Seeing Life Clearly through the Eyes of Love. The Testimony of Tom Walter.
Tom Walter came from humble beginnings. He was the second oldest of eleven children, and always felt the pressure of being the oldest son. While growing up, a majority of his days after school were filled with him changing his younger sibling’s diapers and preparing dinner for his family. His mom and dad tried their best to provide, but they barely had enough money to put food on the table. Despite their struggles, his parents manage to send him to Catholic school. With his last name being Walter, Tom’s assigned seat was always in the back of the classroom. At the time, Tom didn’t realize that he had an issue with his eyes that made it extremely difficult for him to see. His inability to read the blackboard in school, coupled with all of his responsibilities at home, caused Tom to struggle to pass his classes. However, Tom always scored extremely high on his exams, which indicated his poor grades were no reflection of Tom's intelligence. He scored so well on his high school entrance exam that he was placed in advanced classes his freshman year of high school. Unfortunately, right before school started, Tom was told that he needed to have eye surgery. While recovering from the procedure, he developed double pneumonia, causing him to miss six weeks of school. By the time classes started, Tom was too far behind to catch up and performed poorly in school.
The various pressures that Tom was dealing with in life prompted him to become very rebellious in high school. The school administrators didn't know how to address Tom's behavior, and when the Catholic priest who worked at his school tried to discipline him, they spoke down to him as if he would never accomplish anything in life. Although in many cases Tom felt like giving up, he knew dropping out of high school would only lead him to the streets. Instead, Tom turned to music for an emotional outlet. His love for playing music helped to get him through high school, but it didn't prevent him from setting the school record for detentions, which still stands, and graduating with the lowest GPA in his class. After graduation, he decided to pursue higher education and went to Loyola University. There Tom encountered many challenges, and quickly found himself on academic and social probation. During that time, he had another eye surgery. Shortly after the procedure, Tom made the decision to drop out of college. While recovering from his surgery, he still was responsible for taking care of his younger siblings. His relationship with his mother was extremely strained while he was staying with his family, and after several intense encounters with his mother, he eventually decided to leave home. He struggled to find stable housing for a while, but he finally secured a job at a hotdog stand and the Northwestern Railroad. Even with his two jobs, he wasn’t making enough money, so he started dealing marijuana. He paid the price for making the quick drug money when his house was raided, and he was convicted of a felony charge.
The stress of the justice system became overwhelming for Tom, so he turned to alcohol to help dull his pain. His struggle with alcohol abuse and with the conviction made it nearly impossible for Tom to maintain employment. He was fired from every job he had, but this experience ultimately served as his motivation to start a business. His girlfriend Bobbi, who Tom knew since he was 17, remained in his corner the entire time and encouraged him to keep going. Her faith was unwavering in God and was reflected every day in how she lived her life. Before they got married, she told Tom that he must have a relationship with God to win her affection. Tom’s relationship with God had been rocky up until that point, but the love of God that Bobbi had eventually helped Tom to grow his faith. Tom shared with her his vision for starting a business and she lent Tom $5,000.00 to open up a hotdog stand. Her support, among countless other reasons, made it clear to Tom that Bobbi was the one for him. He proposed to her, and they married each other in 1974. Although they were in love, their first year of marriage was rocky because of Tom’s alcohol addiction. One day Tom woke up to find his wife in tears. When Tom approached Bobbi, she asked him if he remembered anything that he did last night. Tom didn’t have a clue what happened the night before, but he instantly felt remorseful for how his behavior affected his wife. She asked him to go through a detox program and join Alcoholics Anonymous. By 2pm that afternoon, Tom checked himself into the hospital to begin his detox and remained sober ever since. As time went on in their marriage, Bobbi continued to show Tom what a relationship with God looked like. She would bring him to church, and despite his resistance, would encourage him to surrender his heart to God. At first, it seemed more like a chore for him, but over time he began to develop his own relationship with God. This relationship is what helped to sustain him for the next several decades.
Tom went on to start several businesses. Some were very successful, and others almost led Tom into bankruptcy. As soon as Tom and Bobbi were nearly out of debt from his first failed business, they found out they were pregnant. This was very unexpected news, considering they were under the impression that they were unable to have children. God blessed them with two children during their marriage named Tim and Erin, in which both parents adored. However, it became apparent as they got older that Tom needed to change his priorities. One day he saw Tim crying out of the rearview mirror of his car. He got out of the car and asked his son what was wrong, and Tim replied, “Daddy, you’re never home.” That moment changed everything for Tom. He sold all of his businesses except his fast-food restaurant called Tasty Dawg, in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. He brought his two brothers on board as partners to help run the hotdog stand and told them he will come back with intensity to run the business once his children were grown. He made a commitment to be an active father in his children’s lives, and except for a handful of events, Tom was at every activity or game his children had. Those moments of watching his children grow up were some of the happiest moments of Tom's life.
While Tom focused on being a father, business at Tasty Dawg began to do exceptionally well. Tom and his brothers eventually expanded their business into the world of catering. This was an excellent move for them financially, but Tom and his brothers still had a lot to learn regarding how to treat those they were entrusted to lead. For years, they ran their company in an authoritarian fashion, where most of his employees despised coming to work. It was only after one of Tom’s employees confronted him about the negative way they were being treated, that Tasty Catering underwent a significant cultural change. Tom and his brothers made a decision to empower their employees to take ownership of the company and challenged them to create the core values that the Tasty Catering would live by. They also started to invest in the future of their employees, and their love for Christ was placed in the forefront of everything they did. It took time to completely change the culture of the company, but today Tasty Catering is considered one of the most Psychologically Healthy Workplaces in America, and one of Forbes Best Small Companies in America.
The journey for Tom has not been easy, but when he looks back over his life, Tom knows that his struggles helped to mold him into the man he is today. Tom has also learned over the years the power of love. He consistently lives each day with the intention of showing the love of Christ towards the people he encounters. Jesus told the disciples, you will know they are my disciples by how they love one another, and when it comes to Tom Walter, that is a legacy that he will always be remembered for.
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