Below is a transcript of funeral services for Ed Thomas on June 29, 2009.
The transcript excludes some prayers and benedictions.
Brad Zinnecker: Please be seated. We are gathered here this morning in the memory of Edward Arthur Thomas, coach. He died on Wednesday, June 24, 2009. As we remember him, our sympathy and prayers go out to the family and friends that he left behind, especially his wife Jan, their two sons, Aaron and Todd, along with their families, Ed's three grandchildren, Owen, Gavin, and Trevin, as well as Ed's mother, Ed's brother Greg, his three sisters, Susan, Connie and Theresa.
They, along with their families, grieve in a special way today before the loving God of Heaven. And they are joined by extended family, friends, Ed's fellow coaches, teachers, players, parishioners here at this church, the town of Parkersburg, the state of Iowa and the nation.
They recognize a man after God's own heart. Paul speaks of Death in 1 Corinthians 15 as the last enemy to be defeated. And this enemy brings sorrow and suffering in it's wake, and it can leave a hole within our guts, within our soul, that nothing can seem to fill. And yet as we turn to the gospels, we take heart that Jesus overcame death and resurrected to life, the same life he promises to those who believe in him.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believe in me shall live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."
This is the hope of the Gospel for those of us who are left in the wake of Ed's passing. And yet, there is still that hole, and pain and grief is normal. It's natural. It's OK to cry. It's OK to mourn and remember. It's OK to laugh, as well.
But that pain is something we need comfort for. And the only one who can truly sustain and comfort us for the long haul and for eternity is our Heavenly Father. So I'm going to lead us in prayer at this time, and at the appropriate time, I'm going to ask you to join in the Lord's Prayer, and when you do, please use the words "debts" and "debtors."
Please join me in prayer: Our Dear Father in Heaven. Today we stand before the mystery of life and death. We have a dear man, a loving husband, a loving and caring father and grandfather, a brother, uncle, coach, leader and friend who have been lost to all those who are gathered here to mourn and remember him. So we ask, God, that You would be with us in this place, especially now, but also in the days ahead to comfort us as we grieve.
We know You are the Great Comforter, who, as Paul writes -- and I know Ed took comfort from this passage himself -- but as Paul writes, you are the father of all compassion and the God of all Comfort, who comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort those in any troubles with that same comfort that we have received from you.
Ed was one who had comforted many, especially in these last 13 months, and we need that comfort now. God, we ask you to pour it down. Father, as his family gather together to remember him in this time of grief, I ask that it would be mixed with joy as they remember his love of life, his ability to have hope and see good in those around him, his passion for his Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. And I pray that you would guide their family, that you would strengthen them and comfort them. That you would help them to lean on one another, and that the roots of the tree that him and Jan planted in this family, that it would just strengthen through this.
I thank you for the love that is so evident within the immediate and extend family for one another, and I ask that you continue to guide that and let it course through their veins, and ultimately I thank and praise you that they want to see your name glorified, as Ed wanted to see in his life. Bless them, bless them with found memories of how he loved and cared for them. May their grief truly be mixed with joy and thanksgiving.
And God, be with all of us that Ed touched as we recall memories of who he was. He was a man you used in so many ways. His personal life and public life were the same. His passion for family and football were matched only by his passion for you. And that enabled him to be the man you created him to be; a man of integrity and honor and humbleness. As we come together and remember him, let us be loving and caring to one another, even as we saw displayed in your son in the Gospel of John, how he cared for those around him during the time his friend Lazarus died, before he raised him from the grave.
God, we thank you for your almighty son, Jesus Christ. We thank you for his willingness to come and live among us, and die and be resurrected to save us from sin. So today we come before you and pray the Lord's Prayer he taught the gospel.
[SONG: I COULD SING OF YOUR LOVE FOREVER]
Zinnecker: At a time such as this, it's often good to turn to God's word and hear some comfort from the Scriptures, so together with the family, some of the text I'm going to read over the next few moments were selected for that purpose.
