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Church deacon among those who died in Calif. fires

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (BP)–James W. McDermith, a deacon at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., was among the 20 fatalities counted thus far from Southern California’s wildfires.

McDermith, 70, expected his San Bernardino home to be consumed by the Old Fire, so he rushed to rescue his camper at a nearby trailer park, according to The Los Angeles Times. He suffered a heart attack en route and later died at St. Bernardine Medical Center Oct. 25.

An active member of Immanuel Baptist for more than 40 years, McDermith’s funeral was held at the church Oct. 30.

“We’re going through a sense of loss, but we’re all quite content knowing where he is,” Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist and first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press. “We celebrated his life yesterday, and we firmly believe in our church we have a God who is in control and it didn’t take God by surprise. God has a right to call His children home whenever He wants.”

Zinn said McDermith was more than just a church member to him.

“He was one of those people who was with me from the time I was in this church as a saved boy all the way through my pastorate,” Zinn said.

McDermith joined the church in May 1962, and Zinn accepted Christ in November of that year. Zinn said his family and McDermith’s family were close through the years, and Zinn’s son’s middle name is after McDermith.

Zinn said he could tell stories about McDermith for hours. Something he shared with Baptist Press was that McDermith was both politically and fiscally conservative.

“Jim got a new suit every year, but nobody ever knew because it was the same color,” he said. “Every year it was a brown suit, same style. He had the same thing for breakfast every day. He was meticulous, to the point, straight arrow. … He had a tremendous sense of humor that was as dry as it could be.”

Teri Bennett, a former daughter-in-law of McDermith, told the San Bernardino County Sun that McDermith dearly loved his family and was especially close to his 23-year-old grandson, Brad.

“They were inseparable,” she said. “He was a mentor, a friend, everything a grandfather should be.”

McDermith was raised on a farm in Illinois and always wanted to be a veterinarian, the Sun reported. But because of his allergies, he chose accounting instead. After earning a degree at Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo., McDermith moved to San Bernardino in 1959 and started an accounting business.

Upon retirement in 1998, he bought a camper and a truck to pull it. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, planned to travel but were kept home by health problems.

Lisa McDermith, a daughter-in-law, told the Sun what she would remember most about McDermith was his unique sense of humor and ability to make people laugh.

“He was so comical, but when he would say something he would keep such a straight face,” she said. “He was a very funny person.”

McDermith is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.

Zinn added that the church is handling the loss well because there are just times when believers must trust that God knows what He’s doing and live with the absolute understanding that this life is only temporary.

And he said heaven is a better place.

“From a pastor’s standpoint it just makes heaven just a little bit sweeter to get there one of these days.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: REMEMBERING A FRIEND.

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  • Erin Curry