"I think he died having no regrets."
Jan Thomas on her husband, Ed Thomas.
Well, I guess every good thing must come to an end but I sure would like some more time in Parkersburg, Iowa. I did eat at two of the four restaurants in town, stopped at the only gas station, had the best ice cream (called the Astro), took a tour of the high school and feel like I met half of the 1,300 people in the city. Heck, I want to stick around and meet everyone and have another sub at Falcon's Nest.
Following golf on Friday, I made one last trip to Parkersburg with Brad Meester and his family. I had a chance to sit outside with Jamie Meester's mom before I left and she gave me some riveting details about how the tornado affected the town.
There was the story about a lady holding on to only a pipe in the basement as her house was demolished, or the elderly couple who survived on the floor in their basement while their entire house was taken from them. But as she talked about the recovery, it became clearer about what makes this place special.
No one sat around and moped, hoping someone would come fix everything. No, with Coach Ed Thomas leading the charge, the city rallied together and rebuilt. How could anyone be depressed when they drove by the high school days after the tornado and saw Coach Thomas cleaning up the debris on the football field? He and his wife, Jan, lost their house, moved into an apartment downtown and then went to work on getting everything back in order.
These are people that look out for each other and take pride in their community. When I decided to visit here I really had no idea what to expect. I had an inclination because of my time with the Meesters and Aaron and Linde Kampman.
I started to think this week about Jaguars general manager Gene Smith and his close relationship with his former high school coach, Steve Ringholz. You can usually see Coach Ringholz on the sidelines for a couple of practices during training camp. I have never had the opportunity to meet him but it's easy to see a lot of Ed Thomas in him. It is a testament to their relationship that the two remain so close after all these years.
I can't help but think 10 or 15 years down the road and if Brad or Aaron decide to get into coaching. Just from my experience here, I know each of them would have relied heavily on their former coach and nothing would have meant more than having him along for the ride. He might not be there in person, but I guarantee you the lessons he taught them will continue to be the blueprint for their success in life.
I rode to the golf course on Friday with another former Aplington-Parkersburg player and current Detroit Lions defensive end Jared DeVries. I asked Jared how it was possible for four players from such a small community go on to such long NFL careers. He explained that none of the guys were the most talented, fastest or strongest but they were guys that worked extremely hard and were disciplined. Of course, much of the credit goes to Coach Thomas for establishing a program and regimen for these guys at an early age and teaching them the game of football.
These guys aren't one-year wonders. Jared is entering his 12th season with the Lions and Casey Wiegman is the oldest of the bunch as he is preparing for his 15th year in the NFL. Brad is set for his 11th season with the Jaguars and Aaron played eight seasons with the Packers before joining the Jaguars this offseason. There's a reason they have had sustained success and stayed with the same team for the most part.
All of the players mentioned above are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to make the Ed Thomas Family Foundation a success. This is what their former coach would want. This foundation isn't about football; it's about life.
Sure, all of the players have made a lot of money in their careers and could live anywhere they want when their playing days are over. Guess where they are all planning to be? That's right, home in Iowa, where they belong.
As I depart for Jacksonville, I have to thank Brad and Jamie Meester, Aaron and Linde Kampman and the Thomas family for their hospitality this week. Jamie might have a future in the tour guide business because she showed me everything in two days. Jamie's sister, Candi and her husband, Brett, shared so much about their experience in Parkersburg. Candi works in one of the new strip malls in Parkersburg built following the tornado and is a proud member of that community. I consider them friends for life now. Aaron serves on the foundation's board of directors and he is so passionate about doing right by his former coach. I wish you could have seen him shaking hands, signing autographs and talking with all the participants. It was his goal to make sure everybody had a good time and got everything they needed from him.
It was an honor to be around Todd, Aaron and Jan Thomas. What wonderful people with such a positive outlook on life and their mission is to make sure they make their father and husband proud. I have no doubts that mission will continue to be accomplished.
I would write that this will probably be my only trip to Parkersburg so I hope you enjoyed the blog. Are you kidding me? I will be back next year because this event now holds a permanent place on my calendar.