The Sacred Acre: The Ed Thomas Story

( 34 )

Overview

On a Sunday in May 2008, an F-5 tornado struck the town of Parkersburg, Iowa, killing eight people and destroying 250 homes and businesses within 34 seconds.

The next day, Parkersburg’s beloved football coach, Ed Thomas, made a stunning prediction: “God willing, we will play our first home game here on this field this season.” One hundred days later, the home team scored a victory on the field they dubbed “The Sacred Acre,” serving as a ...

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Overview

On a Sunday in May 2008, an F-5 tornado struck the town of Parkersburg, Iowa, killing eight people and destroying 250 homes and businesses within 34 seconds.

The next day, Parkersburg’s beloved football coach, Ed Thomas, made a stunning prediction: “God willing, we will play our first home game here on this field this season.” One hundred days later, the home team scored a victory on the field they dubbed “The Sacred Acre,” serving as a galvanizing point for the town to band together and rebuild.

But just as Parkersburg was recovering, another devastating tragedy struck. While working with a group of football and volleyball players early one morning, one of Ed’s former students walked in and gunned him down point blank. Ed Thomas was 58.

The murder of this hometown hero spread across national news headlines. Ed’s community and family reeled from shock.

Yet the story doesn’t end here.

What happened next proves that even a double tragedy is no match for faith, love … and the power of forgiveness.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310332190
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 8/16/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 390,076
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Tabb has authored/coauthored more than 20 books including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller, Mistaken Identity, and A Promise to Ourselves (with Alec Baldwin). His solo titles include Living with Less: The Upside of Downsizing Your Life and How Can A Good God Let Bad Things Happen? He and his family live in a small town in Indiana where Mark also serves as a volunteer firefighter and fire department chaplain. Learn more at www.marktabb.com.

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Read an Excerpt

The Sacred Acre


The Ed Thomas Story
By Mark Tabb

ZONDERVAN


Copyright © 2011 Parkersburg Productions, LLC All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-33219-0



Chapter One

EF5

When the wind starts blowing, don't tell me about the hurricane; just bring the ship home, fellas. ED THOMAS

A low rumble of thunder rattled the glass in the windows of Ed Thomas's classroom. He glanced outside and noticed the sky had grown much darker since he arrived at the school a few minutes earlier. "Looks like the farmers at church this morning were on the money," he said to himself. "They said we were going to get a storm today and, by golly, they're right." He turned back to his desk and pulled a key out of the top drawer. One of his upcoming senior football players had asked for a key to the weight room so he could work out the next day. Any other Monday morning, Ed would have opened the weight room himself, usually by 6:00 a.m. since tomorrow was memorial day, he had other plans. Of course, Ed was more than happy to give a key to any player who wanted to push himself. The very thought of it put a smile on his lips. That was the kind of dedication and leadership he wanted from his seniors.

The loud blast of the tornado siren broke Ed's train of thought. He had never heard it so loud in his second home, Aplington-Parkersburg high school on the south side of Parkersburg, Iowa. For years, the only tornado siren in town sat on the north side. The wind had to be just right for people on the south side to hear it. All that had changed two days earlier, when city workers installed a brand-new siren near the high school. They installed it on Friday, tested it on Saturday, and now set it off for the first time at 4:46 p.m., Sunday, May 25, 2008.

Ed grabbed a handful of copies of "2007 Aplington-Parkersburg Football" DVDs, which he gave as gifts to all graduating seniors, and then walked calmly out of his room and down the hall. The siren didn't add any sense of urgency. Half an hour earlier, while leaving a graduation party at a local restaurant in the nearby town of Aplington, he had talked to a couple of firemen who were on their way out the door as weather spotters. Both seemed more concerned about Ed's opinion about his team's prospects for the next football season than they were about the storm clouds growing in the west.

Scattered raindrops hit Ed as he walked outside. It wasn't much, but from the looks of the western sky, he knew the heavy stuff wasn't far behind. "I better go get my golf cart before this thing hits," he said. He'd spent the first part of the afternoon playing golf with his youngest son, Todd, and Todd's soon to be father-in-law, Mike Brannon. Ed had to take off after nine holes to attend the numerous high school graduation parties going on that afternoon and evening. Rather than use one of the rental carts from the golf course, Ed had his own. It was his most treasured possession. A few years earlier, the community and his players, past and present, presented it to him when he won his two hundredth game as a coach. He even had a special trailer for it, which he pulled behind his pickup truck. Before he left the afternoon golf game, Ed told Todd to leave the cart at the course, and he would pick it up later. This was later enough.

