August 12, 2012

We will miss Tom Wolfe greatly

DAVENPORT — Memorial funeral services to celebrate the life of Thomas A. Wolfe, 72, a resident of Davenport, will be 6 p.m. Monday, August 13, 2012, at the Halligan-McCabe-DeVries Funeral Home, Davenport. His family will greet friends at the funeral home prior to the service from 4 until 6 p.m. Honoring Tom’s wish, the rite of cremation has been accorded, and his cremains will be buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Delmar, Iowa.
Tom passed away unexpectedly Saturday, August 4, 2012, at his home in Davenport. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Café on Vine.
Thomas Anthony Wolfe was born in Maquoketa, Iowa, on December 20, 1940. The son of Raymond Bernard Wolfe (1896-1941) and Gladys McGinn Wolfe (1903-1966), he was the great-grandson of Irish immigrants. The youngest of four, Tommy-as his sisters insisted on calling him-found himself deprived of a father as an infant and set free on not quite 200 acres of Clinton County farmland. As a result, he lived inside his imagination. He became his hero, Jackie Robinson, by throwing balls against the barn and scooping up grounders. He found stacks of freshly mown hay to be occasions for an intense kind of dreaming. “What I remember most about farm life,” he once wrote, “was an aching feeling of loneliness.”
Wolfe graduated from Delmar High School in 1958 and then, with support from an uncle, from St. Ambrose College, in nearby Davenport. He later earned a master’s degree in American history from Western Illinois University. Having decided to forego farm life, Wolfe began his teaching career in Blue Grass, Iowa, before moving down the road to Walcott, where he taught across the hall from Frances Cupp Wolfe, whom he married on August 1, 1964. The couple – a sometimes uneasy mixture of Irish and French ancestry – raised three children in Davenport, Bridget Colleen (b. 1967), Brendan Martin (b. 1971), and Sara Elizabeth (b. 1973). As the names suggest, Wolfe’s Irish side often prevailed, although he lovingly called his wife Françoise. She called him “the old goat,” only sometimes lovingly, and they managed until 1993, when they separated. Divorce followed soon after.
Until his retirement in 1997, Wolfe held court in a room at Walcott Junior High School (later middle school), mostly teaching American history. His great passion was for teaching, which took him back to the farm he never quite left: it was an exercise in imagination. A colleague remembers his closet full of hats. “He would put on a hat and act out various historical characters,” she recalled, and if on one occasion he actually tumbled from a windowsill during a performance, that made it only more memorable for his audience.
Wolfe’s other great passion was the teacher’s union. His wife, Fran, beat him to it, voting to strike on an occasion when he didn’t, and her zeal rubbed off on him. He served two terms as president of the Davenport Education Association, and was a near-annual delegate to assemblies of the state and national unions. For at least a decade, he served as Midwest regional director of the NEA’s Peace and Justice Caucus, and in 2012 the Iowa State Education Association presented him with its highest honor, the Charles F. Martin Award for Association Leadership. He accepted with a generous and very funny speech calling for an end to the bitter and unthinking partisanship of American politics.
Tom is survived by his sister, Margery; his former wife; his close friend, Nancy Porter, of Iowa City; his three children; and his three grandchildren. One imagines he has finally returned to the old Wolfe homestead in Clinton County, to the hay bales and reveries. “As long as I live,” he wrote, “I’ll associate freshly-mown hay with those dreams and yearnings, and I won’t know whether to be happy or sad.”
Online remembrances and condolences may be expressed to the family by visiting Wolfe’s obituary

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