We often turn to the book of Psalms as a place of comfort, and the opening Psalm says this: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the way of mockers. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on His law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams water, and it yields its fruit in season, and who's leaf does not wither. Everything he does prospers. Not so the wicked. They are like chaff that the wind blows away, therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement nor sinners with the assembly. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
When you look at that verse, He is like a tree planted by streams water, and it yields its fruit in season; many of you who were taught and led under coach, are like that fruit.
Psalm 13, the family asked me to read: it starts off asking: How long, O Lord, will you forget me? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer O Lord, my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death.
My enemy will say "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice in my fall. But I trust in your unfailing love, and my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me."
I think especially those last two verses is what Ed Thomas would say.
You cannot look to the book of Psalms for comfort without turning to Psalm 23. Many of you know it by heart. You learned it when you were little kids, but let me read it to you and remind you of the comfort David talks of there. It says: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and lie down beside quiet waters, where he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake, and even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely, Goodness and Love shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever."
That house of the Lord that David talks about, Jesus comforts his disciples with in John 14, just before he is to be betrayed, crucified, died, and resurrected from the dead. Just before that, he comforts his disciples, for he told them he'd have to go away, but he will come again. And this is what he says: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me. My Father's house has many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back, and I will take you to be with me, so you may be where I am. You know the way to the place I'm going. Thomas said 'We don't know where you are going. How could we know the way?' Jesus said 'I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.'"
You'd sit down with Coach and talk about his faith, and he'd tell you that that's the very basis for what he believed.
John later wrote the Apocalypse, what we know as Revelations. A vision of what it will be like in those final days when Christ will come back to redeem those who are his. And in Revelation 21, there is this wonderful passage that gives us a picture of what heaven will be like. John writes: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth, the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. There was no more sea. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God, as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne say: 'Now the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will be with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Listen. There will be no more death, no more mourning of death, no more crying, no more pain. For the old order of things has passed away. He who is seated on the throne said I am making everything new. Then he said: 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. It is done, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. For him who is thirsty, I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of Life.
Let us pray: Our father in heaven, again, we just praise you as we can come before you, for the comfort from your words, and that those words were words that Coach taught, believe in and spread, and he based his life around. It was the assurance of his faith. God, I pray that those would be words that the lives here, and those in other rooms and other places, God I pray that these words would minister to them, not just comfort, but that they would know the assurance of faith in Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.
Al Kerns, fellow coach and teacher:
Thank you pastor. Those out there who have heard me speak, mostly the young people, know that when I speak, I usually hang on to something.
Today I chose this little lawn tractor, cause when I look at that, it makes me think of Ed and smile. And I know that when I'm done, because I'm a school teacher, people will look at each other and ask "What did he say?" "I don't know, but he had a little lawn tractor." And maybe you'll smile and think about Ed, too.
I'm honored to do this today, but I never dreamed I'd be doing this today. At my age, being closer to the finish line than I am to the starting line, I had really always hoped Ed would speak at my funeral, and he'd put in a good word for me. I hope he's listening now.
Now, this is my last time segment for Coach. Coach always gave his assistants a time segment: you have 15 minutes, you have 20 minutes. And he'd look at you and say "You have 20 minutes." And that meant you have 20 minutes to get what's done on your list. Get it done.
It's the toughest time segment I've ever been challenged with. You know, you look out here, and you see all these thousands of people, and it's not just that you knew Ed. Everyone here has a personal relationship with him, cause that's the way Ed was. It's an emotional relationship. I know I can't speak for all of you, and I know in the end whatever I say about this man will be inadequate. My goal for the next few minutes for me is that we go beyond mourning a death and remembering how this man lived. Because therein is his message to us all. And to say I lost my best friend in this case seems selfish.
Cause Ed was that kinda guy -- there are a lot of people out there who say "I lost my best friend." And all of us are right. He was the best friend of so many people. I've never known a man like that. I don't know if it'll be possible again.
