Life Story / Obituary
Cloaked in a fierce exterior, Thomas H. McCowen was a kind, loving, strong, and sentimental man who was unflinchingly devoted to his family. An engineer by nature and profession, Tom possessed strove for excellence and integrity in everything he did. A wonderful husband, father, and grandfather who thoroughly relished time spent in the good company of those he loved. “Santa” to many a small child, he generously showered children with his affectionately twinkling eyes and a laugh that shook his whole body. Tom was a man of focus, determination, and dedication; his life spoke volumes to those who knew him best. Revered by many, Tom’s legacy will long inspire many.
The 1950s proved a time of increased comforts and exciting new possibilities. As unemployment dropped to 3.3% the nation additionally celebrated the first direct-dial trans-coastal phone call, easier travel in more comfortable cars and on newly paved interstates, and the premieres of “I Love Lucy,” “ The Day The Earth Stood Still,” and “An American in Paris.” For Robert H. and Vivian J. McCowen, the excitement of growing their family was cause for much celebration as they welcomed their son Tom into their hearts and home on February 14, 1950.
Growing up in West Michigan during the 50s and 60s, Tom enjoyed the comforts of a loving home rooted in family values. While his father worked as a chemist with Upjohn, his mother was an school secretary at Waylee Elementary. Tom always thought his brother was the coolest, smartest kid on the block. And for even as an adult, he called Bob first if something bothered him or he needed help understanding something. Intelligent and creative, Tom felt things very deeply and once his mind was set on something he was as solid as a rock and as steady as an aircraft carrier (hard to turn once he’d set a course). He was a proud Eagle Scout who often reminisced about his father’s influence and presence in scouting. He also had tremendous respect and affinity for both of his grandfathers who helped forge his love of big trucks; Grandpa McCowen drove a big furniture truck, and his Grandpa Smith built roads.
Though Tom often told the terrible story of being forced by one of his teachers to eat rice pudding, he relished in telling about how he threw it right back up at her covering her navy blue suit and pumps! During his high school years, participated in the church choir, he lettered in both tennis and football, and he LOVED theater where he set up and worked all the lights.
He was in the first class to graduate from Portage Northern and came awfully close to serving in the Vietnam War. As a result of his mother wisely choosing to have her C-section on Valentine’s Day, Tom’s birthday proved fortuitous many years later when the draft was canceled the day before he was to report for his physical!
Tom enrolled as an engineering major at Michigan State University. He took a lot of art classes and eventually ended up in the Industrial Arts program, focusing his last two years on earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Building Project Management.
While a student at MSU, Tom had a summer job with the Lansing Parks Program. During his second summer, he was posted at a small neighborhood park where he got to know some of the residents. One of the women in the neighborhood thought he was a “nice college boy,” and he would be perfect for her older daughter. When her younger daughter heard about Tom, she just had to go check him out! They had their first date that night, and that was that.
Two years later, Tom and Rose married at St. Mary’s Cathedral in perhaps the quickest ceremony ever recorded there. You see, Tom would not convert to Catholicism and his Gramma McCowen was Baptist, so the crotchety old priest in charge of the marriage ceremony decided on no Mass. As a result, the service took only 14 minutes from beginning to end, and Rose is pretty sure the priest never expected the marriage to last. Regardless of the brevity of the ceremony, it proved the best day of Tom’s life. He cried as Rose walked down the aisle to him moved by both her beauty and the blessing of having her as his wife. While Rose’s huge German family resulted in a guest list of nearly 300, the reception was held in Rose’s elementary school cafeteria and was pretty small.
A man of strength and honor, and who possessed a great sense of humor, Tom rarely lost his temper. While Rose wore her feelings on her sleeve and tended to fly by the seat of her pants, doing what felt right, Tom was logical and thought everything through. Together, they made a great team, and in time, they were blessed to welcome their twin sons, Carl and Rob, into their family. Though Rose and the boys often teased Tom about his Eeyore persona, they felt blessed to be loved by such a hardworking and caring man. Nothing was more important to Tom than being a good provider for his family. He was driven to ensure a roof over their heads, food on the table, heat in the winter, and a deep sense of connection, always.
