The Ladder was recently blessed with the generous donation of a new air hockey table from Vicki Sparks, in memory of her son JT, who was tragically killed in 2009 at the age of 18.
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July 15, 1945 – December 1, 2020
Thomas Carr will always be remembered for his big heart for our community and our country. We will miss his big smile and the service that he lived out every day. He made friends everywhere he went, greeting ladies with “Hi, sweetie!” and gents with a salute. When asked how he was doing, his favorite reply was, “Just peachy” because he felt that way in the presence of friends. He expressed his love for people by serving them, always willing to lend a hand no matter the inconvenience. He was quick to run an errand for a local business, hold open a door for a stranger, and share produce from his vegetable garden.
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown in March, Thomas visited The Ladder Community Center nearly every day, playing pool, eating lunch, and volunteering. Thomas took his volunteer duties at The Ladder seriously, greeting members and ensuring the proper raising and lowering of the U.S. flag located at the front entrance. Vilene Rodgers befriended Thomas at The Ladder shortly after it opened in 2016. “It was like a second home to him,” she said.
Thomas made sure to be last through The Ladder’s lunch line, often standing at attention until everyone had gotten their meals. He even helped serve those who were unable to carry their own tray. Ladder staff member Michelle Deuling commented, “I remember when he took burgers to Shirley because he wanted to make sure she was getting enough to eat, and the many times he held the door open because, he insisted, ‘That’s my job!’”
Thomas served our country proudly in the U.S. ARMY in the Vietnam War, from 1965 to 1967, earning the Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars. Thomas returned home with an undying love for our nation, respect for the flag, and reverence for the brave men and women who fought and died for our freedom. He represented the Pentwater VFW Post 6017 and the Shelby American Legion Post 326 at hundreds of veterans’ funerals throughout Oceana County in full uniform. He is remembered for presenting a hand-decorated sympathy card to each of the veterans’ families. “His desire to please was obvious,” said Deuling. “He would come into the office to show me one of his hand-decorated envelopes that always contained the American flag surrounded by beautiful decorations.”
He always paused to salute the flag, as well as those who serve our country and community. He went out of his way to greet and thank our local police officers. Some days he would sit on his front porch and salute every car that drove by his apartment for hours on end. “He was the most patriotic person I ever knew,” said Rodgers. “One time when he was riding with me, he yelled to stop the car. Then he jumped out to salute a passing police-escorted procession.”
Thomas also loved his Lord. Although he daily battled old wounds and the scars of war, he deeply knew the mercy, forgiveness, and salvation found in Jesus. In his quiet moments, he often expressed extreme gratitude for what Jesus had done for him. He loved to sing and would quickly join the singing of an old hymn, especially Amazing Grace. Thomas knew that the Lord who carried him through the battles of this life would carry him one day to his heavenly home.
Beth Ross, former volunteer coordinator at Love INC in Shelby, said that Thomas stopped by Love INC nearly every day, rain or shine, to bring their mail to the post office. He would even pick flowers from the gardens along the sidewalk and present them to the ladies at Love INC. “He brought flowers to me several times,” recalled Ross. “What lady doesn't enjoy flowers?”
Dave Payne, owner of Shelby Floral, said that he became well acquainted with Thomas because of all his help in the Shelby community. Thomas helped plant and water the flowers along Michigan Avenue and put corn stalks up in the fall. “I admired Tom for his work ethic,” Payne said. “He'll be greatly missed.”
When Ross’ sister died from cancer, Thomas found someone to give him a ride to the funeral in Montague. As Ross pulled into the church parking lot, she noticed Thomas holding an umbrella in the pouring rain. “It rained cats and dogs, and he walked every person from their car to the front door,” said Ross. “He kept asking me, ‘You all right, sweetie?’ He was so selfless and loyal.”
Thomas is survived by two children and many who called him brother and friend. Mary Fuller, Thomas’ neighbor, said he was like a father to her. Earlier this year when Fuller needed a place to stay, Thomas welcomed her into his home. “Pops [Thomas] would always smile when he saw me,” she said. “He always made sure I was taken care of.”
Thomas didn’t have many material possessions. He greatly appreciated anyone doing him a kindness. It was common to see him riding his bike around town, even in the winter. One time, after his bike broke down, Hansen Foods in Hart delivered groceries to him and even found him another bike. Rodgers recalled a time she accompanied Thomas to Hansen’s. He was showing signs of low blood sugar, so one of the cashiers ran to get him a soda, for which she paid out of her own pocket. “He said more times than I can count, ‘Why are people so good to me?’” said Rodgers.
This past summer, Tom planted as many plants as he could fit in the small space next to his apartment in Shelby. He spent a lot of time caring for his garden and looked forward to harvest time so he could share the vegetables with his friends. A few weeks before the harvest, Tom had to leave his place in Shelby, temporarily moving into a room at the Hart Motel.
Ladder staff member Cathy Zoulek recalled the first time she visited him at the motel. “On my way there, I was thinking how upset he may be about not being able to take care of his garden or harvest the vegetables that he was so looking forward to.” When Zoulek arrived at his room, she asked him how he was doing. As usual, he was “peachy,” and to her surprise, he really was. For the next 45 minutes, Thomas walked her around the yard, showing her all the tomato plants that were growing on the motel grounds and how he was taking care of them.
“That was the kind of person Tom was,” said Zoulek. “He didn’t complain about or dwell on the things he didn’t have. He was able to adapt to different situations and make the most of the life he had, even when life was difficult. God gave him the strength to carry on.”
Many would perceive the last few months of Thomas's life to be tumultuous, moving from house to house. The truth is, he couldn't live on his own anymore, but he really wanted to stay in the area. “The people who welcomed him into their homes were a perfect example of God's mercy and grace,” Ross said. “He was well taken care of and loved – a happy, happy man.”
Thomas taught us to look past outside appearances and actions and see him for who he really is: God's child. “He taught me that, even if your outside isn’t polished, you still have feelings, dreams, a past, a purpose,” Ross said. “We all have a past, and we need to look through that and see the person inside.” Ross stated that Thomas also taught her the importance of boundaries and credits him for evolving her timid personality to one of boldness. “I had to speak up and get a little feisty with him sometimes,” she said. “I really loved that crotchety old fart!”
When it was time for him to leave, Thomas would straighten up, give a salute, and say, “Carry on.” So that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll miss you, Thomas. You were definitely one of a kind!