Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sacred Acre

Ed Thomas was a legend in Aplington-Parkersburg where he taught in the high school and coached football for more than thirty years. Everyone in these two small town seemed to know him and were connected to him in some way. While his impact on the town was great, it is only after his untimely death that his story and life have reached people across the nation.

I still remember hearing the breaking news on television two years ago in June, a newscaster breaking in to announce that Coach Ed Thomas had been shot in the high school weight room on a summer morning. A murder in a small town almost a mirror image of my own seemed impossible. As more news leaked out the picture became clearer- a young man with a mental illness - someone who Ed knew personally- came into the weight room after methodically searching for him - and shot him in the head repeatedly.

With that one act, Ed's life ended. And yet, while his life ended, what he stood for has managed to touch more people than you could imagine. Sports Illustrated featured Ed on its cover. A bill passed through the Iowa legislature allowing law enforcement to be notified when someone with a mental illness was released from a hospital (which is what happened to the young man who shot and killed Ed), and people far and wide got to know Ed and all he stood for. His family, which could have been bitter encouraged the town to embrace the young man's family. They have chosen to live their lives with the same character their father and husband lived his.

When a colleague told me this book was amazing, I had my doubts. I knew I would enjoy it simply because my small town is not far from Aplington-Parkersburg. It is always fun to see places you know well referred to in print. I already knew Ed Thomas' story, so that was not a surprise. And I knew the way people who had known him talked about him with such respect and admiration. I expected the book to be a rather typical ho-hum rehashing of events.

While the writing is good, it is not that that kept me reading. I loved how each chapter began with a phrase or "words to live by" that Ed Thomas used and believed. I loved the way in which his faith shone through. While this book is somewhat biographical, most of this story focuses on the A-P after a tornado struck in 2009. An E5 tornado ripped through the town, demolishing much of it. Ed, with his commitment to the community, was instrumental to its rebuilding and vowed to his football team they would play their first home game at a newly redone field in their hometown. While the town was still recovering from an enormous tragedy, the man the field was named for, was also taken from them.

I finished this book earlier in the day, and have thought about it on and off all day. I have enormous respect for Coach Thomas and the life he lived. I have enormous respect for his family and the way they have gone on living their lives after his death.

Sacred Acre is a wonderful book, and a wonderful example of how ordinary people can and do go on to do extraordinary things.

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