He spoiled Rose rotten, and she had to learn over the years to be careful not to mention the dress or shoes she liked as her comment would result in Tom doing whatever it took to make sure she got them. He took Rose’s lead when it came to parenting, often looking to her to interpret their needs. Tom ran the numbers comparing what Rose could make vs. the cost of childcare for twin infants, then he added the additional factor of someone making minimum wage to raise the boys, and it was abundantly clear that the best choice was for Rose to stay home with the kids.
Gifted with an engineer’s mind, Tom loved his work. Whether tackling the job of “herding cats” as a project manager or making deals as a purchasing agent, work made sense to him and afforded comfort when “regular” life was complicated. He loved when a project was done, and he could proudly say, “I helped build that!”
The Radio Controlled Flying Club proved an excellent place for Tom to express his capacity for problem-solving and love of technology. He enjoyed the art of building planes and especially appreciated that it was always a family affair; the club was where he and Rose shared many a good time with their best friends Bob and Julie for over 30 years. Target shooting also provided a worthy challenge and a great place to grow with Rose. Tom was on a shooting team at MSU, and the couple spent a lot of time shooting trap and skeet when they were first married. Later he joined his friends in air pistol competitions, and then he moved on to target shooting with .22 caliber pistols.
Tom’s interests included trains and anything historical or technical. Music was a true love, and the sound of a great close harmony always brought him to tears. He inherited his mother’s love of sports and could easily be found watching ANY sport. He was an MSU, Clemson, and Florida Gators fan, but nothing stirred his passions like the lady basketball players at the University of Connecticut and their coach, Geno Auriemma. No matter where we Tom and Rose were during basketball season, Tom was “the girls.” An undauntable fan, he firmly asserted that the U of C ladies played smarter than any men's college teams.
A humble man who had no need for fancy things, Tom’s idea of dress-up was to leave his bib overalls on a hook at home and wear khakis and a polo shirt. In their many decades together, Rose never saw him wear a suit or blazer more than a couple of times. He hated ties and dress shirts too; Carhartt jeans with suspenders or overalls coupled with his 30 plus-year-old MSU t-shirts was his daily wear. His dogs were special companions, and he was more than pleased at how, when he and Rose brought the boys home for the first time,10-year-old Greta and 9-year-old Murphy quickly took on the roles of disciplinarian and long-suffering playmate respectively. Tom always had dogs, and he loved them all, but his Corgis were the love of his life. He let them sit in his lap to pet, took them everywhere, especially in the motorhome, and kept buying them new collars and leashes.
Nothing pleased Tom more than sharing his love and interests with Rose. Over the years he relished in showing Rose her first mountain, introducing her to winter camping, and taking her on her first snowshoe adventure. He let her crew and drive a race car, taught her to sail, and built her a house on a mountain that looked out at Denali (the highest peak in North America). He also taught her to drive a motorcycle and a snow machine. During the last three years, Tom and Rose enjoyed retirement traveling and quilting. Tom loved making quilts using a method called “paper piecing” which is very precise and can be incredibly complicated. It appealed to both his engineering side and his creative side. And while all of these adventures were grand, and despite his daily eye rolling exercises, his greatest adventure was helping Rose raise the kids and dogs. He and Rose shared the of best times and the best of each other.
Clearly, the world feels less certain in the absence of Tom’s steadfast presence. May the many treasured memories we have of this good man’s many gifts in our lives afford deep comfort. May it also provide comfort to know that each of us carries his strong spirit in our hearts. With each moment we cheer on our favorite teams, envelope one another in a Tom-worthy hug, cuddle up with our canine companion, or wrap up in one of his love infused quilts, we stoke the flame of Tom’s legacy and ensure that it continues to inspire others as he so inspired us.
Thomas H. McCowen, of Cumming, GA passed away on Saturday, March 23, 2019, at the age of 69. Tom is survived by his wife Rose; two sons: Robert McCowen, of KS and Carl (Clare) McCowen, of CO; one grandson, Elliott; mother: Vivian McCowen, of Kalamazoo; one brother: Bob (Sue) McCowen, of Clark Lake, MI; and several nieces and nephews.
Per Tom’s wishes, he has been cremated and will have a memorial gathering will be held on Friday, June 21, 2019, at 12 noon at the Riverview Cemetery, 2925 Niles Road, St. Joseph, MI.
Please visit Tom’s webpage at www.mccowensecord.com where you can read his life story, sign the guestbook, and share a memory.
The family is being assisted by the McCowen & Secord Family Funeral Home, 409 S. Main Street, Vicksburg, MI 49097 (269-649-1697).