Ed climbed in his car and drove the three blocks from the school to his house on the far south side of Parkersburg. As he walked in the front door, he called out to his wife. "Hey, Jan, where are you?"

"I'm in the basement where more people should be. You need to get down here, NOW!" she said. Ed and Jan put in the basement during the first of the three home additions they had made over the course of ten years. When they bought the house a year after they married, it was quite small, just over eight hundred square feet. As their budget and family grew in size, they added on to it—first another bedroom, then a new kitchen, and finally a new living room and bathroom. They added the basement with the bedroom. Since Iowa is known for tornadoes, it seemed like the thing to do. However, Ed never expected to have to use it. Legend had it that a tornado could not strike Parkersburg because it sat at the fork of a river. Up until Memorial Day weekend, 2008, the legend seemed pretty accurate.

"I need to go get my golf cart first. I'll be right back."

"Forget the golf cart," Jan said. "Channel 7 said this storm is really bad. I heard the fire trucks go by on their way out of town right after the storm sirens went off. That can't be good, not if they're moving fire trucks out of harm's way."

"Oh, it can't be that bad. The television always blows these things way out of proportion. I don't want to leave my golf cart out in the rain. I'll be right back."

"No! There isn't any time."

"I looked around when I came home. I didn't see anything."

"You couldn't see anything because of all the trees. Grab your pillow and get down here fast." A trained emergency medical technician (EMT) and volunteer first responder with the local ambulance ser vice, Jan knew that most injuries in storms come from flying debris. That's why she knew to take her pillow with her to the basement when the storm sirens went off.

"All right, you win," Ed said. Thirty-two years of marriage had taught him that some arguments are best lost. He went into their bedroom, grabbed his pillow off his bed, and walked down into the basement, closing the door behind him.

Ed found Jan under the basement stairs, but he didn't join her there. He stood in the middle of the basement floor, his arms crossed, with a look on his face that said, "I'm here. Are you happy now?" no sooner had he crossed his arms than they heard a loud rush of wind, like the dry cycle of the car wash on steroids.

"Do you hear that!?" Jan said.

"Yeah," Ed said. He dropped his arms, grabbed his pillow, and jumped under the basement steps with Jan. Both of them barely fit in the space under the stairs. The two curled up into a near-fetal position next to one another, their faces less than an inch apart, their arms holding their pillows tightly against their heads. Above their heads, a freight train plowed into their house. Boards snapped. Glass shattered. A deafening cracking sound started at one end of the house and raced toward the other.

Ed and Jan looked at each other, their eyes wide with fear. They both started praying out loud, their voices drowned out by the wind that grew louder and louder. Dirt dropped down on top of the two of them. Jan peeked out once and saw nothing but absolute black. "Oh, God, please don't let the house collapse on top of us!" she cried out.

"AMEN!" Ed said.

And then, as quickly as it started, the wind stopped. Everything grew still and silent. "I'm going out there," Ed said.

"No, wait just a minute. There could still be more," Jan said.

"I really think it is over. I want to go up and have a look around, make sure everything is OK."

Ed was the optimist of the family, Jan the realist. She looked him in the eye and said, "You know when you open that door that our house is gone, don't you?"

"You think?" Ed said in a doubtful tone.

"Absolutely. It's gone."

• *

Two houses down the block, Todd Thomas and Candice, his fiancée, were at the home of Mike and Nancy Brannon, Candice's parents. Candice and Nancy spent most of the afternoon working on the wedding invitations, along with Jan. Jan left when the television weatherman warned of an approaching storm. Todd and mike played golf with Ed. They played only three additional holes after Ed left to head for the graduation parties. A clubhouse attendant came out to the thirteenth tee box and said, "A big storm is heading our way. You need to clear the course." Todd didn't want to leave. He was up by several strokes and hated to waste a good game of golf. But playing in the rain wasn't exactly his idea of a good time, so they did as they were told. The tornado siren went off not long after Todd and mike made it back to Mike's house. As soon as the siren started blaring, Candice and Nancy darted for the basement. Todd and mike headed toward the front door.

