(Click here to watch a video of this tribute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaOvfHT1cfI)
Thomas Wesley Zdanio was born on October 2, 1941. He grew up in an average home in Detroit, Michigan with his parents and younger brother. His teen years were lived out in the 1950’s, with all the glory you would expect as a teenager back in those times. He spent some time studying in college, then at 25 years of age he decided to join the US Navy. Aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Randolph, he traveled all around Europe and the North Atlantic. His job as a journalist for the ship’s newspaper often allowed him to travel by helicopter days ahead of the ship to write up reviews and helpful information for the sailors at the ports they would be docking at. Dad served his country well in the Navy…
…but that wasn’t the most important thing my dad ever did.
Just a few days after he was discharged from the Navy, his brother, Bob wanted dad to meet his brand new wife, Charlene. Unbeknownst to any of them, Charlene’s friend, Eve planned to stop by. At that chance meeting, Tom met the woman that was to become his very best friend – and the absolute love of his life. 5 months later they were married – June 9, 1967… the beginning of a marriage that lasted for a lifetime.
He adored Eve every one of his days. Like every marriage, they had some highs and lows. But together, Tom and Eve warmed the lives of everyone they knew. Together they loved people. But even though their marriage touched so many people…
…this also wasn’t the most important thing my dad ever did.
Over the next several years, they had 3 children – Brenda, Cathie, and me… Eddie. Although we often argue about which one of us was his favorite, we can all agree on this… he loved us all, with all his heart. While we were still little kids, he bought a sailboat and carried us all over Lake Huron, Lake St Clair, and into the Canadian North Channel. He was an expert sailor, and participated in many boat races. Even ice-boat races. For those of you who live in the south, imagine being out in the middle of a frozen lake, on a thin metal frame with a sale, in 70mph icy cold wind. Yep, he loved it.
Even though he was a great sailor, that wasn’t the most important thing he ever did.
Tom was a family man. He invested in all of us in so many ways. It seemed like we were always traveling together as a family somewhere together. Florida, Washington DC, Missouri, Up North in Michigan, even into Canada. Even life around home was interesting too. He bought a few farm animals (sheep, goats, cows, pigs, and chickens). And guess who took care of them – yep, me and my sisters. He taught us responsibility and the value of hard work– even against our protest on family work days.
Hard work – that describes dad well. And quite an entrepreneur as well. He was always busy building, and even running a small local ice cream business. One day while selling ice cream, he met a lady who was looking for a builder – specifically someone who could build a log home. He has plenty of building experience, but had never built a log home. This one log home led to another, then another, and eventually became the industry that defined him and a large portion of his life. He built homes all across the great lakes, and eventually all over the United States. He won many awards for his ability to build, sell, and train others. His experience and ability continued to develop, and eventually carried him to build log homes and train others as far away as Turkey, Romania, Germany, Russia, Hungary, Denmark, and Ireland. He was an expert log home builder…
…but that wasn’t the most important thing he ever did.
Eventually he gained a son-in-law (Daryl) and daughter-in-law (Julie). He loved them as much as the rest of his family. Eventually grandchildren entered the picture… 5 in all: Ethan, Wesley, Hailey, Shelby, and Emmie. Wow, what a grandpa! He loved those kids so much. That’s where his joke telling and practical joking began to reach its perfection. He had a lifetime of practice, and now it was time to unleash his expertise on this new generation. The fart machine, the fake body parts, the rubber dog poop, the fake puke, the endless corny jokes… they had new life with his grandkids. Have you ever heard the story about how his jaw bone was replaced with a dog jaw bone? Yeah, his grandchildren heard that too – over and over and over again. They fell for it every time. Yeah, he was a practical joker who loved his grandchildren with all his heart.
…but even that wasn’t the most important thing he ever did.
