In January 2005, a tragic car accident occurred on an icy county road, claiming the lives of two Blair High School students, Brandon Tomcak, 16, and Ashley Hodson, 18. A third student, 16-year-old Craig Andreasen, was injured but survived. The accident happened on Sunday, January 16th, around 1 p.m., as the three teens were returning from a trip to Omaha. The investigation revealed that their vehicle hit a patch of ice on County Road 39, slid across the road, and landed upside-down in a ravine. It was also determined that none of the occupants were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. Andreasen, who was found by a passing motorist and airlifted to a hospital, was released two days later. Funeral services for the deceased students were held at First Lutheran Church.
The moment I held my son, Maverick, moments after he was born something changed inside me. It was like a light-switch was flipped: One second before I knew everything, the next I realized I knew nothing but the love for my wife and newborn son. Things I’d heard from parents, grandparents, and “old people” about what it was like to be a father were illuminated in my mind. And, if the Lord allows my memory to remain intact, I’ll never forget what it was like to have my son look directly in my eyes as I held him for the first time.
When my son Logan was born it was equally memorable. With his birth came a feeling of “now I’m really a dad.” It seemed that with two boys, close in age, we were a complete family. My wife, my sons, and me. As it was meant to be.
With this feeling of completion comes, the love. Of course, the love. A furnace inside my soul – that I was unaware existed – began to burn with a love for my wife, and my sons. That love fueled everything I did (and do) as if, like the Sun – is fed by an energy source that will never end.
There came, too, a realization there was another opposing force. As the love grew, so did the potential pain if ever that love was lost. If Love is matter, then the fear of losing that which I love is the dark, unspeakable antimatter a parent never seeks, and hopes to never find.
Last night, I spoke with Cindy Tomcak. She’s Brandon Tomcak’s mother. If you don’t know who Cindy is, you probably don’t know who Brandon is. And, if you know the story, you might take issue with my use of the word “is” as being either grammatically-incorrect, or pandering. In fact, I use the word “is” because when I spoke with Cindy, she used present tense when we discussed her son, Brandon.
Cindy and Mike Tomcak, Brandon’s parents know what it’s like to love your child before they are born, while they are with us in physical form, and after they’ve been taken too soon. When I began the research for this story, I did not realize the impact it would have on me.
She spoke with an even tone, gentle disposition, and without the trappings of an emotionally-charged movie scene. Cindy was matter-of-fact in the telling of the events, and the time she was most animated was when she described how the media jumped to the conclusion that the usual trappings of teenage drivers were afoot: Drugs and Alcohol.
When, in fact, it all happened on an otherwise pedestrian day in January. Kids on the way home from Wal-Mart. On a country road. In the day time. Hitting ice. Losing control.
It really is a parents worst nightmare. In the case of the Tomcaks it was in the middle of the day. A day Cindy wrote me was, “the day that our life changed forever…..”
Families can implode – and often do – after tragic events like what the Tomcaks and Hodsons experienced. How a family will deal with that sort of sudden, earth-shattering news, is never knowable. And, although Cindy tells me it was hard – very hard – she says the community of Blair helped them find the strength to keep going. It’s cliche, but true, that the people around you can be what you need when you don’t know what you need, you just know you need something else to get through the next day.
The Tomcak family got through the next day, week, month, and now 18 years honoring Brandon’s memory – something Cindy told me she never would have dreamed would happen in the public. Each year the Tomcak family Brandon Tomcak holds a Memorial 3-D Shoot in collaboration with Orion Archery
As Cindy wrote me:
Brandon was introduced to archery by his friends at the young age of 9 years old. He got involved in the kids league at Orion Archery and fell in love with the sport and the opportunity to be with his best friends. As his parents we couldn't be prouder for his involvement especially since neither myself or my husband knew anything about archery. Orion Archery and its members took Brandon under their wing and truly demonstrated their mission statement, "It's All About The Kids". Most of these members at Orion over the years were the parents of his best friends and they formed a wonderful bond and community that every young man needs in their life. Brandon loved every minute of the time got got to spend at Orion Archery shooting and hanging with his friends and their parents. And then on January 16, 2005 it all came to an end for him..... It was at this time that we experienced what the value of living in a small community. The entire community and especially the community at Orion Archery wrapped their arms around our family and have continued to support in ways we could never imagine. The wonderful members of Orion Archery approached our family to ask if they could create a 3-D Archery Shoot in memory of Brandon. As his parents we had no idea what this involved or what it would mean to us through the years. One of the biggest fears when loosing a child is that they will be forgotten, well not if it was up to Orion Archery. The Brandon Tomcak Memorial 3-D Shoot began in 2006 and continues on now 17 years later. The focus of the Shoot is to introduce the sport of archery to kids of all ages, young and old. We provide instruction and equipment no matter what your level of experience or age. There are 20 different 3-D Animals like bears, alligators, dinosaurs, deer and more. The event is family focused and a great place to experience the sport and the great outdoors. It has been organized each year by the Tomcak Family and Orion Archery. The event is one of a kind with a focus on kids which again, is alignment with Orion Archery's mission, It's All About The Kids. All monies raised go toward High School Scholarships, the Nebraska and Iowa Ted Nugent Kamp for Kids as well as donations to support the sport of archery in the area. The community of Blair has supported this event with corporate donations, door prizes, volunteer hours and so much more over the last 17 years. Over the last 17 years the Brandon Tomcak Memorial 3-D Shoot in collaboration with Orion Archery have: Introduced 4000 (+) shooters to archery, Raised over $105,000, Provided over $50,000 in scholarship funds to high school graduates in Blair and surrounding communities, Supported the Ted Nugent Kamp for Kids with donations of $20,000 and sent over 115 children to the Kamp, and, Most importantly we continue to focus on the mission, “It’s All About The Kids” in collaboration with Orion Archery
Cindy says that day in January, where nothing was supposed to happen, and it was all just another day, and the kids were headed back from Wal-Mart – that day where their life changed forever, is now something unexpected. It is, according to Cindy, something which may have been part of a bigger plan, part of how God would use Brandon’s life to effectively change the life course of others he would never know.
When I listened to Cindy talk about Brandon, I thought of my own two sons. I listened to her talk about things in a way that seemed jarringly dispassionate. It seemed I was more overcome with a fear of what I hoped to never know than she was in telling me what she absolutely knows. And, I told her how I was affected because I tried to put my family in her shoes, but I could still not understand how it felt for her to lose her son that way.
Cindy told me those were shoes I didn’t ever want to wear.
I was moved by my time with Brandon’s mom, and I hope you’ll be moved to share with others about the 2023 Brandon Tomcak Memorial 3-D Shoot in collaboration with Orion Archery.
Written By Don Harrold, with Cindy Tomcak, for BlairToday
2 thoughts on “Shoes You Don’t Want to Wear”
Thank you so much for your interest and for sharing Brandon’s story and the story of a community that continues to support his memory and his love for the sport of archery. Orion Archery deserves the biggest shout out for their mission “It’s all about the kids”…they truly made an impact on Brandon and continue today impacting the kids in our community. Thank you everyone, and thank you Don for posting this!
What a touching tribute to Brandon. I’ve known Brandon all his short life, I’m his uncle Chuck. He was at my house just hours before our lives changed forever. I can still hear him racing up the stairs to get a game we had bought him for Christmas to return at Wal-Mart and back out the door yelling love you see you later. Oh, if only. We still miss him. Cindy is right these are shoes you never want to wear or the phone call you never want to receive. The archery shoot is an awesome way to remember him by. hope I’m around for the next 17. God Bless. Gone but never forgotten. Love you Cindy & Mick.