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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Thomas Warner would agree that he put the spice into life. He was a no nonsense kind of guy and man of integrity with a contagious zest for life that made him so much fun to be around. Tom knew what it meant to work hard, but he also played just as hard. A lifelong resident of the community he loved, he was the sort of man whom everyone seemed to know. A devoted family man, Tom was thrilled to become a father, but even better was becoming a grandfather later in life. Deeply loved, he will be forever missed.
We often recall 1941 as the year that our nation suffered the vicious attack on our naval base in Pearl Harbor, sending us into the perils of WWII as a result. While countless young servicemen and women were sent overseas, those who remained stateside became familiar with rationing on common goods such as coffee, paper, sugar, and tin. It was just prior to this vicious attack that David and Jean (Thompson) Warner celebrated the birth of the baby boy they named Thomas M. on April 28, 1941, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was the only child in his family and was raised in Paw Paw, and shortly after he was born his father was called to serve in the Army. As a result, he and his mother moved in with his grandmother who played an important role in Tom’s life. In 1947, his parents bought their first home in Kalamazoo where his youngest daughter still lives to this day.
For his education, Tom attended local schools including Brucker Elementary in Kalamazoo. While there, two specific teachers made quite an impact on him. The first was Mrs. Flag, his music teacher, who consistently hit Tom over the knuckles with a three-sided ruler when he was out of line. The second was his 6’ 2” 6th grade history teacher. She truly inspired Tom and was mostly likely the one who opened the door to his love of history and WWII bomber planes. He went on to middle school at Northeastern in Kalamazoo where he participated in both track and football. His high school years found him at Kalamazoo Central High School where he was known for having many friends and always being up to something mischievous. Perhaps one of the most vivid memories he has of his high school years was the time that he and his buddies threw library books from the library window, filling the librarian’s convertible down below with 70 books! Eventually, the boys were caught and reprimanded. Before graduating in 1959, Tom became friends with the assistant principal.
Throughout his life, Tom was a hard worker. He started working when he was 11 years old and took on yard work, worked at a chicken farm candling eggs, and also worked in a greenhouse. He was then was hired at Kalamazoo Valley Paper Mill in 1959, which is where he spent the bulk of his career as he put in more than 41 years before retiring in September of 2001. In addition, he worked for Farm Bureau Building Services building pole barns as a second full time job for 13 years so that he could send his children to private schools. He served with Local 323 union office for 25 years with the paper industry. For a time he was even the chief steward, vice president, and president of the local union. Tom finally left the workforce as the union safety director. He was always a hard worker and a great provider who worked primarily second shift, seven days a week. At times, Tom even held down two to three jobs at a time. He did enjoy his work and truly loved his work family.
There was nothing that was of greater significance to Tom than his family. Tom married Susan Metz and they were blessed with three amazing children: Wendy, Brett and Stacey. Later in his life he met and married the love of his life, Sue Wagoner McBride and they exchanged their vows on November 10, 1989 in Kalamazoo. It was at this time he gained two stepchildren, Mindy and Mikkel. Later in life, he was filled with unspeakable joy to become a grandfather to five grandchildren including his first grandson, Kyler, with whom he shared a birthday. Tom’s family also included six step-grandchildren as well.
Over the years Tom was a man of many interests. He was an avid outdoorsman who made some of his best memories while spending his time at his property in Irons, Michigan where he eventually built a cabin that could withstand a tornado, hurricane, typhoon or all of them at once. He was a true handyman, he coordinated this building project all from his home in Kalamazoo then built it from scratch with the help of his son, brother-in-law and four buddies. He named them “the cats” after the Grumman military aircraft that played such a vital role in WWII. He was a volunteer fireman with the Eastwood Fire Department for 13 years. In addition he was a member of the NRA, Kalamazoo Rod and Gun Club, a volunteer at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. He donated money to the Confederate Air Force and was a lifetime member. A man with numerous friends, Tom enjoyed shooting and talking guns with Gary Black and going to estate and garage sales “Skulling” with his buddy, Dennis. Hunting and fishing with his very dearest friend Larry Boomer before his passing in 2011. More recently he spent many years hunting side by side with his great friend Perry James before Tom became too ill to hunt. He enjoyed dining at Red Lobster or just eating lobster, drinking a cold beer and indulging in homegrown Michigan sweet corn every year as well as making his fresh cut homemade french fries and having an annual party each year. A true blue American, Tom tried to support his country by buying products that were made in the USA. Tom was also a history buff who loved reading military history as well as the newspaper.
Some of Tom’s fondest childhood memories were spending time with his cousins at Gull Lake. One of his greatest mentors was his Uncle Jerome whom took him under his wing and taught him the importance of hunting. Tom cherished his time spent with his Aunt Jean LaBelle who took him on his very first airplane to Washington DC. There was an unfailing love and concern that came from his cousins David , Beverly and Jerrie Ann that was heartfelt not only by Tom but by his wife and 3 children.
When reflecting on the life of Thomas Warner, it is clear to see that he was a man of honor, integrity, and sound moral principles who gave everything his all. At the same time, he could be emotional and was a firm believer in the notion that you’re not a man unless you cry. Tom devoted his days to loving and caring for his family, and as a loyal friend he had countless friendships that were of the utmost importance to him as well. He will never be forgotten.
Thomas M. Warner, of Kalamazoo, died January 7, 2016 at his home. Tom’s family includes his wife, Sue Warner; 3 children: Wendy (Steve) Kimble, Brett (Wendy) Warner and Stacey (Bob) Ritsema, 2 step-children: Mindy (Steve) VanDyken and Mikkel McBride ; 5 grandchildren: Kyler, Brenden, Garrett, Julia and Emerson; 6 step-grandchildren: Danielle, Kamille, Dominick, Amber, Marissa and Maureen; 3 very dear cousins: Jerrie Hilbert, David and Beverly Warner; mother-in-law, Marge Nelson; 2 brothers-in-law: Brad Nelson and Kevin (Lisa) Nelson; and Jim Metz, who was like a son. Tom was preceded in death by his parents; 2 fathers-in-law: Keith Nelson and Garrett Wagoner; and by his very best friend, Larry “Boomer.” Services will be held Friday 4 p.m. at the Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler-Kalamazoo, 6080 Stadium Drive; 375-2900 followed by a reception until 8 p.m. in the Life Story Center. Please visit Tom’s www.lifestorynet.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial donations may be made to Kalamazoo Rod and Gun Club.