Western Wayne News Podcast
Western Wayne News Podcast

For Roxie Deer, the line between community and family has never been a clear one. Growing up in Richmond, she was surrounded by her mother, her grandparents, and a whole bevy of aunts and uncles. A “family tree” project at school revealed that many of these people were not blood relatives, but it made no difference to Roxie. She has taken this attitude forward into her many community-building activities, from advocating for women’s health after losing her mother to breast cancer, to serving as executive director of Richmond Neighborhood Restoration. Kate talks with Roxie about her family journey, the many inspiring projects RNR has already completed with its dedicated team of volunteers, and how they are now working to save an area labeled “one of the most endangered neighborhoods in Indiana.”


Roxie Deer: I’m Roxie Deer, and I’m the executive director of Richmond Neighborhood Restoration.

Kate Jetmore: From Civic Spark Media and the Western Wayne News in Wayne County, Indiana, I’m Kate Jetmore. As a native of Richmond, Indiana, I’m excited to be sitting down with some of our neighbors and listening to the stories that define our community. My guest today is Roxie Deer, a lifelong Richmond resident with a passion for community development. In previous roles, Deer has worked in education and at the Wayne County area Chamber of Commerce. She has served on numerous non-profit boards and currently serves as the executive director of Richmond Neighborhood Restoration. In her free time, Deer loves to explore the Wayne County area and spend time with her dogs, Hudson, Rain, and Rosie Lynn. Welcome, Roxie. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Roxie Deer: Thanks for having me, Kate. I’m excited to have this interview with you.

Kate Jetmore: Well, as we said in the intro, you are a native of Richmond and you continue to be based there. Tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up in Richmond, and maybe some of the moments in your life that have led you to be so committed to the community of Richmond.

Roxie Deer: Absolutely. I grew up in Richmond, in a multi-generational home. My grandparents and my mom were always around, but I think my definition of family is probably not unlike others, but because we were such a small family, our friends became our family. Growing up, I had aunts and uncles that lived next door, cousins that although they weren’t blood family, I didn’t know the difference as a child. I remember in first or second grade, they asked you to build the family tree of your family, and I couldn’t figure out how to connect everyone. The teacher actually ended up calling my mom and being like, “You have to tell her they’re not actually family.” Mom was like, “I’m not telling her that. She believes it, we celebrate holidays, this is how our family is.” That upbringing has been really important to my entire life and how I approach just about everything, from business things to what I do and volunteer for. This community means a lot to me because it’s always been part of my family.

Kate Jetmore: Actually, I hear the word community in your family, it sounds like the line is blurred for you between what family is and what community is. Would you agree with that?

Roxie Deer: Absolutely. I think it’s odd that you say that because I’ve never thought about it that way, but it definitely is. For me, Richmond is home and it’s not just home because that’s where I’ve always lived, it’s because that’s where I belong and that’s home. It’s not just another place on a map. It’s important to me.

Kate Jetmore: I think there are actually two ways you could look at that. Because if you look at it from the point of view of your teacher who’s saying, “Well, we are trying to teach these kids about what family is and what Roxie’s bringing to the table isn’t family.” There’s another way-

Roxie Deer: In the traditional sense, yeah.

Kate Jetmore: Exactly, but there’s a whole other way to look at it. You could spin it around and say, well, community is family, family is community, but community is family. Is that part of how you see all the activities that you’re involved in, in Richmond? Do you consider the members of your community to be part of your family?

Roxie Deer: Yeah, I do. I think about how my grandfather was raised and grandmother were raised and the success that they had. They paid a lot of homage to the place that they were and the people around them that supported them in their success. My mom, the same way. She worked at Reid Health for 25 years, and I always said, like it was on her list, it was family, as in me, the dogs, her parents, her friends, and then her job. That’s not because she was so dedicated to her job that it was that important to her. It was a second family to her, a third family to her. When she passed, Reid took care of me, that her employer took care of me and the people there took care of me and continued to build. I was always taken care of. I don’t think many people have that experience.

Kate Jetmore: Those ties are extremely, extremely tight and it’s clear that you recognize that. Not only have you been on the receiving end of it, but you’ve also been on the end. Obviously, that’s one of the reasons we invited you on the show, that you not only know how to receive, you know how to give. Before we go onto the next question, you referred to your grandparents in this opening question, were they also from Richmond?

