Kent Dearborn Jr. had a 1986 Camaro. He was always working on getting it going. Every time he put a motor in it, he’d have a problem and he’d have to redo it. It was his first car. It was made the same year he was born.
Dearborn Jr., nicknamed Bud, enjoyed all things outdoors. He liked fishing, hunting, four wheeling and mushroom hunting. He liked sharing those interests with his 11-year-old son, Zander.
“They got along real well,” Kent’s mother, Florence Dearborn, of Polo said. “He likes what his father liked. Zander likes to ice fish. They were close.”
It was while doing one of the things he loved when Bud, 33, of Polo, went missing on Nov. 20 while fishing on the Rock River just below the Oregon dam. He was with a longtime friend, James Swift, 64, of Forreston, when their boat capsized.
A full-scale search ensued in the days that followed. Swift’s body was found on Jan. 3 in Dixon just above its dam. Bud has yet to be found.
A benefit was held March 7 at the Polo Room for the Dearborn family. A dart tournament and a silent action were held. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Swift family as well.
“It was amazingly overwhelming, the amount of support we got,” Dawn Coleman-Singley, Bud’s aunt, of Baileyville said. “I estimate around 400 people were there in and out throughout the day.”
For the past 16 weeks, the Dearborn family has had to deal with uncertainty.
“Without a body, you’re in limbo,” Bud’s aunt, Penny Lee, of Oregon, said. “You can’t have a memorial service. The feeling, it’s just an empty feeling. We want something, anything. We want to find a shoe or a piece of clothing, something.”
By law, a person can’t be declared legally dead without a body until after seven years missing. Bud owned a salvage business with his brother, Mike, and was in the process of buying him out at the time of the accident.
Little can be done with the business until Bud is found or declared dead. The family has also been making payments on the home Bud owned.
Above all else, what the family wants most is closure and a chance to lay their loved one to rest.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Coleman-Singley said. “There’s no closure here. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Is he really gone? Is he somewhere waiting for us to find him?’ Not having the chance to say goodbye is the hardest part.”
Bud’s grandmother, Shirley Maines of Polo recallsher grandson often being a jokester, but said he was always sincere. Bud would always bring her mushrooms that he found. He never hung up the phone before telling his grandmother he loved her.
Maines believes the March 7 benefit has helped the family cope emotionally with Bud’s loss since a funeral service has not been held.
“It’s heart wrenching,” Maines said. “It hits you and brings back memories. I think it was good for the whole family.”
Before Bud and Swift went missing, their friendship had a father-son dynamic to it, Swift’s ex-wife, Charity Irvin, of Brookville, said. They went fishing often.
The Dearborns and the Swifts were “one big family” due to Bud’s longtime friendship with Swift’s son, Andrew. The families often had gatherings together.
“It messes with your head,” Irvin said. “In an instant, they were gone. It’s always in the back of your mind that maybe it didn’t happen. We all wanted to be happy. But it’s hard when the other isn’t found. There isn’t closure for any of us.”
Swift was a veteran of the Air Force. He and Irvin had two children together, Andrew (Mt. Morris) and Becky Swift (Forreston). He also had two children from a previous relationship, Josh Swift, of Davis, and Trina Goodwin of Pecatonica.
“He was an amazing dad,” Irvin said. “He was an outdoorsman. He was a simple man. He was content with what he had.”
The Swift family will be putting the money raised towards either Swift’s final expenses or a celebration of life that will be held for him this summer. The Dearborn family will be putting all donations and proceeds from March 7 into a trust in Zander’s name.
The family is still accepting donations. Checks can be sent to PO Box 121 in Shannon and must be made out to Zander Dearborn. The family is also in the process of setting up an account to accept donations at First State Bank.
A volunteer search of the Rock River for Dearborn is still ongoing in an effort led by Polo resident Matt Wileman, a friend of Mike Dearborn, Bud’s brother.
Last week, Wileman searched multiple days. The water was lower at the time, allowing Wileman to see more, but he had no luck.
“We’ve been to every wood pile and piece of debris and brush,” Wileman said. “I’ve spent hours and hours looking down every bank line and little inlet.”
Wileman said he will be continuing to search as the weather gets warmer and needs volunteers and boats to assist him. He also asks that anyone that has gone fishing on the Rock in the area or plans to soon contact him to give locations. He can be reached on his Facebook page.
“It’s overwhelming,” Lee said. “It’s amazing he does that on his own time. We don’t really have words for it. It’s almost like they want him found as much as we do.”