What's with all the clocks, the model boats and the recumbent bike in the room? Did Heritage Life Story Funeral Home open its own hobby shop? Nope. Those items belonged to Tom Mathews—tinkerer extraordinaire.
"This is great," exclaimed Chad Russ while gathering with friends and family before his grandfather Tom's memorial service on Saturday. "Look at all of his stuff here."
Let's be clear, this was by no means all of Tom's "stuff." Yes, the wooden boat he fashioned with an old weedwacker motor, the antique clocks he built, and the giant sailboat he constructed in his workshop were some of his favorites on display (at least of the pieces that could fit through the door). But these were just a few selections from Tom's vast woodworking collection.
Our hope is that these treasured keepsakes, which so clearly reveal what a person's life was like and what they were passionate about, trigger memories that can then be shared with the family. Those personal stories are such a gift to those who are grieving the loss a loved one.
"Look at this one," said Tom's nephew Dave while admiring old pictures of his uncle. "This is the boat that we sank in Reeds Lake."
Tom, a master handyman and fixer of anything, built many wooden boats, including a wooden kayak, for his family to enjoy out on the lake, with the exception of the one that sank, of course. But even that remains a fun, fond memory for his family. In fact, most memories of Tom are like that. During the service on Saturday, his grandsons Chad, Brian and Tom Russ shared about the incredible impact their grandfather had on their lives and...their wardrobe.
Brian unwrapped a gift in front of the packed room. Inside was a t-shirt covered in newspaper clippings, photographs and handwritten notes scribbled in different colors. An inside joke between the two avid tennis players, Brian and his grandpa have been exchanging the shirt back and forth for more than twenty years. Tom even gave Brian the shirt as a wedding present with a new message, "Love in tennis means nothing. Love in marriage means everything. May your set last forever. The senior player, Grandpa Tom." A few years back, Tom instructed Brian to keep the shirt "until I go and then send it with me." Brian gifted the shirt to his grandpa for the final time on Saturday.
"What an expression of creativity and talent that this man had in his life," said Pastor Lew VanderMeer of New Community Church, who presided over the service. "I'm impressed with Tom's rich and varied life."
Since Tom was a veteran of the United States Navy—he served for two years during the Korean War as a field glass repairman working on binoculars—the Kent County Veteran's Honor Guard performed the three-volley salute, played “Taps” and presented the American flag to Mickey, his wife of seventy years.
"Fair Winds and Following Seas
Shipmate, the watch stands relieved
Relieved by those you have trained, guided, and lead
Shipmate, you stand relieved
We have the watch."
— Tom Russ, Tom's grandson
After watching a slide show of special pictures from Tom's life, family and friends gathered for a dessert reception. "This is all a celebration," declared Tom's grandson Chad. "He had a very full life."
You can read more about Tom's life and even share a memory of your own on his personal memory page.