The Good Life — Rose Mary Deegan (1917-2014)

Faced with the heart-wrenching prospect of raising a dozen children after her husband’s death, Rose Mary Deegan not only accomplished that daunting task, but also made sure that all twelve of her children earned post-high school diplomas. Then, she went out and earned her own.

Douglas Miller
Principal & Founder

Jeffrey J. McDougall, president and owner of JMA Energy, engaged Müllerhaus Legacy to preserve the extraordinary life story of his maternal grandmother, Rose Mary Deegan. Her life exemplified the benefits of honesty, hard work, and forgiveness. The following excerpts are from her book, The Good Life.

John, my husband, died in June of 1960—three months after the birth of our twelfth child.

Summer days are usually busy for people who farm, and June 22, 1960, was no exception. John had been out making hay all day, baling and working in the south field, where we had alfalfa. Family had just gotten in from California, and when John came in that night, he said, “Well, you’d better bake a cake tonight, because they’ll be out to visit tomorrow.”

So I put a cake in the oven, and we got the kids ready for bed. Except for Dianne and Donna, all of our kids were home that summer. While John was getting ready for bed, I went in to see if the kids had gone to sleep, and suddenly I heard something.

John was choking. 

There wasn’t anything any of us could do.
He died almost instantly of a heart attack.

It was around 10 or 10:30 at night. We had everything set out for the next day, ready for Lloyd and Anna’s visit. We’d planned to get up early to greet them. Instead, the world the kids and I lived in had suddenly, horribly changed. The cake I’d baked for our company seemed to belong to someone else, in another place, another lifetime.

I remember a whirlwind of telephone conversations, the phone ringing almost before I could hang it up, the house filling with concerned faces. My dad came, and at one point during that upside-down night I remember turning to him and saying, “What are we going to do next? Where do we go from here?”

“Well,” he kept telling me. “It’ll work out. It’ll work out.”

The First Thing I Had To Handle

John had bought three railroad carloads of sheep, and, as fate would have it, they’d come in that very same night. They were sitting on a sidetrack in the nearby town of Struble, and they had to be watered and taken care of right away, or they’d start to die. So that was one of the first things I had to handle.

In the time directly following John’s death, I somehow got the household set up where everything was being managed pretty well. The secret was just never to think too much—and if you did, always try to think positively and not dwell on the challenges.

The Lord looked out for us by giving us good people who helped fill the void that John left. I believe that the Lord was looking out for us then, and that he’s still looking out for us even as I write this, many decades later.

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Rose Mary’s husband, John Deegan.

The Deegan Family early in their life together. John and Rose Mary with five of their children. They would eventually share a dozen children before John's death.

It'll work out. It'll work out.

John had been a member of the board of directors of the state’s Rural Electric Association. After he passed away I took his place, which made me the only woman on the seven-person board. One of my duties was to attend national conventions. In 1962, I was headed to Las Vegas for one of them when I became, much to my surprise, a national television star—at least for a day.

John’s sister planned my trip so that I could stay with her for a few days before going to Vegas. When I got to California, I found that she had tickets for us to be in the audience during a taping of the TV show Queen for a Day. 

The idea of the program was to award prizes each episode to a woman who could really use the help. I recently read that, at its peak, each episode was viewed by an average of 13 million people. I didn’t know all of that when we arrived at the studio in L.A. to become an audience member for the taping. And I sure didn’t know I was going to be a contestant.

As they took my ticket, they handed me a card and asked me to write something about why I was at the show. So I wrote, “I’m a single mother of twelve from Iowa who has taken my late husband’s place on the board of the Rural Electric Association. With the help of God I’ve made it this far—and I’ll make it the rest of the way, too.”

"With the help of God I’ve made it this far—and I’ll make it the rest of the way, too.”

That’s all I wrote—just the way it was at that time in my life. I signed the card and handed it back, and then I went inside and was seated at a table. Pretty soon, Jack Bailey, the host, came out. I could see that he had some of the cards with him.

And then, he called out, clear as a bell, “Rose Mary Deegan!”

Rose Mary, appearing on the television show Queen for a Day in 1962.

A couple of years ago, my grandson Jeff McDougall put a camera on the two of us and sat down and interviewed me several different times, so that the family might have a record of my life. One of the things he asked me was if I had a motto or creed to live by. I told him it could be summed up in three words: the good life. 

What’s the good life? It’s a life built on honesty and hard work. It’s a life that takes the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule seriously, and uses them as a guide. Live the good life and it’ll pay you back.

Rose Mary went on to put all twelve of her children through college. Then, at age 53, just a month before the tenth anniversary of John’s death, she earned her own degree.  

This article first appeared in Müllerhaus's publication Legacy Journey Quarterly. For information regarding any of the projects mentioned in this publication or to inquire about Müllerhaus Legacy or our services, please contact Ally Seifried at 918-747-0018 or
Douglas Miller
Principal & Founder