A tribute to my brother…Thomas Edward Deebach

Tom as a young man.
Tom as a young man.

By Betty Lou (Deebach) Gaeng

This is not the story I planned on writing. However, life is full of the unexpected. Our family just experienced one of worst of those. We lost my 79-year old brother. You may well ask, what is so unusual for a man of this age to die? However, my brother Tom was not your typical 79-year old man. Tom still hiked rugged mountain trails and swung a mean golf club. He had the health, stamina, energy and appearance of a far younger man. His death was an accident—one hard to comprehend.

We are told that most accidents happen in our own homes; especially in the bathroom. Our family can now understand this. After arriving home from his morning three-mile walk, Tom was in the bathroom. Somehow, he slipped and fell, striking the side of his forehead on the corner of the countertop. It appears he died instantly. He was alone in the house. His wife came home a short time later to find him there on the bathroom floor. Nothing could revive him. It was Friday, May 31, 2013, just two weeks after his birthday, and my little brother was gone from us forever.

Born May 18, 1934 in Seattle, my brother was given the name of Thomas Edward. When my parents brought him home to our house on old Manor Way just north of what today is 164th Street Southwest in Lynnwood, we called him Tommy.

I was 7 years old and had been the little sister to two older brothers—now I was big sister to the cutest little baby boy you can imagine. I rocked him in our rocking chair, wheeled him around in my doll buggy, read his first stories to him, and I told him all about what I had learned in school that day. In the summertime, when he was little more than a toddler, I took him to the lake with me just so he could play in the water. He went with me to Sunday school, and when he was 5 years old, I was with him when he was baptized at the little church in Esperance.

Through the years, I remained the big sister in years, but eventually my little brother towered over me. Certainly, I never thought that he would be the one to leave before me—never that I would be writing in the past tense about such a vital younger brother.

Tom attended Esperance Grade School and graduated from Edmonds High School in 1952. In high school he was an outstanding scholar, as well as an athlete. Baseball was certainly a favorite, but he was active in football, basketball and boxing as well. As a senior in high school, Tom was Edmonds’ selection for the All-State baseball team. The local newspaper described Tom as experienced and reliable at second base, not flamboyant in hitting home runs, but when the batting averages were tallied at the end of the season, he was at the top of the list with a record-setting .448 average. The writer also had more to say, words that are now haunting. He mentioned that Tom’s sensational average seemed remarkable, considering that Tom was out for a week due to a blow to his head from a thrown ball. Our younger brother Don was watching the game when it happened and thought his brother had been killed. Who would have suspected that 61 years later it would be another head injury that would take the life of our brother?

Tom was an honor student, a letterman, and president of the student body during his senior year. On top of everything else, he had a good singing voice. With all his activities, Tom found time to be active in the Edmonds Boy Scout Troup. He became an Eagle Scout.
As a young boy, Tom was a familiar sight at the Edmonds ferry dock. With his ever- present big smile, he became successful at selling Seattle newspapers to those waiting in line to board the ferry. He saved his money to help pay for his college education.

Tom enrolled at Whitman College in Walla Walla, majoring in education. Since his high school days, Tom had grown taller by several inches, and his athletic abilities grew along with the added inches. A sports team wanted to draft him, but Tom had other ideas as to what he wanted to do with his life. Tom waited tables in the dining hall and did whatever he could to help with college expenses. He graduated from Whitman with the class of 1957.

Through the years, while at home in Edmonds, Tom continued to play baseball and basketball with various local teams in the Edmonds and Lynnwood areas.

After college Tom set his sights on the Navy and was admitted to Officer’s Candidate School. He spent two years at our military’s Monterey, Calif. Foreign Language Center and become proficient in the Russian language. Tom served as a LTJG aboard the Navy’s Oiler Ship USS CACAPON. He married Nancy, a girl from Edmonds, and they had two children.

Tom in recent years.
Tom in recent years.

Out of the Navy and back home, the family lived in Meadowdale and Brier and Tom taught school. By 1972, his marriage was failing and Tom went back to school; this time to graduate school at Western Washington University in Bellingham. There he met Michelle who would become his partner for the remainder of his life. They were married 38 years ago on a mountain (where else) in Washington state. Tom and Michelle were both teachers—Tom in the Everett School District for 25 years, where he taught fourth and fifth grades and elementary school physical education. They lived in various places, including Lynnwood.

For 18 years Tom was a member of the Edmonds Sons of Norway and had an interest in the sports and scholarship programs. He was often on hand to flip pancakes at the scholarship fundraiser breakfasts.

