Thomas was a middle child, born between two brothers in 1950. Raised by Christian parents, Alfred and May, in Loveland, Colorado, he also chose to give his life to Christ.
Thomas went to schools in Colorado, New Mexico, and California, and lived in numerous cities and houses, following his father around to various jobs. They finally ended up in Belleview, Colorado where he and his brothers were free to roam the hillsides around their house, hunting and fishing together. He took summer jobs on a ranch outside of Laramie, Wyoming, and fell in love with the “cowboy way of life”, learning the art of horseback riding and working with mother cows and calves. Life was good until April 7, 1970, at the age of 19, when he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. The conditions and experiences he witnessed were so brutal, that he seldom speaks of those times, except to say that on his first day there he thought that there was no way he was ever going to make it out alive. As an infantryman, he was trained to kill the enemy in a position called the “army grunt” in the 101st Airborne Division. He turned 20 and then 21 during his extensive service in the vast jungles of Vietnam, enduring monsoons and sweltering heat as he often carried 100 pounds of supplies in his rucksack on resupply day.
The immorality around him was as thick as the Southeast Asian jungle, and the weapon he used to fight for the life of his soul was the little New Testament he carried with him that his grandmother had given him when he left. Tom endured this trial for 14 ½ months, and then, by the grace of God, came home having sustained only minor injuries, and by the strength God supplies, was quite successful at putting those memories and events behind him and going forward in his life with a stronger faith in God.
When he returned home on November 11, 1971, he found his older brother, Jack, had gotten married and his little brother, Ray, was to be married in two weeks. And as “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28) he met the love of his life, Kate, at that wedding and they were married on May 26, 1972. Tom helped Kate learn what God says about baptism and New Testament Christianity, and she was baptized into Christ shortly thereafter.
Through the years, Tom has worked at a variety of jobs: carpentry, fence building, and ranch hand work in Colorado and Wyoming. Tom and Kate lived and worked on two ranches, one in summer and one in winter, southwest of Laramie, Wyoming, for about two years, but they realized that living 75 miles from the Lord’s church, along with working daily around very worldly people, was starting to take its toll on their spiritual lives. The winters were harsh and snowy, quite often keeping them from traveling the many miles to worship in Fort Collins, Colorado, so they decided to move to Idaho in 1977. The small church of Christ meeting in Blackfoot had yet to understand the biblical patterns that correct the errors of liberalism and institutionalism, so Tom and Kate patiently and thoroughly examined the scriptures with the humble, teachable hearts there, and were able to come to a common understanding in how to best honor God’s instructions and were unified in all things.
For two years Tom went through the Idaho State University Trade and Technical School, graduating with a certificate of Welding in 1979, achieved recognition and awards in his field, and eventually accepted the job as a welding instructor at a high school in 1987. He did much good in the lives of his students, so much so that even today, some of his students still keep in touch with him and attribute much of their success in life to him.
In 1993, Tom and Kate started their own welding shop, called Industrial Metal Enterprises. The grit, courage, drive, and prayer the venture took was exceptionally challenging. In 1998, all of those qualities became indispensable when Tom and Kate experienced the most trying moments of their lives after their youngest son, Casey, had a terrible auto accident which left him with head and brain trauma and only a 3% chance of making it through a life-or-death surgery. Together, they begged God for mercy while the surgery went on and on into the night. Things were getting worse with even the doctors giving up on him, believing his accident would be fatal. But then, the next morning, Casey began to move. This was only made possible because his Intelligent Designer had created a blood vessel that goes from the left side of the brain to the right side and his doctors explained that such was what had somehow managed to keep his blood flowing. Thank heaven! Casey was still alive. Recovery would be a steep, uphill battle in the months and years that would follow, but Casey was able to graduate with his class in 2002.
Tom firmly believes in the power of God through his Word, that we are not to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and that we must live by faith (Romans 1:16-17). One way he has shared the gospel with others is the 14 years he has been a member of the board of trustees for Truth Publications and continues to serve in that capacity today. Through years of deep Bible study, the congregation in Blackfoot has strived to continue being a sound, conservative body of Christ in His kingdom. Tom became one of two elders in the Blackfoot church of Christ and served in that capacity from 1992 – 2002, until the other elder resigned.
Four years after his accident, sadly, Casey slipped on an irrigation ditch, fatally hitting his head on the ground, resulting in his death on Sept 15, 2002. This was incredibly devastating to the family, having already endured so much. Tom, the strong head of the family, guided every member of it through this dark valley by encouraging each of them to look for the good and to use this hard trial to grow stronger in the Lord by putting their trust in Him alone and to look to Him for strength and courage to carry on. This great loss would affect and change their lives forever, but they let God use that shared pain to pull them much closer to Him and to each other. Together they determined to continue to stand firm in their faith and hope and to live their lives so that they will see their Heavenly Father, as well as Casey, again someday.
At the time Mark and I stayed with Mitchells in Blackfoot, their business had been going strong for 27 years. Tom and Kate let us pet the soft muzzles of their horses and told us stories of cowboy life, including the day the gate was left open and 16 horses ran out and down the busy street, half in one direction and half in another. They drove us through the grounds of the successful business they had built for a humble little show and tell. As we pulled out, I thanked them for their example, which was a testimony of what can be achieved by living life God’s way— with faithfulness, integrity, and diligence. Clearly, this business they are now retiring from will continue to be a blessing to their family, their community, and the 60 employees working at Industrial Metal Enterprises to provide a living for their own families. How different this country would be if everyone were as open to the wisdom of God and if everyone lived it out day by day as they do.
At lunch after worship, before we left town, we had time to talk. The conversation turned to how my mother had obeyed the gospel after a year-long Bible study with Frank Thompson who would not give up on her. “My most stubborn stallions to train are often my best horses because of their mental strength”, Tom offered. We talked about how one of the members of the congregation happened to be the son of Frank Thompson. It was then that Tom was moved to tears and brushed them away, at just the thought of how his friend might be feeling today over the fact that Mark, who had preached, was only there because of the Bible class that his grandfather had taught decades ago to my mother, who had taught Mark. Crying can be a manly thing too sometimes. Jesus wept. So did King David. It takes courage to feel, and even more gallantry to allow others to witness what you feel. Moreover, a strong man crying from joy over spiritual realities, especially in empathy for what another brother might also be feeling? It’s a beautiful thing.
What comfort this warm hospitality, and what strength and encouragement Tom and Kate lent us for the rest of our journey.
Blackfoot Church of Christ
370 N Shilling Ave,
Blackfoot, ID 83221