Thomas Finley Summers passed away April 22 2018. He was 89 years old. Tom was born in Ashland, Kentucky and raised in a West Virginia boarding house by his father, Finley Summers, and the Meadows family, who owned the boarding house. Upon graduating from high school in 1947 he joined the Army-Air Force and served for four years. After his father, a coal miner, discouraged him from working in the mines, he held a series of jobs including door-to-door sales and auto assembly line worker in Detroit. In 1953 he enrolled in college classes at Milwaukee School of Engineering on the GI Bill. While studying electrical engineering in Milwaukee he met Ruth Popelka and they were married in 1955 and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana for two years. After studying part time at Purdue University, they moved back to Milwaukee to complete his BS, where their first son Mike was born in 1958. Their son Jack was born two years later after they had moved back to Fort Wayne, where Tom worked as an electrical engineer for Magnavox. The family moved to St. Petersburg in 1962 where Tom and Ruth’s third son, Jeffrey was born in 1965. Tom worked as an electrical engineer at Honeywell Aerospace until he retired in 1988. His work at Honeywell included designing and testing electronics for many space projects, including the Viking mars landers and the Space Shuttle. Tom was active in the lives of his family: They camped often, sometimes every other weekend. He served as a Little League coach, helped with innumerable Cub Scout and Boy Scout activities. He took his children fishing, water skiing, sailing, and scuba diving. After retiring at the age of 59, Tom and Ruth traveled and camped throughout the U.S. and spent considerable time with their children. They were constantly active, with hobbies that included wine making, furniture building and camping in their travel trailer. Tom and Ruth made several gorgeous bedroom sets and tables for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. They helped their children with a number of major home projects including building offices for son Jeffrey and his wife Mary Grace’s optometry practice and for daughter-in-law Holly’s dental practice, re-roofing their children’s houses, and building kitchen cabinetry for Jack and his wife, Patsy. In 2009 Tom was graced with the knowledge of his eldest child, daughter Mary Fitzpatrick (Penny), and her family, who have been embraced by the Summers and are now regular members of the Summers’ camping clan.
Tom is survived by Ruth, his wife of 62 years; his children Penny, Michael, Jack, and Jeffrey; his grandchildren Samantha, Thomas, Grace, Emily, Brock, and Heath; and by his great grandchildren Tylin, River, Ryen, and Gracie.
Eulogies presented by Tom’s sons at the funeral service
Good morning. I first just want to thank you all for taking the time to come celebrate the life of my father, Tom Summers. My name is Jeff Summers and I am the third son of Tom and Ruth. I would like to share with you a very small glimpse into his full and wonderful life.
When I think of some of dad’s characteristics, the first thing that comes to my mind is his generosity. Not so much his financial generosity, although he was very generous in that aspect, but his generosity with something even more precious...... his time.
For as long as I can remember, dad was always there. Starting with taking time to read to me as a small child; taking us fishing; helping with math homework; family camping trips; helping me build a backyard shed; and taking the time to discuss history, work and politics over a glass of wine while sitting in a lawn chair in the back yard.
You know, a sure sign that someone truly loves you is their desire to spend time with you. Dad was very generous with his time with everyone here. So I think it is safe to say that we are all very blessed to be loved so greatly.
I shall very much miss spending more time with dad. 53 years has not nearly been long enough. My silver lining in all this is that one day, I will have an eternity to spend with him.
Thank-you, and God bless you all.
Tom Summers was my father.
He had a few sayings that I remember. He was fond of saying “You could work with your back or you can work with your head.” While the wisdom of that saying was not apparent to me when I first heard it, I remember that it became clear to me once while working on my uncle’s farm. I was tasked with cutting the weeds that were shorting out an electric fence. I was given a tool that amounted to a stick with a metal blade stuck to it. After clearing about 30 feet of fence, I looked up at the miles of fence that remained and it struck me; You can whack these weeds with a stick for the next month or you could find a better way. Of course, the saying about working with one’s back or one’s head can also be applied to one’s choice of employment. I note that my two brothers and I have chosen professions with little manual labor involved. That is not to say that our father looked down on manual labor. When I would ask “Why do we have to do this?”, he would pull out another of his favorite sayings; “Because it builds character.” He taught his sons a lot of useful skills. Skills like plumbing, drywall and electrical work. My father showed amazing competence at these things. After he retired, he and my Mom travelled each summer to the homes of his kids, working with each of us to improve our homes and teaching us to do these things in the process. He was a talented and patient man. Some of my favorite memories are of working with my parents on my house.
Life was not all work with my father, he made sure that his kids had fun: He took us camping, fishing and boating. He instilled in us a love of the outdoors and of the natural world. He nurtured curiosity and respect for the truth. He was active in the scouts when we were at that age. He was a kind and good man. He was successful by any measure. I will miss him.
My dad was an extraordinary man who overcame significant odds as a child. He climbed out of poverty and provided an environment for me and my brothers that doesn’t remotely compare to that of his own childhood. His mother left when he was young, and he was raised by his coal miner father, Finley, and the Meadows family, in a boarding house in West Virginia. Dad’s climb was not easy. He told me that, when he applied to technical school after his military service, the recommendation letter from his high school principal stated that dad probably wouldn’t amount to much and probably shouldn’t be admitted. Fortunately, the Milwaukee School of Engineering gave him a chance, and it was there that he met our mom. But he told me that going to college was the hardest thing he had done in his life. Everything he did, he did pretty much on his own. In comparison, my life has been extraordinarily easy because I had strong, early support from my my mom, my brothers, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and especially my dad. It’s hard for me to imagine doing what dad did without that kind of support.
Dad was a wonderful father. He was a source of quiet strength and inspiration. He once told me the most important thing that each of us owns is our time. He brought this up at a time when he was dealing with increasing pressures from his job, and I think it helped motivate his decision to retire at age 59. So what did dad do with his time when he retired? He gave it all to his family. He took mom across country in their camper trailer. He took her to see her family at numerous annual family gatherings and camping trips. He spent countless months at his children’s houses helping with projects. And he didn’t just give his time to his children, he gave it to the families of his children and to others. A few days ago, my wife Holly changed the oil on her car, and she cried because it made her remember the hours that dad spent helping her rebuild the engine on her old truck. He helped his neighbors when they had needs, and he served the church as an usher with his boys. He was an incredibly generous man, with his money for sure. But the greatest gift that dad gave us was his time. I’ll miss you dad.
In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to Our Savior Lutheran Church–School or to your favorite charity.
David C. Gross Funeral Homes, Central Avenue Chapel in St. Petersburg is serving the family.