Leading by example

Faith, family and football were the three words that Ed Thomas lived by. One of his sons, Aaron Thomas, said he was an optimist who lived his passion for helping young people as the coach of the Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach. He coached the team for 37 years, won 292 games, and coached four players that would go on to the National Football League.

For much of his life, Aaron Thomas said he had few real difficulties through his life. He had a loving family growing up, was a good student and athlete and grew up in a financially stable home.

However, both his home and family suffered losses in the late 2000’s. An EF5 tornado took the lives of eight people and reduced many homes in the town to rubble on May 25, 2008. Ed Thomas was instrumental in the effort to rebuild the town, and said that Parkersburg would come out of the disaster stronger than it was before.

With 100 days before the football season began anew, Ed Thomas said that the football field would be ready for the season opener. Despite the absolute devastation of the field and the school’s facilities, the community was able to meet the goal of rebuilding the field before the first game.

About a year after the tornado, Parkersburg would suffer another tragedy. Ed Thomas was fatally shot by a former member of the football team on June 24, 2009 during a weightlifting session. Rather than give into misery and bitterness, Aaron Thomas said he and his family asked for prayers and forgiveness during a press conference just hours after the shooting.

“All of a sudden, my platform, my opportunity, was there in front of me and I had to decide then what we were going to stand for,” Aaron Thomas said. “Was everything my dad stood for and believed in going to go out the window because he was taken from us in a vicious manner? Or, were we truly going to be the people that my father would have expected of us?”

Aaron Thomas went into education, just as his father did, because he wanted to have what his dad did each and every day. After college and several jobs, he found a position to teach and coach 50 miles away from Parkersburg so he could stay near his family.

After his father’s death, he was asked to take up his father’s former position as athletic director. At first, Aaron Thomas said he was unsure if he could do it, but saw that the town needed him.

Now, Aaron Thomas is a teacher, administrator, a coach and a public speaker. He spoke to an assembly of students at Webster City High School, and later spoke to the public on Thursday. He said he hoped people would take away not only the passion and toughness that his father had, but also the need to remember where you come from an the importance of investing in other people.

During his speech, Aaron Thomas showed the 10 minute video chronicling his father’s career and the hardships of the tornado and Ed’s death that aired during the 2010 ESPY awards. The Thomas family was given the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

“My dad didn’t have a job, he didn’t have a career, he had a passion,” Aaron Thomas said. “Him working with young people was his passion. My hope for each and every one of you that what you do is a passion that has an impact on people’s lives.”

Aaron Thomas closed his speech by stressing the importance of standing for something. He asked for people to consider what they as individuals and they as the community of Webster City stand for.

“I know things have not been always easy here with the closing of Electrolux and some different things. What are you going to be about?” Aaron Thomas said. “If you can’t tell me what makes Webster City special, how am I as an outsider ever going to know what makes this a unique place to be? You’ve got to believe it, and you can’t fake it.”