Remembering Ed Thomas: Faith, family and football

Thomas Foundation promotes opportunities for students

Local residents walk past a photo of Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas before a vigil Wednesday, June 24, 2009, in Parkersburg, Iowa. A gunman shot Thomas in the school's weight room early Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

When Todd Thomas found out his father was murdered, he was thousands of miles away in Jamaica for a college friend’s wedding.

The plane ride home was a long trip, but one that Todd also found as a time to reflect and come to grips with the tragedy.

“For me personally, I needed to digest it all at my own pace,” Todd said. “I wouldn’t have done as well (in real time at home). When I was out of the country on my way back, I was able to talk with my mom (Jan) on the phone. She gave me the calming feeling that dad was in heaven and it would be OK.

“Our family was close to begin with. Unfortunate matters bring families even closer.”

The day Thomas died had a lasting impact on everyone in the towns of Aplington and Parkersburg, as well as football coaches and families across the country.

This week marks 10 years since Thomas was killed in cold blood. The surviving Thomas family — Jan and her sons, Todd and Aaron — have tried to come to peace with the tragedy in the decade of recovery and remembrance.

“I miss him a lot,” Jan said. “Ed was a believer in Jesus Christ, as is our whole family. I don’t think we would have been able to get through it and the trial without our Father.

“I try to stay positive (when June 24 comes around), but you can’t help to have it cross your mind. I try not to dwell on the doom and gloom of it.”

Aaron Thomas, who is the head boys basketball coach at Aplington-Parkersburg, had tried to model his life after Ed, using the morals instilled by his parents.

“My dad’s example on how he lived his life (has helped through the years),” Aaron said. “My mom deserves a ton of credit.

“I try to be a servant and show leadership. The best way is to try do something else for someone who can’t repay you, and you and make it better for them. Take pride in your work. No job is too small; you are never above any task. My parents taught us that.”

The Ed Thomas Foundation was started after his death: a foundation that lives by Thomas’ standards, and is honored through their mission statement.

Faith.

Family.

Football.

The foundation is to provide opportunities to young adults through scholarships, maintain and upkeep facilities, and most importantly, spread the message of God’s word while continuing the legacy of Ed Thomas.

The foundation also holds a Leadership Academy.

“We just finished our 10th academy,” Aaron said. “We hosted over 500 students. We have different speakers that interact with the kids and get them actively involved.”

Thomas’ core beliefs are the cornerstone of the mission.

“For me, (the foundation) means a ton,” Todd said. “It’s impacting high school kids. This was the focus of my dad’s commitment: to reach out and help kids as much as he could.

“The foundation was built to teach leadership and character.”

Ed’s football life was well-documented. His passions away from the game — and Jan’s role as the backbone of the family — are emphasized now.

“For Aaron and I, our mom has been a guiding force,” Todd said. “Dad was the disciplinarian, and got a lot of notoriety for his football accomplishments, but mom was the cornerstone.

“With what we went through with the tragedy, that day and years after, we lived through the Lord. We have a great Christian family. That day he went to heaven — and knowing I would see him again — gives you almost a calming feeling. It stinks he’s not on earth, but we’ll see him again.”

The family’s belief in the Holy Spirit — and each other — helped her family through the darkest of times.

“I don’t know how you go through that without (God),” Aaron said. “For 58 years, his whole life goal was to get to heaven. Christ died on the cross, and I take great comfort in that. I don’t know how you get through a loss of a loved on without that hope.

“His example was how he lived his life through Christ, and that’s how I live. My mom deserves a ton of credit for that.”

Ed’s memory lives on today, thanks to the community he touched in so many ways for so many years.

“Ed was pretty incredible,” Jan said. “You don’t have to be rich and famous to reach people. It’s about taking time to get to know people.

“It was important to Ed for men and women to understand good character and integrity. It means something to be a good leader and to have a servant-like mentality.”

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