John “Jack” Longden of Tremont, Illinois passed away suddenly on Friday, July 10, 2020 at the age of 86. He died peacefully with his beloved wife, Mary, and son Daniel by his side.
Jack was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on October 14, 1933 and was the first child of John and Arline Longden. His sister, Carolyn, was born 4 years later. The family moved to Central Illinois when he was 5 years old. The family visited Wilkes-Barre every Summer, where he attended Boy Scout Camp and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He played the trumpet in his school bands and graduated from Pekin Community High School in 1952. He attended University of Illinois in Champaign, IL and then transferred to Bradley University in Peoria where he earned a BS degree in Business. Jack attended Bradley on a Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) scholarship and upon his graduation in 1956, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force. He served in various duty stations but told the most stories about his tour at Cape Romanzof, a long-range RADAR site on the coast of Alaska, that is still in operation. He spent this tour supervising a crew of other “Cold Warriors” who kept a watchful eye out for Russian aircraft coming over the horizon.
After an honorable discharge from the Air Force, Jack returned to his hometown and went to work at Caterpillar Tractor Company where he had a long and successful career. After retirement, he and Mary enjoyed spending Winters in Davenport, Florida. He fulfilled his life’s dreams through hard work but had a lot of fun along the way.
Jack had a great sense of humor and was a natural with children and animals. He enjoyed travel and took the family on local excursions to places like New Salem and the St Louis Zoo and longer trips for during Caterpillar Vacations every August. He loved the comedians of the “Golden Age of Comedy” and never laughed harder than when the joke was on him. He was a true Renaissance Man who had numerous hobbies, side jobs, and avocations. He was a lifelong learner and avid reader, and became an expert in Native American Indian tribes, Civil War history, and wildlife . He taught himself how to play the guitar and banjo. He sang in his church choir. He performed his own routine maintenance on his cars, and even built a house for his family in the Whispering Oaks subdivision in Groveland, by consulting his Time/Life series of books on how to build a house. As a teenager, he raised mink and sold them to furriers. He cast custom lead ammunition and made lures for fisherman. He raised Miniature Schnauzers. He trained his own hunting dogs. And he did all of this while building his professional career and raising a large family.
As an adult, he developed his talents for clay sculpture, and had a successful business creating and selling porcelain figurines of wildlife. After retirement, he took this craft a step further, carving clay molds of various animals and casting them in bronze. He and his wife, Mary, had a shared enthusiasm for golf, and played in several golf leagues in Illinois and Florida. Jack recently took up genealogy and did a lot of research tracing his family lineage back to Wales and Germany.
But Jack’s true passion was fishing and hunting. His father taught him how to hunt and fish when he was a boy, and every Fall, he spent countless predawn hours silently waiting in deer stands and tramping through muddy fields in search of pheasants. He loved the sport of fly fishing and perfected his technique on the lakes behind their home in Groveland. When back pain eventually ended his hunting trips, he still relished the smells of the forest along the Mackinaw River near Tremont.
Jack was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his beloved wife Mary Longden, his sister, Carolyn Blumenshine of Washington, IL, children Laura (Gordon) Morris of Washington, DC, Amy (Jim) Devine of Alexandria, Virginia, Scott Longden of Flagler Beach, FL, Stacey (Mark Roesler) Whitmore of Los Angeles, CA, Geoffrey Longden of Salem, IL, David (Kathy Pajak) Whitmore of Baltimore, MD and Daniel (Dawn) Longden of Tremont, IL, as well as three grandchildren, Zed Smith of Peoria, G. Elizabeth Longden of Florida, and John Trenton Longden of Mackinaw.
A visitation for Jack will be from 9:00 -11:00 am Thursday, July 16, 2020 at Tremont Baptist Church, followed by a graveside service at Lakeview Cemetery in Pekin at 11:30 am with military honors accorded. Pastor Michael Awbrey will officiate. Social distancing guidelines will apply. Davis-Oswald Funeral Home in Tremont is handling the arrangements.
People wishing to honor Jack’s lifelong commitment to family and community can make donations to Tremont Baptist Church or Wilmore Sportsman’s Club in Morton.
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