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Celebration of life for 'Mr. Richmond Hill,' is Saturday
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Celebration of life for 'Mr. Richmond Hill,' is Saturday

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GENESEO — Because of COVID-19 restrictions, many families and friends couldn't attend funeral services for loved ones who passed during the pandemic.

John VanDeWoestyne, fondly referred to as “Mr. Richmond Hill,” passed away on March 25, 2020, at his home. A private service was held on March 31, 2020, at Vandemore Funeral Home in Geneseo.

VanDeWoestyne’s wife, Judy, and two daughters, Emily and Shay, knew at that private service something more would be held at a later date.

VanDeWoestyne’s name is familiar to area theater-goers for his talent on stage and as a director, both with Geneseo’s Richmond Hill Players, Quad City Music Guild and numerous other area theater groups.

“If anyone would have had a lot of people at their service, it would be John," Judy VanDeWoestyne said.

To accommodate those people, there is a memorial service at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Geneseo High School Concert Hall, 700 North State St. The Rev. Melva England, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Geneseo, will officiate. A memorial visitation will be held from noon to 1 p.m., before the service.

A time for fellowship and refreshments will be held after the service.

“We knew many people who would have been at John’s service were not able to attend because of the pandemic,” his wife said. “On our way from the funeral home to the cemetery, we followed the car with John’s casket up by the Barn at Richmond Hill and there were so many people standing up there, to say their goodbyes to John. … People from Geneseo, from Music Guild and more.

"It was like a standing ovation for John.”

Original plans were to have the memorial service on the anniversary of VanDeWoestyne’s death, but with restrictions still in place because of the pandemic, plans were pushed in the hopes things would improve by July, and by moving the venue to the larger Concert Hall, there will be plenty of room for people to socially distance.

Stan Weimer was a close friend and is well-known for his many appearances with the Richmond Hill Players. He and his wife, Donna, also were close friends of the VanDeWoestynes.

It was 1987 when the two men first met and at the time VanDeWoestyne was directing “Twelve Angry Men” for the Richmond Hill Players.

“John was the ultimate director,” Weimer said. “He was so organized. He would use chess pieces to lay out the blocking for a performance before we met to rehearse. He would make changes if necessary as he knew the importance of not having one actor block another so the audience could see who was speaking.”

Their friendship was not limited to the stage and Richmond Hill, as the two men were in the same card group with other men in the area.

“John will be very much missed; he was a great actor, and it was great to be in plays with him,” Weimer said. “Some people can act and others can sing, but it is rare for one person to be able to do both, and John could do both very well.”

Kevin Pieper, performer, director and past president with Quad City Music Guild, worked with VanDeWoestyne on many occasions.

“I often felt, while watching John perform, I was attending a master’s class in acting," Pieper said. "His acting skills were immeasurable. But beyond his immense talent, John was a man with a huge heart who gave of himself unselfishly and constantly to those he loved and the theaters he supported. We all miss him dearly.”

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