"Where are you going?" Candice asked.

"To take a look," Todd said.

"A look? at what?" Candice said.

"You know, the storm, to see if anything is headed our way," Todd said in a matter-of-fact "duh, what else do you do when tornado sirens go off?" tone. "We won't be out there a minute. I promise."

Candice rolled her eyes and ran downstairs. Todd and mike walked out into the front yard. The wind and rain that chased them off the golf course earlier had stopped, replaced by a dead calm. silence hung in the air. Nothing made a sound. No dogs barked in the distance; no bird sang, and not even an insect buzzed. Parkersburg felt and sounded abandoned.

"Wow, that's weird," Todd said.

"Yeah, I've never felt anything quite like this before," mike replied.

"Get ready. I've got a feeling something is about to happen," Todd said.

The two of them looked out toward the west. Storms in Iowa always travel west to east. A huge black cloud covered the western sky, and it appeared to be moving closer. A strong breeze suddenly hit Todd in the face. The cloud climbed over the hill on the far side of town, moving closer to the lumberyard a quarter mile from Mike's home. Suddenly, the lumberyard exploded as the cloud fell on top of it. Sheet metal and two-by-fours and poles flew through the air.

"Crap, let's get outta here!" Todd shouted. They ran into the house, flew down the stairs of the basement, and dove under the pool table, where Candice and Nancy were huddled. Only then did they hear the proverbial freight train sound. Todd couldn't quite fit his six-foot-five frame under the pool table. His legs stuck out exposed.

Glass crashed overhead, followed by a loud tumbling, rolling sound. "I think that was the couch," Mike said.

Nancy turned on a flashlight and prayed. "It's going to be all right," Todd said to Candice as he held her hand. He felt debris dropping onto his legs. "Please God, don't let anything heavy come down on top of me!" he prayed aloud.

Boards cracked and snapped. The smell of fresh lumber filled the basement. "And there goes the roof," Mike said. Nancy prayed harder.

The moment the noise stopped, Todd jumped up and headed toward the stairs. "I've got to check on my mom and dad," he said.

"Todd, expect the worst," Mike said.

Todd nodded and ran upstairs. Most of the roof and walls of the house were gone. "What the ...?" he said when he looked at the dining room table. It had not moved, and neither had the stack of wedding invitations on top of it. He glanced over to where he had parked his 2006 Nissan Maxima. A tree had sliced the car in half.

Todd ran out into the Brannon's front yard. He could not believe his eyes. Every house, every business, for as far as he could see, had been reduced to piles of rubble.† He looked around from side to side. A few minutes earlier, the town sounded abandoned; now it looked completely deserted. "Where is everybody?" he said. "oh, my gosh, didn't anyone else survive?"

He had been told to "expect the worst," but this was worse than his mind could imagine. Almost worse. Where were his parents? Were they OK? his mother had called him right before the storm hit, asking if he knew where his father was. If Todd knew his dad, and he did, then he was probably down at the golf course loading up his golf cart right when the tornado blew through town. "And if dad was there, then ..." Todd pushed those thoughts out of his head. "Mom! dad! are you OK?" he shouted as he ran toward his parents' house.

Todd jumped over a set of downed power lines and ran the short distance from the Brannons' home to his parents' home. "Mom! Dad!" he yelled as he ran into their yard. The storm had thrown a flatbed trailer into the side of Ed and Jan's house where the front door had once been. It held up what little of their roof remained. "How am I going to get in?" Todd said before he realized that all of the walls of the house were gone with the lone exception of one interior wall with the door to the basement. "MOM! DAD!" he shouted.

"We're fine. We're down here," he heard his father yell. Todd flung open the basement door and ran down the stairs. He threw his arms around both of them.

"We're OK," his mother said in a matter-of-fact tone. Ed, the rough-and-tumble football coach, choked back tears. Not Jan. Nothing ever seemed to faze her. "Go check on Marian," she said. Marian DeBoer was their retired, widowed neighbor who lived by herself. Jan had tried to get her to come over and join her in the Thomas basement before the storm. She refused, saying she would be fine in her own basement.

Ed followed Todd up the stairs. He glanced back at Jan, who seemed to lag behind. "Are you coming?" he asked.

