by Len Lear
You might say that Ray DeJohn, 38, the Local’s much-honored production manager, has a face on which emotion can play like a wave on the beach. He’s been road-tested. The lifelong resident of South Philadelphia and graduate of St. John Neumann High School is a terrific guy, outstanding athlete in high school and college (and still today) and mega-talented graphic designer who has won a buffet of design awards from the Pennsylvania News Media Association.
In fact, in the almost six years that Ray has worked at the Local, the only negative thing in the dictionary of words I have heard about him is that he is a loyal fan of the Dallas Cowboys. (Please do not tear this newspaper up.) Well, nobody’s perfect.
“I am willing to overlook the Dallas Cowboys thing,” said Dallas Fetterman, CEO/Director of Business Development of Liberation Behavioral Health, which runs rehabilitation facilities in the Philadelphia area, “because Ray was fantastic in his delivery of an idea we worked on collectively in order to establish our business logo. We get nothing but compliments regarding the design work. Ray was a pleasure to work with, and I would recommend his services to anyone looking for a well rounded graphic designer with fair market pricing.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Christie Honigman, founder of The Honigman Group, a center city full-service marketing consultancy specializing in public relations and luxury brand development. “It is a pleasure to work with Ray,” said Christie. “His raw artistic ability and knack for being able to comprehend and capture what people communicate to him has enabled me to bring many ideas to life. He is also a very kind and gentle person, thorough and timely, which makes him a rare gem in our field.”
Ray’s athletic accomplishments are as impressive as his graphic design skills. As far back as 1991, Ray’s track and field sprint team in the 8th grade at the King of Peace School in South Philadelphia set the 4 x 100 school record at 49.76 seconds, which won at the Penn Relays. That record was not broken until 2007. Ray also won quite a few individual medals in meets, and as a senior at Neumann High in 1995 he was first team all-Catholic as a wide receiver at 6 feet, 178 pounds.
Ray went on to study communications at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, a Division 3 school that does not offer athletic scholarships. Ray was a wide receiver and return man in college for four years. Each year the team had a winning record (8-2, 7-2, 8-2, 7-3), but Ray left school after the first semester of his senior year, despite having good grades, when he realized that his obvious artistic skills would not be employed properly in a career in communications.
He spent the next year working for the Pacifico Auto dealership in Southwest Philadelphia and then enrolled in the Art Institute of Philadelphia. “I had done illustration as a hobby,” Ray said. “Family and friends always said, ‘You are good; you should do this as career,’ so I decided to look into it. I had done comic book-style illustration since childhood.”
Ray proceeded to take art courses for five years part-time while working a full-time day job at the car dealership. He eventually earned an Associate’s Degree in computer animation and a B.A. in graphic design. At Pacifico over a seven-year tenure he did print ads, digital marketing, billboard design, email blasts, etc. But then he was laid off after the economy collapsed in 2008.
“The silver lining is that I established a freelance business,” he said. “I almost took a job selling insurance until I saw the opening here.” Ray started working at the Local in January of 2010 as a production assistant. It turned out to be a crossroads moment because his freelance business, DeJohn Designs, took off gradually in 2010 and 2011.
It does brochures, web development, branding, print, web and marketing material for a variety of businesses. “Many companies have been laying off full-time people, which means more work for freelancer designers,” said Ray, who did promotional web and print design work for Revel Hotel/Casino in Atlantic City. For a company called MKTG, Inc., he has created liquor promotions and marketing for Captain Morgan, Guinness, etc. He redesigned the logo for Waterfront Condominiums and redesigned the logo for the Pacifico Auto Group as well.
What really blows people’s minds who see some of his work, however, are Ray’s custom movie posters, custom boxing and Super Bowl posters, etc., And his hand illustrations as well. “There’s art talent in my family,” Ray said. “I have a cousin who is an artist. Another ‘uncle’ taught at the Art Institute and Moore. A first cousin’s daughter and my niece Ava all have the skill to draw as well.”
Even Ray’s parents both have an artistic side and creative side to them. His father, Ray, is a full-time barber. His mother, Patricia, works at St. Gabriel’s Parish in administration. “You could not ask for better parents,” Ray said. “They were always praising us and encouraged us to work hard and to do what we enjoyed and work to be the best at it. Ray’s sister, Renee DeJohn Renzi, is a full-time professional dancer, and his older sister, Tricia DeJohn Ezzie, a hairstylist and mother of three children. Both were 76ers’ dance team members for multiple years.
At age 38 Ray still has lots of tread left on the tires. Since 2000 he has been playing rough touch and flag football (usually 7 against 7) in several recreational leagues in South Philadelphia and New Jersey. (And he occasionally surfs at the Jersey shore in the summertime with his Brother-in-law Chris Ezzie.) He was also a varsity assistant coach at Neumann, coaching wide receivers and defensive backs in 2009 and 2010.
“I still love playing football,” insists Ray. “My father likes to kid somewhat and say, ‘When are you going to give it up?’ As long as I am able to do it at the level I am used to, I will keep playing. I’ve had no serious injuries except for a high ankle sprain and some strained ligaments at one time. It is really enjoyable just to get out there with great friends and teammates including my Brother-in-law, Steve Renzi and compete against other area teams.”
Ray’s most memorable game was in high school against West Catholic in 1994. He bruised some ribs at the end of the third quarter but still had seven catches for 120 yards. He was named to the Neumann-Goretti High School Hall of Fame in 2011.
People often come to Ray for custom t-shirt designs for fundraisers, family reunions, softball teams, restaurants, taverns etc. He has designed posters for the CHBA, CHCA’s Pastorius Park concerts, etc. His Harry Potter t-shirt design helped sell 695 t-shirts at the 2014 Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival. In June of this year one of his t-shirt designs was picked up by an online store. They sold 220 of that shirt design in three days.
“I’m really appreciative of the time I had working along side Amy Kleinschmidt Teta, who was the previous production manager at the Local and who hired me,” said Ray. “She was great to work for, and she showed me the ropes in publication design. And I really enjoy working for the Local. There is a great staff in place here, and it’s a great community as well. I’m very appreciative of the platform it’s given me to showcase my design work.
“My ideal job would be doing graphic design work for any professional sports team; the Cowboys would be great” said Ray. Which raises the question, how on earth did Ray wind up being a die-hard Cowboys fan?
“My father is a big football fan and was a fan of Landry and Staubach,” he explained. “He was also a fan of western movies growing up. He created a monster basically. I have been to Dallas games in Baltimore, D.C., New York and in Dallas and of course Philly. From 1986 to 2000 we went to Cowboys – Eagles every year. I have taken a lot of kidding over the years, but I’m not a fair weather fan nor do I have blind loyalty. I call them as I see them. If they lose, I don’t make any excuses.”