The memorial service was a simple, small town affair at the Lewis Funeral Home in Milton. Friends and family gathered to comfort his wife of 44 years, children and grandchildren and to share stories. The pallbearers were players that he had coached in little leagues over the years.
The crowd gradually trickled in until the funeral home was packed. Few men dressed in suits. Most came in their best dress shirt and pants. Several wore Milton High colors, black and gold. Some came in their work clothes, using their lunch break to honor their friend.
Those who gave testimonials held back tears. Some had to read their comments to keep from breaking down. However, it was laughter, not tears, that punctuated the service. Clearly this man was loved and made an impact on many lives.
James “Jimi” Delezen was a native and lifelong resident of the Northwest Florida area. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army 4th Calvary who served in the Vietnam War. He retired from Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) after 30 years of service. The hundreds of children that he coached and mentored knew him as “Coach Delezen.”
As a young man, he fought for his country in a foreign land. He married JoAnn and raised two great kids, Jimbo and Joani. He made sure they had a better childhood than he did. He served his community without fanfare and strove to teach his young players important life lessons.
His health had not been good for a while—lasting effects from being subjected to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. He was starting a second round of chemotherapy when his heart gave out two weeks ago.
He never really recovered from that heart attack, but he was able to spend his final days with his family. He died on Nov. 18—fittingly one week after Veterans Day—holding his wife and daughter’s hands.
Jimi Delezen represented what’s good about this country. His story is not that different from the tens of thousands who served in the Vietnam War.
Those who didn’t serve in that war will never fully understand the sacrifices he and his generation made. However, we can celebrate and be thankful for the contributions that they made to their hometowns once they returned from war.
Thank you Coach Delezen.
The IN staff attended the memorial service for Jimi Delezen in support of his daughter Joani—our editor, creative director and friend.