Both Tom and Michelle loved hiking in the mountains, and in 2003 they liked what southwest Utah offered. At first they only lived part of the year in Utah. However, in 2009 they moved permanently to the home they had purchased in the southwestern part of the state.
If he wasn’t golfing, Tom could be found hiking along the rough mountain trails near his home, usually with his little dog beside him. Three years ago he climbed 10,000-foot Pine Valley Mountain. Last April, he and Michelle hiked the trails in the Cottonwood Wash Wilderness area at the base of the mountain. This is where Tom’s ashes will be scattered—in view of the home he and Michelle shared.

Besides having classical good looks, my brother was one of the really good guys. He was the type of man parents would want their daughter to bring home.

Tom was a quiet boy and a quiet man. Unlike his older sister, Tom was a man of few words, but you never overlooked or forgot him. His wife Michelle, his two children, and his four grandchildren knew that he loved them.

Reading the Guest Book accompanying Tom’s obituary in the Everett Herald, I couldn’t help but smile at the comments by a lady who had been a student in my brother’s fourth-grade classroom at Jefferson School in the mid-1960s. She said: “He was my favorite teacher in elementary school. Look at him, all the girls had a crush on the teacher.”

Tom hiking in the mountains with his dog.
Tom hiking in the mountains with his dog.

Finally, these are the last words from the big sister to her little brother. Tommy, you did good; you even climbed that last mountain, now rest in peace.

About the author: An 80-year resident of Lynnwood, Betty Lou Gaeng is a genealogist, historian, researcher and writer who is active in volunteer work for Lynnwood’s Heritage Park Partners Advisory Committee and the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Heritage Park.

  1. What a fitting tribute to your ‘little broither” and one of best life-long friends… You done good, Betty!

  2. Betty, What an outstanding description of a man who I respected as soon as we met at Whitman College. As a freshman trying to
    survive the two a day football practices in late August he was a mentor to me. I too was a quarterback at Whitman and he
    was such a great role model. I respected Tom not only for his football skills, but for his quiet, supportive style of helping me to become the best I could be. Tom was a picture of fitness and worked hard in school and on the field.
    I was saddened upon hearing of his death, but knew right away that it had to be from an accident, because he was healthy and fit and stayed active his whole life. He will be missed by many and remembered by anyone who ever had the pleasure of knowing him. His family must be proud of all he has accomplished over his way too short a life span. Enjoy celebrating who he is….May he rest in peace.
    Bob Collins…1955 graduate of EHS and 1959 graduate of Whitman College.

  3. What a beautiful remembrance of your little brother and a classmate of mine from 1952. The Father must have a job for him that is pretty important on the other side.
    Michele Rogers

  4. What a nice letter from a loving sister.
    It was a real pleasure to have known Tommy and to be a part of his life.
    Jerry Edwards ’52

  5. Waldo Bueing, class of 52
    I first met Tom at Esperance grade school in the 4th or 5th grade, 4or 5 of us would sit out on the lawn after school. Tom always had left over lunch he would share with all of us, a great memory,Tom was a great athlete as many have said, i played golf with him when I was first learning, he was so much better. Tom became our sports Director at the Edmonds Sons of Norway, he did a great job for us always making sure we had a team for every district event. plus setting up outings to the Mariners baseball. He wii be miss by all, grateful for having him in our lives.

  6. a wonderfull letter knew tom in the class also the church in esperance out ff school i moved to s cal olso played ball lost contact with tom @ others sorry to hear of passing life is short at any time.

  7. Grandma you have such a beautiful way with words and described Gr. Uncle Tom so well from what I can remember. Yet there is so much about him I never knew. Our family was blessed to have him and truly blessed to have you as well. He looked just like the middle picture in my last memory of him that was oh so long ago. May he rest in peace.

  8. Rod (Skip) Neff class of 53 Tom always had a BIG BIG smile for everone. I will never forget it. Excellent bioography Betty Thank You

  9. Mom, great job, I think Uncle Tom would like very much what you wrote about him and probably is smiling now down at you and proud you were his big sister.

  10. Thank you Betty for your beautiful obit. I too was a 1952 classmate who first met Tom at Esperance. I pledged to the fraternity that was next door to Tom’s house at Whitman. In later years Lee Ayers had a group of “Tigers” at his home in the Phoenix area, and later, I kept the party going at my home for the past 13 years. Tom attended many years, won the puting contest one year, and was well liked by all his classmates. I was so impressed with Tom in High School, I named my first born son Tom, and my youngest son Donny. He will be dearly missed at the next reunion. Duane

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