Since we got the news of Ed's death, Ed has been in my ear. I don't know if I'm actually communicating with him, or if the words we put in him are just that strong that they live on in me. I don't know about all that. Alls I know is I'm still listening to him. I know Ed took care of these things during his life here, but I hear him asking me to reinforce his priorities.
Of course, his faith was first. I know he'd want me to mention his family. Early on, when I met Ed many years ago. When Ed spoke to you -- a lot of people speak to us, we talk to each other each time. You felt words when he spoke. You felt them. They were emotional. And I remember when he would talk about his parents and how much they mean to him. You could tell the love every time he spoke of them. His brothers, his sisters, and all his family. They meant so much to him.
After he married Jan, Jan's family became that way. It was faith first, then family. Ed's boys, Aaron and Todd, and now their families. You two are men now, and you know what dad expects. And I'll leave it at that.
I wish everyone could've seen Ed when he was in the presence of his grandchildren. That was something to behold. It was beautiful. And probably most of all Jan. Without Jan, there's no Ed like we know Ed. As we've witnessed the past few days, you can see where Ed drew much of his strength. Ed and I talked many times over the years, and he knew you were the other part of him, Jan. You were the first team. And guys our age don't seem to say it enough, but you know he could've accomplished nothing without you. I know he'd want me to say that.
Ed was proud to hail from What Cheer, Iowa, and he never forgot where he came from. Faith, family, school and the young people. In that order. Those closest to him knew his priorities. The guy had all these special talents that came from deep inside him; some secret, emotional place that I don't know if the rest of us can find, certainly not as easy as he did.
Things like love. I talked to all the former players. Ed had a special way of showing love. (laughter) All the players know what I'm talking about. If Ed loved you, he'd chewed you out. More than once. And he could make you feel this big, but there was love in every bit of it. And sometimes, we all needed that.
He had a special, almost mystical talent of driving. Everyone who's ridden with him knows that. He could drive a vehicle for miles and never look out the windshield. He would have a playbook, or some big card with all these plays on it. I don't even know if he was hanging onto the wheel. Maybe he just did it to get me to pray -- cause I was. He'd be going through all that stuff, and you'd be going. I learned early on, don't read the newspaper. I usually rode shotgun, and I'd be reading the paper, especially if had something about our school in it, and I'd look over, and there would set Ed, and he'd be reading the paper. It was certainly a special skill.
He had amazing math skills, to where each home game, we started to meet on the sidelines just before the kickoff, and I'd stand beside him or behind him. Every game, for all those years, he'd look across at the opposing stands, and he could immediately calculate the gate, in dollars, and there was never a game that happened that he didn't say: "Jeez, I thought they'd bring more people." (laughter)
And then, boom, his brain would be right back to the game. He was clairvoyant in a manner that he could sense a weed taking hold. And if he did, he'd go take care of it. Ed was multitasking years before the word was even invented.
It's scary to think we men as coaches -- and we know how many coaches A-P has -- and we won't be able to accomplish what Ed did. I worked for a guy early in my career, and we were talking one day, a boss of mine, and he said that everyone can be replaced, and he explained to me about working hard, and in the end, no matter what you do, you can all be replaced. I understood that, and I still do, but it's not always true. And it's definitely not true in Ed's case.
I guess his best special talent was friendship. You meet that guy once or twice and you had a friend. Ed never met a person he didn't like, and Ed would always talk about a person he met like this: He'd say: he's a nice guy. He said that about every person. Or "she's a good person." He only saw the best in others, and I guess that's why he got all this back. He only saw the best in all of us.
He never said no when others asked of him, so other people could never say no to him. Little things scare me about the future, in that how a guy -- any guy -- how you can get 30 or 40 kids to move hurdles at a track meet or whatever. And he would get them there to work for two or three hours for one free hot dog. (laughter) I don't know how we're going to replace that.
