Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First


Tom Southard Fondly Remembered After Losing His Life To Coronavirus

In the Panhandle and especially in our local Kimball area, celebrities are hard to find, almost impossible to find. But one local individual was a celebrity and lived right here among us and interacted with us on a daily basis.

Oh, "our celebrity" didn't even know he was an area celebrity, but he was and always will be in our hearts and minds.

Tom Southard was "our celebrity, Kimball's celebrity." He knew almost everyone and everyone knew him, his personality, dedication to sports, to the community and his vast historical knowledge of Kimball's sports. He had the unique ability to interact and cross generations – from current Little Leaguers to football players from KCHS teams of the mid-1960s. He was a friend, colleague and top notch guy to all.

Tom still had that connection to our area youth in Kimball High School.

"Tom was such an important person in my life," said Payton Wise, a Kimball High School junior and three-year state golf tournament participant. He was always my biggest supporter in everything I did, and the first to ask me how I did. He taught me that it's OK to have a bad day. He will forever hold a special place in my heart, and heaven gained a beautiful angel."

Recently, we learned just how fragile life can be even for our heroes and celebrities as Tom passed away on Sunday. This special guy will be sorely missed by his family, friends, sport enthusiasts and the entire area.

In less than two weeks, Tom went from living his life, taking junior and high school sports photos, writing his column for the Western Nebraska Observer, and discussing Thanksgiving plans to being flown to the North Platte hospital for treatment.

Then on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. Central time, Tom lost his life to COVID pneumonia at Great Plains Health in North Platte. He was blessed and comforted to be surrounded by his family at the time of his death. According to the family, he will be cremated and no services are planned at this time but a service will be held at a later date.

Boxer "Genuine" Jerry Gorsuch reflected on his relationship with Tom.

"I remember the first time Tom interviewed me," he said. "I was 9-10 years old, and it was the early days of the Kimball Boxing Club. He came to the gym to take pictures and to interview the boxers. I am not sure if he knew much about boxing back then, but neither did I.

"Who would have known that that one interview would be just the first of many that I had with Tom over the course of about 40 years. As a sports writer with the Observer, he covered all of my boxing career and my son, Kyle Gorsuch's sports career as well."

Gorsuch said, "I would like to send my prayers and condolences to Tom's family and to the Kimball community. Tom was a big part of the community. Thanks to Tom I have a thick scrapbook of memories that will keep his memory alive for many years to come."

In July 2020, Tom received a career achievement award from the Nebraska Press Association, the award called the Golden Pica Pole Club that recognizes journalists with 50 years of service in Nebraska. Tom started writing sports at the Observer in 1964 and continued until his death.

Tom was born, raised, educated and employed in Kimball and Kimball County. With all but a stint in the Navy, Tom called Kimball his home for the past 84 years. And home it was as he and his wife Karen attended hundreds and hundreds and maybe even thousands of sporting activities. He was a true champion of the kids. His writing was uplifting and encouraging and the back knowledge of individuals and events was deep and personal.

Shocked and saddened by news of Tom's death, Kimball native and now head men's basketball coach at Southern Nazarene University, Adam Bohac said, "As a young boy I would look forward to reading Tom's "Jock Talk" every week. His words shaped my view of local athletics and inspired me to try and be like the athletes he covered. As I got older and began participating in events he wrote about, I would hurry to get a paper on Wednesday evenings to see what Tom thought of how I had played. Words are powerful and Tom used his words each week to support and encourage. I can't remember participating in a high school sporting event where Tom and Karen were not in attendance. Thank you Tom for the positive influence you had on my life and on so many young athletes' lives throughout the years!"

A heartbroken Shawn Nagel poured his heart out in words about Tom.

"I will always cherish Tom's support throughout my athletic career starting at the age of 5 with federation wrestling following through junior high and high school and the finally as a Nebraska Cornhusker," he said. "That is a lot of years to have such a devoted sports writer follow you. It was a pleasure to share all of my experiences with him. The best was the smile on his face at all the sporting events, it showed it truly was his passion.

"About a week ago my wife and I read an article about extraordinarily ordinary people and that was exactly the type of person Tom was. He was kind, he was joyful, he focused on all the things that mattered, he put himself out there, and he had the ability to connect with others. Tom will be greatly missed being a true icon to the Kimball community. I am so thankful for his support, encouragement and friendship. It was a privilege to have Tom in my life. He will always be remembered as an very honorable man."

Tom was an example of a great guy, but he lived up to all the cliches that are generally thrown around: a mentor, a great guy, a nice guy, family man, special man, amazing man, great sports writer, awesome man.

Anyone and everyone that the Observer reached out to was honored and humbled to write their reflections about Tom.

Brady Land said, "A few thoughts come to mind when I think of Tom Southard. First would be the always positive and kind words he would write about players in his weekly break down of all the sporting events that occurred throughout the week. I would always look forward to reading about what he had to say and what he thought about teams' performances. Second, and something that still resonates with me, was his intentional efforts to get updates on my life personally and athletically after high school.

"Anytime I would see Tom around town or on the golf course, he would stop and talk to me for a few minutes about how things in my life were going. He would ask about school, my track career, and things in between. It's the type of situation that you never knew when it was going to happen, but would look forward to. The Kimball community lost a great man and one that always brought positivity to anything he was involved in."

Former Potter-Dix High School and college standout athlete Bryant Knigge, now coaching basketball in Colorado, provided his thoughts about Tom.

"Tom's writing reflected his love of his work and a genuine interest in the people he interviewed," Knigge said. "He cared for athletes as people and looked beyond what they were able to accomplish in athletics. The amount of lives he has impacted shows that it's always been bigger than sports."

Finally, Shelby Vogel responded to the news about Tom with these remarks: "Tom Southard was someone you could always expect to have a smile on his face when he saw you. It didn't matter if you just played the worst game of your life, he was in the stands and when you walked by, he would always say "good game." After I completed high school, went on to college, and played basketball, if I would see him anywhere during my short time home, he would always ask how I was doing. He didn't care just about sports though; he would always ask how my classes were going and how I liked campus and the people. Of course, basketball came up, but I knew he cared, and not just about me, but everyone who went through Kimball High School. His kind heart and contagious smile is what made him special and will make him very missed. Thanks, Tom, for the valuable time you've given to us."

Usually celebrities are known for their wealth or fortune, but Tom had much more than wealth and fortune, he had encouragement and positivity for young athletics, community respect, a loving family, humility and a pretty good golf game. Tom always made you feel like you were important and you were the celebrity, but we found out differently. A celebrity is well known and gets lots of public attention but in this case Tom was also an icon, a hero, a mentor, a legend, and "our celebrity".