix Memorial Societies.

John was a prolific writer of poetry with a deep understanding of how “the institution” embodied everything. With his deep love of nature, he gravitated to poems about the natural world. His favorite was Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and quoted “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” often.

He loved to travel. In retirement, he was the captain of 3 ships. The first, a 33ft Nauticat Motor Sailor which he sailed through the intercostal waterways from Long Island to Rock Island, IL in 1986. The trip traversed through Lakes Erie and Michigan and the Hudson, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. And included a stop during the centenary celebration of the Statue of Liberty. After arriving in Rock Island, some repairs were made before he and his daughter Betsy set sail down the mighty Mississippi to Lake Pontchartrain. They landed at Marina del Ray in Madisonville, LA where they stayed for several years. During his time in New Orleans, he was a member of the Northshore Big Band studying under jazz historian Dr. Carl Koenig. Playing many gigs on the Northshore and in New Orleans at Preservation Hall, for jazz funerals, and parades.

The second of three ships, a 1990 40ft Morgan “Our Way” he bought with his then third wife to sail to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. A divorce and his sons brain tumor diagnosis shifted those plans to help take care of his son and infant grandchild. John sold “Our Way” and in 1993 purchased a smaller vessel, a 1991 28ft Catalina aptly named “My Way”.

John spent his golden years back in the Quad City area playing music with many talented musicians and enjoying time with his family. He will be remembered for his smile and kind nature. As he leaves this earth, he would want us to be kind and express love to each other.

John is survived by his children, Paul O’Meara, Elizabeth McNeil (Dan), and grandchildren Levi, Gabe, and Leo. Along with many nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews who all knew him as “Uncle Jack”. He was preceded in death by his parents, wife Donna (7/19/77), son John Jr. (04/22/15), brother Patrick James (Jim) O’Meara (12/17/05), and sisters Mary Jean (MJ) Thiede (05/10/04), Rita O’Meara (08/04/03) and Anne Catherine Wampfler (04/06/20). 

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