And the tractor in the field. I can't talk about him and not mention that. Many of us, me included, razzed Ed about how tedious he was with that place. Now that he's gone, I can see the metaphor in it for how he lived. I don't know how many blades of grass out there. I suppose we have some former students, mathematicians who could figure that out for me. Millions upon millions of blades of grass. And he treated that field like he treated all of us. Every single blade of grass needs love and encouragement on a daily basis. When some grass leaves, you replace it with more and thicker grass. You make the roots deep, so it can withstand all pressure, especially when people walk on it, impeding it's upward growth. When bad things appear, such as weeds, or fungus, or all these things he used to talk me about that I have no idea about. I'm color blind, and I can't tell you the countless number of times -- every time we'd walk by the field he'd do this -- "Doesn't it look green?" Yes Ed, very green. When those bad things appear, such as weeds and fungus, we need to eliminate them as soon as possibly by physically pulling them or applying three times the amount of chemicals recommended by the EPA.
The example of Ed's life to all of us, especially the people he touched, all the people he called his fellows and his gals, is to just look at how he lived. Do what the Bible says each day of your life, serve others, serve others with enthusiasm and energy. Look for the best in others and give the best that you have. In the end, this week, I don't think of the games won, or the countless awards or praise or recognition -- and he deserved every bit of it.
All I know, from being around him for 30 years is that he made the people around him wish to become better than we are by looking at how he lived. He prepared every moment of his life for entering that final end zone. He showed us all how to win life's greatest victory. We all know where he is now, at peace. Ed did so much for all of us, so we find ourselves needing to do something for him in return, for those closest to him left behind for now.
And knowing Ed, I think that he would tell us that these are the things he wants from us: be physically, mentally, spiritually prepared. Don't wait till Friday; it's too late. Play every down as if it's your last one. Leave it on the field, cause we never know when it could be our last play. And in the end, in a tribute to Ed, and I'd invite anyone to join me, I'm going to raise my hand with four fingers. Everyone knows what that means. He would be pleased to know a part of him lives on in all those he touched. Thanks for being an inspiration. We will move on, but we'll never forget.
Brad Zinnecker: Thanks Al. Edward Arthur Thomas, or as he was commonly called, "Coach," was born July 17, 1950 in Oskaloosa, Iowa, to Roy and Artherine Thomas. He graduated from Tri-County High School in Thornton, Iowa, in 1958 and went on to receive degrees from William Penn and from the University of Northern Iowa, just down the road in Cedar Falls. He began his teaching and coaching career at the Hamilton School in Blairsburg, Iowa, but a few years after that, he came to Parkersburg, Iowa in 1975. He brought with him what I understand was a cute little girl. Before becoming well know for his football coaching, he was razzed about her.
He married her on May 29, 1976, Janet Sue Scott in Williams, Iowa, at the United Methodist Church. The recently celebrated 33 years of marriage together, and that included third annual attempt at the first annual trip to Hawaii, where we heard rumors that Ed danced the hula, but no, it turned out Ed was just terrified to dance the hula. Had he danced the hula, that would have been a top download on iTunes. I know many players and coaches who would've loved to seen that.
Jan, in talks with Ed and with others, he understood he was not the perfect husband. Man, he loved you. And those two boys right there, too. From Ed and Jan's marriage came two wonderful sons, those two young men you see before you, Aaron and Todd, who also picked up two wonderful women as wives. And so far, three little grandchildren. Let's make it some more. You have to field a football team.
Both on and off the field, Coach was an educator. He didn't just coach football and track and teach social studies. I'm scared to think that he also taught Driver's Ed. I knew he taught Driver's Ed, but it wasn't till the last few days I realized how scary that was. And Jan, you let me ride with him this past year. And he was on his good behavior, cause we didn't hit anything that I remember.
But Ed did more than teach that. He taught how to live life to God's glory and how to have purpose in life before your creator. He shaped young people through teaching them about integrity, hard work, discipline and character.
