2010 Second Mile Award Winner: Tom Hoe, 95, Montana

We had our work cut out for us to narrow down the nominations to select a winner of The Second Mile Award. We’re pleased to announce that Tom Hoe, 95, of Ennis, Montana is the winner of the 2010 Second Mile Award. He is a musician, storyteller, community contributor, and so much more. Tom continues to go the extra mile. Jan Beekman nominated Tom. She is his Senior Companion, and friend. They sing and play music together. We were struck by the many parallels between my father’s life and Tom’s. I’m sure they’d love to sit down to play music and swap stories.

We’ve selected two honorable mentions: Joe Taylor and Helen G. O’Leary. The essays nominating these two Elders are coming soon. Now….Here’ Tom Hoe. –Janet Riehl


Tom Hoe: How to Grow in Grace and Experience
– but Never Grow Old

Tom Hoe epitomizes the spirit of the Second Mile Award which honors Erwin A. Thompson. Like Erwin, Tom celebrated his 95th birthday this year surrounded by family and friends who love and admire him. Tom lived the first 62 years of his life in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was born on January 12, 1915.

Like Erwin, Tom served in the military during World War II. Tom was stationed in the northern part of France from 1943 to 1945. He was in charge of a group of German prisoners. “They were not soldiers,” Tom explained. “They were civilians. Most of them did not agree with what Hitler was doing. I took time to get to know them. I never had a bit of trouble with them.” That spirit of friendliness and trust follows Tom in his life to this day and has allowed him to make an enormous impact on the lives of others.

When Tom left the military and returned to Colorado in 1945, he returned to school and received his Master’s Degree in Education. He became Director of the Boys Club of Colorado Springs for 17 years. His love of the troubled boys there created a mutual trust which changed those young fellas lives forever.

In 1947 he married the love of his life, Annie Dell Clark. Together they raised six children – 5 boys and a girl. Additionally, they took care of neighborhood kids, brought sick animals back to health, and watched their family increase with 17 grandchildren and 7 (or 8… he lost count) great-grandchildren.

Tom remembers one red tail hawk that landed near their home with a broken wing. He and Annie mended its wing, fed it and nursed it back to health for two months or more – until it was ready to fly again. Several months later it came back to pay its respects. He knew it was that same hawk just like he recognized the bear cub that returned after it lived for a week or more with him and his boys at a camp one summer. Oh, the stories he can tell about that cub and its impact on those youngsters!

Tom went to Palmer High when he left the Boys Club. He taught one of the first “Work Experience” classes in the western USA. They didn’t call it that in those days, but it was a group of troubled kids who had been kicked out of their homes and were about to drop out of school. They needed a job to support themselves. He taught them in the mornings and they went to work in the afternoons.

His classroom and his home became a safe haven for those kids. Again, his love for them and his willingness to listen to them and try to understand them created a lasting impression and made a difference in their lives. He went the extra mile at Palmer High for 13 years, until his knees gave out and he had to retire. In 1977, he and Annie moved to Montana where his two older sons lived. Doc Losee at the Ennis Hospital replaced one of Tom’s knees and helped him start getting around better again.

Getting around is what he continues to do well, too. At 95, he still goes the extra mile to help others. He’s like the “Energizer Bunny” – he just keeps on tickin’! With transportation help from friends and family, he plays the guitar “for the old folks” at the Nursing Home in Ennis when they have their monthly birthday party. He entertains occasionally in the park when there is a Fishing Festival or a Hunters’ Feed, playing his guitar and his harmonica with the Tune Tanglers, and singing all the old cowboy songs, telling stories, and reciting poems.

Tom sang in his church choir from the age of 8 until his failing eyesight prevented him from reading the music, but he still sings special numbers at church when asked, and every Christmas he recites to the congregation the Christmas story from Luke. He has it memorized along with poems like “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”

Tom’s memory is phenomenal. Tom also goes the extra mile by serving as chaplain of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, leading services on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day and officiating at funerals. In his Indian costume, he performs wedding ceremonies. Tom is a legend in his own time and a role model for all of us. As I age, I want to do so like Tom… growing in grace and experience, but never letting age make me old!

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  1. Tom is an inspiration. It’s not about the longevity but the fact that he has done so much–so much for others–with that life. I hope he continues on another 95 years. We can all benefit from having people like Tom Hoe and Erwin A. Thompson walking among us. And good job, Janet, for conceiving this idea.

  2. What a marvelous man! I can see why you selected Tom as the winner of the Second Mile Award. He should get the third and fourth mile award too! I enjoyed the essay and learning about him. Thank you!

  3. Tom Hoe is a perfect choice for the initial Second Mile Award! Congratulations to Tom for winning, to Jan for such a great nomination essay and to Janet and Erwin for finding such a unique way to celebrate life…and Erwin’s birthday!

  4. Dear Kendra, Julie, Ernest, Artletta, and Anne–

    Yes. Even in America we can re-imagine and re-define what it means to be “old.” We can do it without the ephenisms of “senior” or “golden years.” The body faces many challenges in aging. Only a valiant spirit can keep an ailing body going as part of the committment to contribute to a community that desparately needs the wisdom of our Elders.

    Elder is not Elderly. My version of Elder is from my time in Africa–in Botswana and Ghana especially–where Elders hold a place of honor. My hope is that as we Boomers age that we’ll be able to gracefullly become Elders in the full sense of the word.

