Posted by: mollyrossiter | June 24, 2009

Coping with tragedy as a community

Coach Ed Thomas

Coach Ed Thomas

The people of Parkersburg have, over the last year, shown us all what it means to be determined, driven and strong. A devastating tornado leveled most of the community on Memorial Day weekend in 2008 and residents and businesses have worked hard to rebuild.

Today a leader in that move to rebuild, Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas, was shot to death in the high school weight room where he was supervising a group of student athletes. A former student and football player has been charged.

Coping with the tragedy and dealing with the loss will be done individually but also at a community level, counselors and pastors said Wednesday.

“I think it’s important that they rally together and just get a sense of community,” said Bruce Gregory, a licensed mental health counselor at Family Psychology Associates in Cedar Rapids. “Talk about the positives that the coach gave and remember the good memories, that will help reduce further trauma.”

Thomas is remembered as much more than a football coach. In the hours after his death those who knew him reveled in his legacy, that of a man who taught principles as well as plays and setting goals as well as making them.

“Ed Thomas was such an integral part of the community,” said the Rev. Jenni Walker-Noyes, a Presbyterian pastor who works with the East Iowa Presbytery and was once a pastor in nearby Ackley. “It was so much more than education that he was promoting — it was being part of the community, doing something positive with your life.”

Thomas was a man who led by example. He not only got personally involved in the cleanup and rebuilding of Parkersburg, he got his team involved. He has been quoted as saying his job wasn’t to create future NFL players, it was to create good future fathers, good community leaders, good men.

Because Thomas worked so hard to help the community rally together after last year’s tornado, that same community will be able to rally together to cope with his loss, said the Rev. Steven Ullestad, bishop of the Northeast Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“An outcome of the tornado last year is that this community and the churches have really come together and worked together,” Ullestad said. “They know each other and trust each other and that will be a benefit at this time.”

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