At our church, he spoke, preached and taught God's word. He was an elder. He always encourage people to be hopeful, true and faithful followers of Jesus Christ. He sought to follow God's wisdom from the Bible in everything he did. He sought to apply it to his life. You do have some statistics there, and I'll run through a few of them. It'd be hard not to give some statistics about his life. They are impressive, but they are not all encompassing.
We do have 19 appearances in the state playoffs, four time state runner up, two state titles in '93 and '01, inducted into the high school football hall of fame, NFL high school football coach of the year in 2005, the Walt Fiegel coach of the year award, four current players in the NFL, and many more. Impressive statistics.
Impressive to say the least. And yet, if you open your bulletin, about halfway down, what does it say Ed Thomas took pride in? Ed took great pride in teaching life lessons: integrity, hard work and values, not only to his players, but to all of his students that spanned multiple generations in his teaching and coaching in the past 37 years.
I want to tweak that in one little way. I do not believe Ed's students were only in the local high school. Ed was someone who led a life that taught everyone around him, from his good friend Tom Teeple the barber, to his golf partner, to those on the board of this church, to myself.
Ed was able to be a great town leader, helping this town to rise from the ashes this year, Ed was able to be a great coach, shaping young men, not only into better football players, but into better people. Ed was able to be a great spiritual leader, encouraging other's people's growth in Christ. Ed was able to be a great father and grandfather, encouraging the growth of future leaders. And Ed Thomas was able to be a good husband to Jan because, first and foremost, Ed Thomas had a passion to pursue the Resurrected Jesus Christ in every single thing he did. Ed had purpose in his life that shone through in all that he said, all that he did, all that he thought. His purpose was to live a life that pointed in all ways to who Jesus Christ is, as the Son of God, risen from the dead to pay for the penalty of our sins and to make us right with God the Father.
As I thought about Ed this week, there were two passages that came to mind. One I spoke to our congregation about yesterday, and the other I want to speak to you about today.
Phillipians 3: 1-14
Kelly Williamson, former player: I would like to thank the Thomas family for giving me the opportunity to speak about Coach this morning. I'd like to address a few things to the family. First Jan.
Jan, I love you. You are an incredible Christian witness to your family, to your community and to the state of Iowa. In the wake of last week's tragedy, your grace and mercy in this time of loss points people to Jesus Christ like nothing else I've ever seen. I want to thank you for sharing your husband with thousands of young people in this community and across this state. Your encouragement and support of your husband made him the man he was, and we all recognize that, Jan.
You and Coach have a wonderful family, a Godly testimony, and our entire community has you in our prayers. Todd and Aaron, your dad would be so proud of how you've handled this past week. Through your words and actions, the two of you have exemplified to a community, and really to the whole nation, what the fruits of a close, personal relationship with Jesus looks like in the worst of times.
I want to thank you guys for sharing your dad with so many young people -- with all of us, really -- over the years. You know, your dad was able to impact the people he was able to impact because you guys were living out the very things your dad stood for.
At no time is that more evident than at this very moment. You're in our thoughts and prayers.
Growing up, I had the great privilege to both play for and coach with Mr. Thomas. Outside of my mom and dad, I consider Coach Thomas to be one of the greatest influences on my life. It was right here, in a pew in this church, where Mr. Thomas asked if I'd be interested in being a coach on his staff. It changed my life forever.
I'm in education today, I'm in coaching today, and, Lord willing, I can touch young people today because of your dad. [...] Coach Thomas proved what's right and still be a success. Coach's words ring in my ears today. And to the young people who are here this morning. I know that Coach Thomas would tell you this if he were in my shoes. He'd say this: He'd say: Do what's right. He'd say always remember who you are and where you come from. He'd say good things happen to good people. He'd say bust your butt when you're up, and rest at the end of the line. He'd say do your best with your God-given ability. He'd say have a passion about you. Because this world is looking for a people who have a passion for what they do, who love doing what they do. Because it's a rare breed of people who really have a passion for what they're doing. And people are drawn to people who have a passion.
