Honoring Tom Stoppel: A friend who is gone, but not forgotten

Family and friends filled the Tonganoxie Christian Church Worship Center on May 17 to celebrate the life of Tom Stoppel. Many of the nearly 250 in attendance were from the Hillsboro area, where Tom and Glenda Stoppel called home for many years.

While in Hillsboro, Tom’s career included serving as sportswriter for the Hillsboro Free Press, engineering staff for the Kansas Department of Transportation and quality control at Countryside Feed.

Glenda, who worked in the city of Hillsboro’s office, was known for her friendly smile and cheerful personality.

When Tom and Glenda moved to Tonganoxie to be closer to family in 2021, it was hard to see them go but completely understandable.

Nine months after they moved, Tom was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He and his family bravely fought the cancer for the next 13 months before Tom died on May 12, shortly after his 64th birthday.

Glenda asked me to offer a few words of tribute at Tom’s celebration of life service. It was an honor to be asked, but emotionally difficult to do so. I’m sharing a few excerpts from that day here to honor a longtime friend and beloved member of our community.

Tom was a friend who could pick up a conversation and make you feel at home every time you saw him. I always felt at ease around Tom; like he had been a friend for a much longer time. He was funny, humble and genuinely fun to be around.

Glenda remarked that Tom and I had the same sense of humor. I’m taking that as a compliment because Tom was truly a funny guy.

Since Tom covered Tabor College sports for the Free Press, we often talked about Tabor men’s basketball when Don Brubacher, the winningest coach in school history, was the head coach. He spent a lot of time interviewing the Tabor coach after games. Tom commented on how much he respected Coach Brubacher. I’ve since learned that the respect was mutual.

Brubacher has been the athletic director at Hillsdale College in Michigan for the past 15 years. When I let him know in early May that Tom was under hospice care and not expected to live much longer, he emailed the following tribute to me:

“Tom was a fine journalist, and it was a pleasure to talk with him after our men’s basketball games whether we won or lost. He quickly became a friend as well, though, and our conversations went well beyond the game just completed.

“I was deeply impressed by how honest, conscientious, and reliable Tom was, and our friendship helped me with the pressures of the basketball season.

“Since we moved to Michigan I have seen Tom on just a few occasions, but when our paths have crossed, it was wonderful to catch up. It truly was talking with a dear friend. I offer my condolences to his family and friends. He will be greatly missed.”

Many of us who knew Tom can identify with the sentiments expressed by Coach Brubacher. Talking to Tom was like talking with a dear friend.

Before closing, let me say how impressed I’ve been with Tom and Glenda over the years. They loved each other so much. They were active in our church, Grace Community Fellowship, in Hillsboro. In fact, Tom was one of four members on the building committee that spent many hours in meetings – planning and designing the building where we presently meet.

When my wife and I, along with our younger son, visited Tom and Glenda at their home in early April, it was easy to see Glenda’s concern and how challenging life had become for Tom.

Here are some words from the song, “The People That God Gives You,” that apply to the love that Tom and Glenda had for each other, and also serve as a tribute to them both.

“Love the people that God gives you,
They’re a gift that Heaven sent.
Live and laugh and make some memories,
Treasure every moment spent.
Cause none of us are here forever,
That’s a proven fact.
Love the people that God gives you
Cause one day, He’ll want them back.”

More from Joe Kleinsasser
Sports radio is big
Forty years ago, play-by-play coverage of sporting events was popular. It still...
Read More