Roxie Deer: My grandmother was, my grandfather was from a teeny-tiny little town, village almost, in Kentucky, Barbourville, Kentucky. He began working for the railroad company and he told me one time he just jumped on a train and jumped off when it stopped and it stopped in Richmond, and that’s how he arrived here. He met my grandmother a few weeks later and the rest was history.

Kate Jetmore: Oh, wow. Your roots do run deep in enrichment. Well, I know you’ve been involved in so many different aspects of community life in Richmond, and one such aspect is as an advocate for women’s health issues. What can you share about that work?

Roxie Deer: I spoke a little bit about my mother, and she was diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer in 2017, or in 2015, and the cancer was pretty aggressive and she eventually lost her life in 2017. Through that experience and those emotions and that grief, I started to acknowledge that we weren’t doing enough for women and we weren’t talking about the health issues that women face and how preventable they are. It starts with screening, it starts with living a healthy lifestyle and making sure that women are aware of what they’re responsible for and what they can do, but not just women. I mean, men need to know as well. A lot of partners in relationships need to encourage their other partner to get the screenings that are necessary.

It’s always been an important part of the story, but we’ve never focused on it well. I’m not perfect. I hate going to the doctor. I will put off a test because I don’t want to know the results, but we have to start doing it. Recently, I’ve been very, very honest about what it means to have someone die in your life of cancer. There are moments that I will never get to have with my mom because simply she needed to get a mammogram and she put it off because she was so busy with other things in her life, being a caregiver for her parents. It was not the first thing on her mind as it normally isn’t.

I celebrate the women who do the screenings, as someone posts or shares with me that they got their screenings or their scheduling, the first thing I always want to do is say thank you to them for doing that. Offer a guiding hand, “Would you like me to go with you?” I talk to them about the process because oftentimes, they will find something and our brains automatically go to the big C word. It’s not always cancer. Preparing them to say, they may go back in and do another test, that’s totally normal and that’s just how bodies work. Giving basic education and having conversations, it’s really tough to talk about. People get really uncomfortable when you start talking about mammograms. They get really awkward and they shy away from it, but I want to be out there and I want to be talking about it.

Kate Jetmore: Well, there is an aspect of women’s [health] that has to do with normalization. It’s about coming on a podcast and saying out loud, we all need to get mammograms and here’s my personal story and here’s my mom’s story. Even if you’re the first person to do that, you’re going to inspire someone else to come along and do the same thing and the word will spread. Do you want to take this opportunity, Roxie, to talk about, speak to families out there, to women out there, to the partners of women out there about what they need to do to get a mammogram?

Roxie Deer: Yeah, it’s really simple, especially if you’re in the Wayne County community. Our local hospital, Reid Health, makes this process so easy. You can schedule your mammogram by calling their breast center, and they also make it really just kind of a fun day. They have the warmest pink robes that I love. I always try to steal one, they won’t let me. It’s a very one-on-one personalized experience. Even though I’m under the age of 40, I do have to get annual mammograms, and so I’ve been through this process. We hear these horror stories of how painful it is and how uncomfortable it is, and it’s not that bad. I promise you, it’s not that bad. It’s awkward. It’s just awkward anytime you have to do any of those things with someone else in the room, but it’s worth it to know that you’re safe or to find something early and take care of it. If there’s a financial burden and you can’t get that done, there are funds set up to make sure that you can get that mammogram paid for.

Kate Jetmore: Oh, good. Good. You’re obviously talking about your activity in this sector and the strides that have been made. What are some things that still aren’t being seen in the Wayne County area that you would like to see?

Roxie Deer: We don’t know what’s next with cancer. You never know what next newest technology or test is coming out. I think I won’t be settled until I know that every woman has access and is getting a mammogram, which I know probably means I will never settle down. In return, for me, it’s once someone does find something, let’s say they do find a lump or a mass, what do they need and do we have those resources in place? Reid Foundation has been doing an incredible job of making sure that the cancer team at Reid have the supplies and the things not only medically to handle, but also the other piece of it. Is there someone who needs childcare while they’re at chemo? Is there someone who needs a cooling cap? Which is a new hat cap that you can put on to keep your head cold during treatment so you don’t lose your hair.

Something I’ve been advocating for the last couple of years, and I think we’re going to be able to pull it off, is to help women find bathing suits after they’ve had their breasts removed. Really. I can’t imagine, women are already so miserable when we’re trying on bathing suits, it’s the worst experience women ever… We all hate it. Imagine doing it with a scar or missing something that you’ve always had. Having experiences for women to connect together as a group and go in and try on bathing suits in a safe and supporting area, can we do that, and how can we do that with our women locally and let them have a feel-Good moment.

