Newport Beach businessman Tom Deemer — bank founder, Balboa Bay Club co-owner and chili aficionado — has died at age 84.
Deemer, who lived in Newport Beach for 47 years, died Dec. 19 of heart failure, according to his son Kevin Deemer.
Tom Deemer opened Mariners Savings & Loan; served as president and eventually co-owner of the Balboa Bay Club along with the club’s sister property, the Newport Beach Country Club; co-owned the former Yankee Tavern restaurant off Coast Highway with Kevin Deemer; developed commercial property outside Palm Springs and served as a “governor” of the charitable International Chili Society, leading crowds at the then-Newport-based world championship cook-offs in “God Bless America.”
He was generous with his advice, golfed until his final weeks and never forgot a name, Kevin said.
“Whatever he was doing, he helped a lot of people,” he said.
Tom Deemer was born Feb. 25, 1934, in Hibbing, Minn., home to about 16,000 people and the world’s largest open-pit iron mine. Kevin said his father worked the mine before graduating from high school and joining the Marine Corps. After being stationed at Camp Pendleton, he lived only in California, far from the biting winters of northeastern Minnesota. Newport became home.
“It was hard to get him to go anywhere else,” Kevin said. “[He’d say] ‘Why would I go on vacation when the weather is perfect here?’”
After his military service, Tom worked as a teller at a local savings and loan. Eventually, in 1971, he started his own — Mariners Savings & Loan, which was at Westcliff and Dover drives, where a Union Bank stands today.
Kevin said his father stepped away from the Balboa Bay Club and country club ownership in the early 1990s after his partner Bill Ray died. In 1996, the Deemers bought Yankee Tavern from Newport Beach chef Hans Prager, who also was behind the now-closed local institution the Ritz. The pair later sold it and it is now 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront.
Longtime associate Jim West called Tom Deemer an icon who always told the truth, even if it was tough to hear.
West was the Balboa Bay Club’s entertainment director when he met Deemer in the 1970s, around the time the club first hosted the International Chili Society’s cook-off.
Deemer’s many vocations and avocations allowed him to rub shoulders with celebrities and local influencers. He liked sports figures such as Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Jim Everett.
“I don’t think [Newport] would have been as much fun” without Deemer, West said.
Along with Kevin, Deemer is survived by children Michelle Deemer Jones and Colleen Lohse; and four grandchildren. His wife of 54 years, Monica, died in 2014.