"Yes, but of all the dumb things to do," she said.

"What?"

"I was so intent on getting down here when the sirens went off that I forgot my shoes. I grabbed my pillow and completely forgot my shoes."

"Do you want me to help you find some?"

"No, go and check on the neighbors. I'll be all right."

Ed did as he was told, and as he climbed out of the basement, he found himself out in the open, even while inside what had been his living room a couple of minutes earlier. Upended cars littered the streets around him. shattered boards stood where houses had once been. "It looks like a war zone," he said to Todd. Ed turned toward his bedroom, or at least where his bedroom was supposed to be. The rest of his house, along with the entire neighborhood, was gone. The large maple trees that lined the streets had all been stripped bare and mangled into deformed skeletons.

He turned and walked in the general direction of where the front door used to be. "What on earth?" he said at the sight of the flatbed trailer wedged into his house. Off to one side he saw his pickup truck. It looked like someone had taken a giant can opener to it. The golf cart trailer was nowhere to be seen.

Looking past his truck, he stared off to the north and east, toward his second home, A-P high school. Even from a half mile away, he could see that the top half of the gym was gone. He couldn't tell how badly damaged the rest of the buildings might be, but even from this distance he knew it wasn't good. His head spun as his mind tried to process what his eyes saw. Ed leaned over with his hands on his knees as if he had just been punched in the stomach. In a way, he had.

Jan emerged from the basement and came up behind him. she glanced around quickly. "Wow. I knew it would be bad, but this is worse than I imagined."

"This is just unbelievable," Ed said, his voice cracking.

Behind them, a loud scream pierced their ears. Ed and Jan turned and saw one of Ed's students, a seventeen-year-old girl, in hysterics. Todd had just returned from helping Marian out of her basement. She had come through the storm unharmed, but her house was gone. "Todd!" Jan yelled.

"I'm on it," he said and took off running toward the screaming girl. Ed followed behind.

"Where are my shoes?" Jan said as she dug around through the rubble that had been their bedroom five minutes earlier. "Ha, found one," she said, pulling a soaked canvas tennis shoe out from under a pile of wet sheetrock. She dug around some more, frustrated. Finally, she found the match. Not only were both shoes soaked; dirt and fiberglass insulation filled the insides. Jan dumped out as much of the crud as she could and slid them on. They were better than no shoes at all.

Todd ran back over. The frantic girl was screaming because her neighbor, an older man who was like a grandfather to her, had been badly injured when his house collapsed into the basement. "Mom, you need to get over here quickly. Chuck is hurt pretty bad."

"OK," Jan said. As soon as she reached him, she knew Charles Horan was in trouble. Blood gushed from a gash in his head. Lifting his shirt, she saw severe blunt force trauma injuries across his chest. "I've got to get the ambulance. Stay here. I'll send help," she said.

Todd and Ed stayed with chuck as Jan took off running toward the fire station. She hoped the station would still be there when she arrived. As soon as she was gone, Todd looked at his father. "How many others do you think are hurt like this?" he asked.

Ed looked around at what remained of the south side of Parkersburg. It looked like old black-and-white photos of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb had decimated the city, albeit on a much, much smaller scale. He let out a long sigh. "I'm afraid to even guess," he said.

Rain began to fall again. The rainstorm the farmers predicted had finally arrived.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from The Sacred Acre by Mark Tabb Copyright © 2011 by Parkersburg Productions, LLC. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword by Tony Dungy....................9
A Note from the Ed Thomas Family....................11
INTRODUCTION: The Sacred Acre....................13
CHAPTER 1: EF5....................21
CHAPTER 2: No Place Like Home....................31
CHAPTER 3: A Storm of Doubt....................45
CHAPTER 4: "We Will Rebuild"....................53
CHAPTER 5: Starting Over....................63
CHAPTER 6: Unparalleled Opportunity....................75
CHAPTER 7: "You Would Do the same Thing for Me"....................85
CHAPTER 8: After the Cameras Disappear....................93
CHAPTER 9: Halftime....................103
CHAPTER 10: A Summer of Change....................111
CHAPTER 11: First Glimpse of Normalcy....................119
CHAPTER 12: More Than a Game....................125
CHAPTER 13: The Final Season....................135
CHAPTER 14: The First Family Vacation (Ever)....................145
CHAPTER 15: An Ordinary Day....................153
CHAPTER 16: The Unthinkable, June 24, 2009....................163
CHAPTER 17: A Nightmare Unfolds....................177
CHAPTER 18: Grief and Grace....................191
CHAPTER 19: The hardest Part....................199
CHAPTER 20: Good-Bye....................207
EPILOGUE: Getting Up, Moving Forward....................215
APPENDIX 1: Team Rosters....................223
APPENDIX 2: Coaches....................241
Acknowledgments....................243
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 34 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 14, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Every teacher and student should read this book- Lot of teachers could make a difference in student's lives if they would follow Coach Thomas examples. Wouldn't it be nice if every school had a Choch Thomas.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2011