Kate Jetmore: Roxie, I’m so struck by your humanity.

Roxie Deer: Thank you.

Kate Jetmore: Obviously, we’re all human beings. We’re all just human beings living on the same earth. In the case of Wayne County, living in the same community, living in the same county, but it’s too easy to forget that. It’s too easy to get shy and not tell your whole story or think other people don’t want to hear it or that’s too private. I’m so grateful to you for sharing your story.

Roxie Deer: Thank you.

Kate Jetmore: I’m so excited to hear about how you bring that part of yourself to Richmond Neighborhood Restoration where as we said, you currently serve as executive director. One huge part of RNR is their large core of volunteers. Can you talk a little bit about how the volunteers contribute to your organization, and beyond RNR, what is their role in the greater community?

Roxie Deer: I think every nonprofit executive director would say they have the best volunteers. I can hands down say our group of volunteers are the best. They show up on Saturday mornings and they are willing to learn. They’re willing to get dirty. They’re willing to crawl around through dirt and trash. They see their work with us and we as well see it as very important work to the community. We wouldn’t exist as an organization without them. Construction costs are expensive. If our volunteers are willing to come in and paint walls or help install door poles, that’s what we were working on this morning, or is it helping us clean baseboards. Or in this house specifically, I’m sitting in the Hill House right now, our volunteers carried out enough debris to fill eight of those large dumpsters that you see on construction sites. Eight of them. That’s wild. When we’re done with the house, they always say, “Well, we’re leaving blood, sweat and tears behind in this house.”

They truly mean that because they work hard in these homes. Then the best part is anyone who runs a nonprofit will tell you it’s word of mouth about the great work. I love to hear when my volunteers go to their spin classes and they’re talking to everyone in their spin class about the work they’ve been doing, or they’re at another board meeting and they’re going, “Why aren’t we doing it like RNR?” Or they get so excited, they’re my biggest cheerleaders, and they truly believe in the passion and the work. They get just as excited to see a new home and to celebrate a home. We’re working on the open house now for this house, and volunteers, they were the first group to sign up. They’ve been in this house every week with me, but they can’t wait to show it to others.

Kate Jetmore: That’s what I was going to ask you. It sounds like they’re so excited and so enthusiastic to reveal what it is they’ve been working on.

Roxie Deer: Yeah. They are the greatest group of people.

Kate Jetmore: Is it growing?

Roxie Deer: It is. When I started, I think our volunteer corps was meeting on Saturdays. Not everyone can come on a Saturday morning. We’ve opened up, when we have available projects to evening times throughout the week, we do an event called Work Then Wine. We have a lot of young professionals coming through now and there’s this great energy between… Some of my volunteers are retired folks who have learned skills in their previous jobs or just working on these homes, now they’re teaching it to a younger generation. There’s like a buzz in the house when there are a lot of people here working. You can hear little conversations about stories of the past. Next door neighbors come and volunteer because they want the neighborhood to look great. It’s really becoming a fun social space as well.

Kate Jetmore: I love hearing what you said about the older generation teaching the younger generation, because that’s not just RNR, that is so important in every community. We have to take advantage of the wisdom of people who are older than us, and we have to make sure that their knowledge doesn’t get lost.

Roxie Deer: We just recently had a group of fifth and sixth graders from Richmond Friends School visit one of our houses. They walked through, and first, I was not prepared for how intelligent these students were and what they knew about this historic home. They walked in and one of the girls said, “Look at those beautiful pocket doors.” I went, “She knows what a pocket door is.” To have that conversation with them and I had them dream about the home with me, what color would you paint it? Where would you put the kitchen? They all came up with their plans. Not only is that career exploration for them, but they’re seeing work being done in a neighborhood that they’ve driven by themselves, and they’ve probably heard parents or grandparents go, “Nothing’s happening here. Look at all these homes falling down.” Now they’re going to be a part of my story and helping us rewrite the work that we’re doing.

Kate Jetmore: Amazing. From what I understand, from the time that RNR came to be, you’ve pretty much been working on one property at a time, but RNR have recently announced that it’s going to be focusing its work in the Starr District over the next five years. I think you’re going to be taking a new approach there. What can we expect to see?

