A life remembered: Jefferson Thomas

Jefferson “Jeff” Thomas, of Dubuque, died Nov. 7 of heart failure at the age of 66.

He never stopped working and felled trees with precision. They quivered and crashed to earth within feet of his target.

His favorite to chop down was the walnut.

Much like the hardy trees he cut, Jefferson “Jeff” Thomas, of Dubuque, remained a sturdy force in his family’s lives. Even if he lacked money, he always supported them as best he could.

“I don’t want nobody in my family that I’ve created to be a nobody,” Jeff told his grandson, who at the time was incarcerated. “I want them to be a somebody.”

Sometimes, Jeff’s love could be tough, but still it was love.

He died Nov. 7 of heart failure at the age of 66.

“He always kept a positive heart,” said his wife, Cindy Thomas. “He kept on going.”

Jeff was born on July 23, 1955, in Lincoln, Neb. He was raised by his grandparents William and Mary Thomas.

As a teenager, Jeff followed in William’s footsteps and joined him cutting timber.

Jeff grew up on Valley Street in Dubuque, where he later would raise his own family. He attended George Washington Middle and Dubuque Senior High schools. Although he dropped out before he would graduate in 1972, Jeff received an education in the School of Hard Knocks.

When he was 15, he was riding a city bus with a friend when out the window, a young woman caught Jeff’s eye.

“I’m going to marry her someday,” Jeff told his friend, pointing to Cindy Johnson.

They did so in 1973 and had four children: Chad, Carissa, Jeff Jr. and Jim.

Chad died shortly after birth. Jeff Jr. said it was an event that his parents did not discuss.

“They never forget, but they didn’t want to keep dwelling on it,” Jeff Jr. said.

Jeff Sr.’s career at multiple logging companies brought him to locations across the country, including Hawaii. He was gone for months at a time.

“He just loved watching the trees fall,” Jeff Jr. said. “It was a rush for him.”

Jeff Sr.’s co-worker Travis Coffman recalled Jeff becoming “lost” in the woods on multiple occasions and walking to the nearest roadside. Jeff called Travis and asked for a ride. Travis bantered with Jeff, accusing him of simply not wanting to walk to the truck.

Logging is a perilous profession. In 1982, while cutting a tree in Pennsylvania, a broken limb struck Jeff’s left eye, slicing it in half.

He walked two miles through the timber in search of help, with only his T-shirt wrapped around his head to quell the bleeding. Doctors could not save his eye.

From then on, Jeff wore a glass one. Without depth perception, he relearned how to hunt, cut and drive a truck.

Jeff was 38 years old when he suffered his first heart attack. A stray blood clot lodged in his heart. At the time, he was out cutting a tree and felt pains in his chest.

At the hospital, Jeff coded but was resuscitated. The event damaged his heart’s lower chamber.

His second heart attack occurred in 2000. Doctors determined that blood was pooling inside the lobe, so they operated.

But Jeff was a man used to walking miles in the woods with a chainsaw draped over his shoulder. He would work even when he was dead tired.

“I think that’s what kept him alive,” Carissa said.

With the arrival of grandchildren, Jeff worked hard to make sure he had time to spend with them, said grandson Austin Thomas. Jeff would perform a five-day job in just four.

He pushed Austin to stay sober and for his granddaughter Madalynn Thomas to graduate high school.

“He could take the worst situation and see the good side in it,” Cindy said. “He always fought. … He taught it to his kids.”

Jeff’s dedication to family was only matched by his love for his dog, Kaos, an Akita-and-shepherd mix.

And fishing. The longtime member of the Mississippi Walleye Club made a point to beat his three fishing buddies out on the water to claim his prime spot.

Jeff had extra glitter added to his bright red boat to make it glisten. After a wash and wax, it was blinding.

Carissa had to hide her father’s boat keys to ensure he attended her high school graduation.

Jeff let Weston Coffman, Travis’s son, dig through his fishing lure collection and pick out the ones he wanted. Jeff and Weston browsed fishing wares at Scheels and Bass Pro Shops together.

If he wasn’t driving a boat, Jeff was popping wheelies on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“Even until the day that he died, he loved the need for speed,” Carissa said. “Whether it was a motorcycle, a vehicle, a boat, they all had to go fast.”

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