    A must read book

    Not being a sports minded person, I was skeptical when my book club chose this book as one of our monthly reads. Soon after getting into the book, I realized it was not a book about sports, but about one man's dedication in helping others. Ed's love for his family, his students, his community, and especially for God was very inspiring. It was his life's example that got his family and community through that horrible tragity. I would highly recommend this book for everyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2011

    Follow the example

    This is a great story about a great coach and it could be written about many coaches. This story inspires one to see how you can make something good come from something bad and to trust that God knows what he's doing. If everyone who reads this book just takes the example and follows it the rest of their lives then our world will be a much better place.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2011

    Amazing Read

    This book is amazing!! After just a couple chapters you realize how inspirational Coach Thomas is, and by the middle to end of the book how inspirational his whole family is. I will definately be reading this book again!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2011

    Awesome - couldn't put it down!

    I purchased this book on my nook last night. I had a very short night as I could not stop reading. After a short night I finished the book. Such an amazing story. This is a must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    EXCELLENT

    I have not actually read this book, but I have just pre-ordered it. Coach Thomas was my government & economics teacher my senior year of high school and I helped him with events at the track meets (He was also the head track coach). His story is an incredible one and he continues to inspire countless people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    A story of hope strugge and love within this small town

    This book is hopeful... it tells the struggles of a town not too far from where im from... Parkersburg iowa is a town that was severely damaged from an EF5 tornado that struck in 2007... it was the scariest event to happen here in iowa.... this story is for those who feel like all hope is lost and they feel like they cannot move on.... :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    Phenomenal! A must read.

    This book is a must read! I consider myself blessed to know some of the family. Brought tears to my eyes and made me straight out sob. A definite eye opener.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    Bringing everyone together

    I live in Parkersburg, Iowa where this event took place. The things in this book has brought many people together. I request this book for everyone. It will change your life like it did ours.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    Bad

    Know his mom goes to my church im 13

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    Awesome

    I cried at the end and five more miles and my house would be a gonner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2012

    Must read

    Wowza this book is a real eye opener and tear jerker his brother Greg was my 5th grade teacher!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2012

    Inspirational read

    This was a wonderful book. I knew a little of the background of where this happened. I did not know what a wonderful man and role model for the people of Parkersburg. He truly was a hero...much more so than any sports figure, He talked the talk and walked the walk...living out his faith every day. Such a shame that his life ended much too soon.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 19, 2012

    What would our world look like if we all acted in such a manner?

    What would our world look like if we all acted in such a manner? Thank you for an inspiration read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 21, 2012

    This book is about Ed Thomas the use to be head football coach

    This book is about Ed Thomas the use to be head football coach of the Aplington Parkersburg football team. IN the summer of 2005 i big tornado came crashing through and destroyed most of the city and the school they went through rebuilding then one summer day during weightlifting a man came in and shot Ed.

    i liked this book a lot because it is like a documentary and it just is really good

    i recommend this book to anyone who likes biographies and who like sports

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  • Posted January 30, 2012

    A great book about a great man

    I couldn't put it down. It's about a man who had drive and knew how to share it. He was an example of greatness without being overbearing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2012

    Good good book

    I loved this book so much i cried. I love you coach, you will be missed

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    Wonderful true story

    It was difficult to read through the sad parts but what an amazing life and legacy. Kudos to the family for writing Ed's story so we may know him as well.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Inspiring!!

    Very interesting and inspiring - was not familiar with the story when it happened, but found the book very good. Highly recommend this one!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2011

    Must read

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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