The tale of Joe Delaney’s heroics in June 1983 in Chennault Park has been told from one generation to the next. Marvin Dearman has made it his mission to provide some visual aid to those tales in Monroe.
“My vision is that families will come to the park and show their children this monument and tell the story about how an NFL football player, who in 1981 was the American Football League Rookie of the Year, gave his life to save three children that he did not know,” Dearman said.
Of course, a Delaney monument would mean a lot more than just a reminder of the former Kansas City tailback jumping in the pond to save three drowning children. It would serve as a tribute to a selfless act committed by a professional athlete that was on top of the world at the time. The driving force behind the monument happens to be Deaman, who made a valiant effort to revive Delaney on that tragic day 37 years ago.
“I have lived with this for 37 years, and it never goes away because he was such a hero,” Dearman said.
So why 37 years later? Well, you have to go back to last February when the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV. Dearman watched the game on television, went to bed and woke up the next morning with the realization the Chiefs just won the big game on the 37th anniversary of Delaney’s death. Delaney, of course, wore No. 37, and no other Chief player has worn the number since.
“So I started thinking, there are monuments in Haughton (Delaney’s hometown) to honor him, there are things in Kansas City, but there isn’t a monument placed a Chennault Park. And I’m in the monument business. I can do this.”
Dearman, who has spent the last 12 years serving as the manager of Kilpatrick’s Serenity Gardens funeral home, called Kansas City Star sports columnist Vahe Gregorian and informed him of the plan. Dearman and Gregorian have developed a relationship through the years, as Gregorian has written many pieces about Delaney’s heroics. Gregorian told him he’d do a story on Dearman’s attempt to place a monument in Monroe and see if Kansas City fans would support the idea.
“We let people donate $37 in honor of No. 37, and it just blew up from there,” Dearman said. “We received over 130 donations from Kansas City, and I have letters that people have written me about what this meant to them. That he gave his life for these kids and how they tell their own kids these stories. I have one letter from a parent who named their daughter ‘Delaney’ after him.”
Reassured by the support from Kansas City, Dearman went to work on the local monument. He drew it up and sent in a drawing before he received a call from a monument company, Johnson Granite Supply Home, in Kansas City.
“Seeing what it was for, they told me they wanted to donate the monument,” Dearman said. “They said they were going to do it in the shape of an arrowhead with laser pictures of Joe Delaney.”
That’s just one part of the process, though. Also part of the agenda was receiving permission from the Monroe City Council. Dearman made his presentation in front of 125 to 130 people in the auditorium, he estimated.
“They gave Joe Delaney a standing ovation,” Dearman said. “I picked out a location and the city leveled the ground for me and cut down some trees.”
Holyfield Construction donated gravel and River City Ready Mix donated the concrete for the construction.
“I did not encounter one hurdle,” Dearman said. “When I called Joe Holyfield, the first thing he said was, ‘You know, Marvin, this is long overdue.’ Everybody I’ve asked to do something with this monument, I have not been refused. And it’s the first phone call I make too.”
Delaney, who is in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame after making the Pro Bowl in 1981 and rushed for 1,501 yards in his two-year career, was honored with the Presidential Citizen’s Medal from President Ronald Reagan posthumously. Dearman is currently waiting on the arrival of the monument, which will detail that information and much more about Delaney's family and his college days at Northwestern State. Dearman estimated the monument would arrive on June 29th and he hoped to get with Delaney’s family soon to set a date for a ceremony to be held at the park.
“I think the reason why he jumped in that pond that day is because he was the fastest person there,” said Dearman, thinking back on the day when the city held a softball tournament, which Delaney participated in.
With more than $5,000 raised for a monument that ultimately had no expenses, all the money will go to the Delaney 37 Foundation, which is a foundation set up to teach young children how to swim. Donations are still being accepted. If you would like to donate, you may write a check to Kilpatrick’s Serenity Gardens, with Delaney 37 Foundation in the memo line, addressed to Kilpatrick’s Serenity Gardens , 8729 Cypress St., West Monroe, Louisiana, 71291.