    Janet Riehl

  5. A beautiful example of an examined life worth living … worth it’s weight in the timeless currency of character. And character, as the master observed, answers all questions.

  6. Thanks, Eden.

    Your wisdom, following the wisdom of the ages, is good common sense, too. Thanks for the idea of an award to honor my father. It was a great gift all around, like a pebble in the water.

    Janet Riehl

  7. Our dear Tom Hoe fell a week ago last Saturday, the 14th of November, and broke his hip. Last Tuesday, he had surgery. It has been a rough week for him. His heart and lungs ultimately failed him. This afternoon (Nov. 23rd), Tom left this earth and went to meet his maker. I am sure his constant companion for the past 13 years (Jinx, his miniature doberman) was there at the pearly gates to meet him. Tom will be surprised to see him there because Jinx died while Tom was in the hospital this past week – and Tom didn’t know about his buddy’s death. Tom’s check for the Second Mile Essay arrived in his mailbox last Friday, a day when Tom was coherent and responsive. His granddaughter read his certificate to him over the phone and told him that the money had come. He was delighted. I’m so glad he was aware of this honor before he left us. God bless the memory of his wonderful life… and be with his family at this time of sorrow.

  8. Dear Jan,

    I felt chills as I read your note.

    This news makes me even happier that we chose his entry as the Second Mile Award winner. It brings home the preciousness and fragility of human life. Our best to his family in this tender time following his death.



  9. Jan Beekman tells us that Tom’s granddaughter read the certificate to him on the phone the day the packet arrived. He was coherent and delighted.

    One never knows what life’s concurrences will bring.

    Janet Riehl

  10. Regarding dear Tom:

    A sentence from my recent book: An Artist Empowered

    “I now more fully appreciated the adage: Praise the soul who has an old dog who loves him.”

    And has been noted by others, if my dog can’t get into heaven, then I don’t belong there either.


  11. Whenever a cowboy comes to mind, Tom Hoe is on the list. I had the distinct pleasure to meet, to listen to, and experience a day with Tom while I was visiting in Ennis. Tom was with a dear friend, Jim Forsberg, another revered Ennis resident who plays and sings. They were at a nursing home in Ennis, entertaining the residents and we visitors. It was a wonderful experience and a true joy to witness Tom doing what he loved. He would say he was just a common man, but those who have met him would think he is more than that. His life was a testament to the goodness of a humble soul. I am looking forward to seeing Tom again one day and I would like to join in with him and sing and play as we worship our Creator.

  12. Dear Terry,

    Thanks for your beautiful note on Riehlife in tribute to Tom Hoe. We were grateful to know him at a distance through Jan’s nomination essay. We were all so pleased that he knew of The Second Mile Award before his death.

    Your comment that some might think Tom was “just a common man, but those who have met him would think he is more than that. His life was a testament to the goodness of a humble soul” strikes home. That is exactly the kind of person The Second Mile was meant to honor–someone who lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

    We were struck by the similarities of Tom to my father Erwin Thompson. Both 95. Both mad about music and generously offer it to others. Both just good solid good men. To name just a few ways they are brothers.

    Thanks for adding to the wisdom of Riehlife. I felt chills as I read your comment–a sign for me of truth.


  13. When it comes to the common man, I have found he is not so common.

    Here is apt quote from my book, An Artist Empowered:

    dignity: You respect others in equal measure—busboy or museum director or patron. In turn, you earn and expect the same. You treat all with consideration despite their station in society, or whether they can do something for you or not. As a true artist, you are a common man, and while that is no easy task, this insight liberates you from ego-based constructs: the false debilitating masks of personality. You have one authentic face that reveals your true self in all your activities. This is liberty.”

    So, when we think of Tom, Erwin, and their brothers in dharma, we hear in our mind’s eye: fanfare for the common man.


  14. Eden,

    Thanks for the quote from your wonderful book “An Artist Empowered.” Yes, dignity and strength. Seeing clearly. Good goals!

    Janet Riehl

  15. My niece Janean, who designed the Second Mile Award Certificates responds to Terry’s comment:

    What a wonderful comment and memory and legacy of Tom Hoe shared with Riehlife once more. His portrait continues to be painted with the words of others. I love the continuing connections as the ripples extend from The Second Mile Award. They are beautiful to watch as they spread outward from the original stone cast into the nearby water – the Mighty Mississippi of course.


  16. God bless Tom. I love to see spirit in motion, how it moved you and your Dad to honor this man.

  17. Kathleen,

    “Spirit in motion.” Good one. Thanks for setting spirit in motion by nominating Tom for the Second Mile Award. The Second Mile Award touched more lives than I could ever have thought possible.


  18. It was indeed a great honor to have known Mr. Hoe. Althought he never went by Mr., he always prefered to call Tom. I knew Tom when I was just a young kid during the mid 1950’s. I along with a relatively large gang of south side kids could be found more often than not at the local Boys Club on South Tejon street. I believe it was largely due to Toms incaluclable skill with kids and the patience of a saint that kept us “hulligans” as he would sometime playfully call us, from getting into real trouble. The arts and crafts, our yearly Boys Club Christmas show with gymnastics and acrobatics and the summer camping and fishing trips will always live as a lasting memory for me. I remain forever grateful to Tom.

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