Roxie Deer: The Starr neighborhood is unique. It has not had a lot of work done to it, practically ever. The Indiana Landmarks Association recently named that neighborhood one of the most endangered places in the state. They have never named an entire neighborhood before, they’ve only ever named individual homes. When we heard that report come out, we were shocked and we almost felt embarrassed that we hadn’t turned our eye to look at the Starr Neighborhood yet. A house became available through Indiana Landmarks on North 12th Street, and we drove by it, and I went, “That house is gorgeous, but it’s in the middle of the Starr Neighborhood.” Then we walked inside, and the woodwork, the house hasn’t been damaged over the years. It’s set empty for the last 25 years. Everyone who has walked through that house with me has fallen in love with that house.

If we’re not the group who saves it, I’m not sure that it will be saved. We really felt called to that neighborhood, and now we’re working with Indiana Landmarks and the city and others to figure out how we do more and how we do them quickly. We want quality work, we want to make an impact. Is it buying multiple houses on a block at a time so that we can work quickly? Landmarks is right now looking to purchase other houses in the community, either to help get them stabilized or to hold them for us till we’re ready. Really bringing the partners together.

We’re working with the Historic Preservation Society as well as the Historic Preservation Commission to put together ordinances that we can take to City Council to protect the houses and the streets and the neighborhood even more, and then working with our current residents. A lot of them have made investments in their homes already. It’s really an all-hands-on-deck, not just one home at a time, but an entire neighborhood, and reminding people RNR is using our connections in the community that, that neighborhood is at the heart of our city and we have to save it. It’s important to me. That neighborhood really, I mean, if you look back in the history of Richmond, that neighborhood has continuously brought people in and been the center of all of the things that have happened in Richmond over the years.

Kate Jetmore: I’m so inspired, because from its beginnings, RNR really has had kind of a scrappy attitude, a scrappy reputation. We’ve got an idea and a hammer and a bunch of people who are willing to put in the work. It is hard to save an entire neighborhood like the Star District with that attitude, as inspiring as it is. RNR, it seems to me, has never lost that great attitude, and what they’re doing now is bringing in, as you said, partners who have the means and the connections and the money, but they still have that scrappy spark.

Roxie Deer: Yes. It’s funny that you say the word scrappy, because I think that’s probably the best way to describe it. I came from a world that was meetings and meetings and more meetings to talk about the problems that our community is facing. People would throw out solutions and we’d throw money at solutions. I would go home at the end of the day and go, “Did we make a difference?”

I still go to a lot of meetings as an executive director in a lot of those conversations about housing, but what I have found is I have to drive by our homes, or I have to walk through our homes every single day because it reminds me that those meetings are important, but the work that we’re doing is getting it done. It’s coming by a house that for years is set on the ugliest homes in Indiana list, and now it’s beautiful and people drive by it and they’re proud of it. We’re not the group who’s going to sit in meetings and continue to just talk. We’re going to roll up our sleeves. Our volunteers are going to put their blood, sweat and tears into a project, our board and our staff, we’re going to work to make this happen.

Kate Jetmore: Oh, that’s amazing. As we wrap up, Roxie, I’d love to hear you comment on the word legacy. It seems RNR is really dedicated to creating a legacy in Richmond. I’m wondering, on a personal level, how important that is to you?

Roxie Deer: I get kind of emotional when I talk about this. As you know, Kate, and I think a lot of your listeners will too, Richmond is a place people have hated for years. They’ve hated to live here. They have never been proud of it, and I’ve never experienced that. I have always been proud of the place that I love, but I want the next generation to love it too. I want to be 80, 90 years old and drive down Main Street and go, “I saved that house, and look at it now, look at the family that’s lived in it, and look at the children that they’ve had and their children.” I want to see this community thrive.

The work that we’re doing is saving homes from a hundred years ago so that they can be around in a hundred years from now. The work for RNR will never be done because homes will always age. There may be a time where we have to go back to one of our old homes and restore it again. We saved it the first time, we can continue to save it, and there’s work to be done. There are people who are passionate about what we’re doing. It’s not my generation, it’s not the next, I mean, it’s multiple generations will enjoy and live on in the work that we have done.

Kate Jetmore: Thank you, Roxie, for everything you’re doing and for joining me on the show today. I love getting to know you better, and I want to wish you and your family all the best.

Roxie Deer: Thank you, Kate. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for having me on here. I love doing this podcast.

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