Dad loved people. Really loved them. Together, everywhere Tom and Eve went, everything they were ever involved with, they just loved people. Everyone felt welcome around them. No matter who you were, or where you came from, young or old, cool or weird, important or unknown… you were welcome and loved by Tom and Eve. They invested in people everywhere they went – builders, and salesmen, and friends, and friends of friends, youth groups, and more. Dad always had a good time – and always made sure everyone around him was having a good time as well. If you had a chance to know him, then surely you already know that.
But deeply loving people isn’t the most important thing he ever did.
In 1980, when the rest of the world was fighting the cold war, and caught up in big hair, bright colors, and weird music, dad did something important… very important. Right in the middle of his life – in the middle of all those accomplishments I just told you about, dad had a friend who invited him to his house for a Bible study. Now, dad had been casually involved in church his whole life… catechism, first communion, married by a priest, and a trip to church on Christmas or Easter. …But going to a house for a Bible study was something entirely new. He agreed to go. This became the first step that led him to surrender his life to Jesus.
Do you want to know the most important thing my dad ever did? This was it. My dad discovered that he wasn’t perfect – everyone who knew him already knew that. But dad realized that in God’s eyes, he had broken a few of the rules – maybe more than a few, but that’s not the point. Dad realized that he wouldn’t be able to excuse away the things he did wrong. And although I don’t know of a better man than my dad, even he knew that he couldn’t do enough good things to make up for the bad things things – that’s not how it works. Dad discovered that no one can erase those things. In that Bible study, dad learned that everyone is separated from God because of sin. And those sins bring on punishment – eternal punishment. But God sent Jesus – the Son of God – to die in our place. And everyone who is willing to put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness of sin is then made right with God. Dad discovered the most important truth in all of space and time. It is told pretty concisely in one of the verses in the Bible… John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
When dad did this, everything changed. I was just 8 years old at the time; but I remember it well. Yeah, he was still the same Tom everyone knew and loved; but there was an entirely new definition to his life. He didn’t just have a religious experience, or spiritual moment in time, dad really met Jesus. And the more he studied and learned, the more he gave his life to following Jesus. He knew what he believed, and lived what he believed… not necessarily flawlessly, but definitely passionately.
His decision also spilled over into Eve’s decision to follow Jesus as well – and all three of us children. As a matter of fact, anyone who knew dad for more than a few minutes would know he was following Jesus; and he desired for others to hear the same good news that changed his life. He gave much of his life to serving God the best he could, in every way he could. He gave and served and volunteered in so many ways. Especially with teens. He loved them – taking them on canoe trips, and amusement parks, and church camps, and often just inviting them into his house for food and games.
In the last couple years of dad’s life, his health wasn’t what it used to be. He still got around the best he could; but he had to slow down quite a bit. But he knew that God still had a job for him. He told me time and time again that for some strange reason he kept waking up at exactly 2:22 am. He would look at the clock and lay there trying to go back to sleep. Night after night this happened. He decided to begin praying during this time each night. A few months before he went home to be with Jesus he called me to tell me specifically what he had been praying for. He would lay in bed at that odd time night after night, and think about all the people he had ever known… everyone… even people he hadn’t thought of in many years – whether it was old school friends back in Detroit, or friends from the Navy, or all of his various jobs or travels. For every single person he could think of, he would pray 2 specific things: #1 That God would draw them to Himself. And #2 that they would respond to God’s call to turn to His Son Jesus.
I guess if dad knew you, then you can be sure he prayed this prayer for you. You know, I think that is the second most important thing my dad ever did – and it is so closely tied to his own decision to follow Jesus… He wanted everyone he ever knew – all throughout his amazing, storied, and adventurous life, to experience the same hope, healing, forgiveness, and freedom that he found in Jesus.
And here’s what I realized a little too late: my dad was a great man. For all the years I knew him, he was just dad. We got along well enough – especially after I got old enough to realize I really didn’t know more than him. But now that he is gone, I can see how amazing he was.
Thanks Pop. Thanks for showing mom, and me and my sisters the way to real salvation. We miss you so much; but we look forward to seeing you again someday…
…because you led us to Jesus.