These weren't just slogans for Coach Thomas, they were truths from the heart of a man who loved the Lord, his family and his community in that order. Coach Thomas always said that if all we ever do is teach you how to block and tackle, we've missed the whole thing.
Aaron Thomas: Just quickly, cause I think there are some things to be said, and it might be inappropriate if anyone else said it.
Our family can't thank you enough, for what you've done, for your support, for the people you've become through my father. My challenge now to you -- and my dad was terrible when he'd lose -- I don't know how my mom dealt with him, but my mom got him going again.
Come Sunday, he'd meet with the coaches again, he's ready to go again. The players all knew Monday was going to be terrible, but it was part of getting back up, getting going. And I tell you this.
We've stuck with this longer than I know he'd have liked. There's no way he'd have wanted this to drag out five days, and there's no way, he'd have waited four hours for anybody. But I'm going to tell you this, and I'm going to challenge you with this.
You can be sad the rest of the day, but come tomorrow, once you wake up, it's time to get going. And the way my dad's memory's going to live, and the way we make up for him - there's not one of us here who can make up for what my dad did.
There's not one of us here who can be Ed Thomas, but this can be a better place than it was with Ed Thomas, but for that to happen, it's gotta come from each one of you.
I don't care what your job is, and one thing I'll never forget of my father - no job is too small. No job is too small. I don't care what you do, what you make. When you step up and you go to work, come tomorrow, you give it everything you got. And if work starts at eight, make sure you're there at 7:57. You're not rolling in late. And if you work till 4, you work till 4:05. Don't shortchange anyone, don't shortchange yourself.
He talked a lot about character. Character is you doing what's right when no is looking and no one will know.
My father was a great man of character, that's something I've taken from him. But come tomorrow, it's time we all get going. There's a lot of work to be done in this town. My dad was here for a reason. He wasn't taken before the tornado. He got us close. I think now it's a challenge to all of us.
Can we finish this town to where it's supposed to be? Can you make the difference with the young people if you're an educator? Can you step up and carry the torch. If you're a church member, can you step up? Lead that Sunday School class. Work with the young people in youth group. If you're not in a church, can you step up and find one? That's what he'd want.
My father'd be so proud to see this church full. Not because of these circumstances, but the fact that Kelly shared the message of how you can be saved and know where you're going. Unbelievable platform. I know there are people in here who have never heard the Gospel. I don't think that's the ultimate reason for my dad's death, but it'll play a part.
So as a community - when I say community, whether you be from Parkersburg, from A-P, from the state of Iowa or anywhere else, if you truly honor and care about my father, come tomorrow you will pick yourself up, get going and do what you're supposed to do.
If you want to honor my family and my father, and it won't be just this week. Can you sustain it? He did it for 33 years here. Can you sustain it, day in and day out, doing what's right, making people better, taking care of each other. If you can do that, my father will live for a really long time through all of this. If you can't, that's when it's a tragedy, and that's when it's a shame. My father died for his faith, I firmly believe that.
And this includes me. I need to step up. I know I need to step up. I need to be much more active in my church. But I'm challenging you all. Today we can be sad. Come tomorrow, it's time we all get going.
And like Kelly said, if you don't know you're saved, you make sure one of us, you see a deacon, you see Kelly himself.
The last thing I'm going to say -- my family, I know we will miss someone in the thank yous. We cannot thank you enough. We cannot thank you enough for waiting in line. You don't know what that meant to us, and also what that would have meant to my dad. I know he had no idea the number of people he influenced. I know that. But it's appreciated. You are all appreciated. He was important to each and every one of you.
And as he'd say, it's time we get up and get ourselves going 'cause the true test of character is how do we respond to adversity. This is adversity. This is adversity. Now, my challenge to you: how are you going to respond, what are you going to do tomorrow?
God Bless you all, and we thank you so much for coming and for loving our father.