I arrived in Wisconsin at a time when the temperatures were in the negative double digits; cold is an understatement. The landscape all covered in white with literally feet of snow everywhere – not something this Pacific NorthWest girl sees often. Just outside of Tom’s hometown of Fredonia, friends and relatives lodged in the quaint town of Port Washington on Lake Michigan.
Friday night was the end to what was a difficult and long week for Stony Hill staff. It could not have been more fitting that the gathering was at Tom & Gwen’s favorite place to go for “Friday Fish-Fry,” a place called “Glory Days”. Glory Days is a local hangout with tavern fare, great local beers and lots of friendly faces. Our big group gathered and I met all of Tom’s “go-to” people. We spent a few great hours getting to know one another – them getting to know myself and a few others who flew in from far away – and simply remembering Tom and this simple gathering place he frequented for so many years.
Saturday came with more snow. Despite the bitter cold, biting winds Tom’s friends and family arrived in force. The open casket viewing turned out to be easy compared to watching Tom’s family in their grief. Tom looked peaceful…too peaceful. If you knew him you knew he was vibrant, passionate and ever energetic in his technological quest to bring the very best education to home care providers through the Home Care Information Network (HCIN). I don’t recall a single time when he didn't call, or approach me at a meeting to excitedly tell me what they were doing next. And always with a twinkle in his eyes.
Family members read scriptures and gave their accounts of their wonderful experiences with Tom. His brother-in-law made us all laugh, telling stories of Tom’s mishaps with moving trucks and low clearance obstructions, fishing outings, building projects and so much more. He and Tom even trained Tom’s son what to do on a particularly hot day where they were both outside working on a project. They’d simply say, “Hey Brad, what time is it?” and Brad would respond, “It’s beer-thirty!” My favorite though was the story of his brother-in-law telling Tom he was going to marry Tom’s sister and Tom’s reply was, “What are you, nuts?!” I could just hear him saying that.
The service was wonderfully done with his friend and colleague Tim Rowan giving a very moving account of Tom’s impact on lives near and far in the industry and his commitment to home care. Often, he said, Tom was rising at 3 AM to begin his workday as other staff members were just going to bed.
It’s not often you hear Tom Petty or the Steve Miller Band played in a church hall, but somehow “Learning to Fly” to end the service and "Fly Like An Eagle" as they carried Tom out of the sanctuary seemed so very appropriate. The service was followed by a good old fashioned Packer party with plenty of food (Wisconsin Brats of course), music and memories. I met Tom’s sister, in-laws, children and the newest edition, his grandson Nolan – who by the way is very cute. I can see why Tom was so enamored.
That evening we retreated to a private party at the home of one of Tom’s staff persons. We carried on in discussing great moments in memories of Tom and continuation of his legacy with HCIN. Every one of his staff, investors and Gwen herself are committed to carrying on what Tom set out to accomplish. You can just feel their enthusiasm. Each of them has a special talent that will no doubt cause HCIN to achieve the level of success Tom envisioned.
All in all I was so very glad that I was able to attend the service and to meet so many wonderful people. I told Gwen that all of us state home care association executives would miss Tom and his passion for home care and for finding the best technology to deliver high quality education. Before I flew home, Gwen came to the hotel where we are all staying to visit and pass out a white rose and a small gem-like stone (for Stony Hill) to carry in our pockets in Tom’s memory. I was touched by her strength, compassion and humanity in one of the toughest times of her life. I will not soon forget her, her children and grandchild nor any of the people of Stony Hill.Sarah