We Are as Great as…

On September 1, 2008, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

I greeted today with unexpected feelings. All kinds of tangled roots of hope.

We are as great as the dreams we dream.

It’s been one year, you know. Already. A year ago today since Dad Earl succumbed to burns he received after copper thieves raided a rural country home and, in the explosion that followed, stole from an entire family a major force in all our futures.

As great as the love we bear.

Dad Earl may not have survived, but we did. He’d already taught us all how to do so.

Earl Thelander's headstone My mother had the poem “We are as great as the dreams we dream” inscribed in the headstone she will share with Earl.

As great as the values we redeem.

He taught us all about responsibility. Accountability. Values. We will not forget.

And the happiness we share.

We’re still a family. No explosion can tear that apart.

We are as great as the truth we speak.

He taught us to speak only the truth. Hard truths — no matter how difficult — are always easier to bear.

As great as the help we give.

He gave it freely. One never even had to ask…he was just there.

As great as the destiny we seek.

He sought none for himself, only recognizing that in others.

As great as the life we live.

He lived a life most of us could, and can, only hope to mirror.

Dad Earl, above all else, was a humble and giving man…quick to point out what he perceived as his own insignificant role in other’s successes…while all those blessed to be in his life rose to all he’d told them they could be.

Dad Earl had big dreams. Ours. He redeemed our values. He shared our happiness. He spoke our truths. He helped us all, and he gave freely of himself. He helped us seek our destinies. And he lived a great life defined by making a difference in those lives fortunate enough to have crossed paths with him.

We miss you, Dad, Earl. Dad. Earl. Honey. Grandpa. And even to some, Mr. Thelander. You were so much to so many.

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This used to be a home. That was before copper thieves came in the night and cut propane lines and let it fill with gas to later explode with a man inside. That man was my stepfather, Earl Thelander.

My grandparents used to live here. After my grandfather died, my folks purchased the rural home from my grandmother (who’d come to live with them in town after Grandpa died) and fixed it up as a rental property. This is how my folks earned their living; they worked hard fixing up homes and apartments for those needing housing in this small community where everyone knows everybody else.

They’d recently installed new insulation and put permanent siding on the house. They cared for their tenants’ homes the same way they cared for their own, making sure everything always worked properly and that families who lived in their rentals were comfortable and happy.

Now, it’s nothing but a pile of rubble . . . a haphazard scattering of bricks, nails, metal pipes, a tumbled-down chimney and ashes laid out in layers like a melted accordion.

Earl had gone to install a new water pump. After authorities were notified of the break-in and the property had been aired out, Earl returned several hours later to begin work. He died trying to make life better for others.

Despite a $5,000 reward for information on those responsible for his death, there has been no arrests in the case.

The Iowa Legislature, however, now has House Study Bill 660 assigned to a Judiciary Subcommittee. I pray this bill will become law. For Earl. And for the thousands of other lives affected financially and in countless ways by what has now become a nationwide problem.

Copper Thieves Steal Lives.

Please join me in supporting Iowa House Study Bill 660.

He Thinks He Got Away with Murder…He’s Wrong

On February 1, 2008, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

We humans, by nature, are forgiving people.

We should be.

After all, we all make mistakes. None of us are perfect.

We all, at one time or another, have done or will do something so incredibly stupid we can only hope and pray our neighbors … our friends … and (God forbid ) our families, never discover about our sinful souls.

These mistakes, however, do not by nature involve taking the life of another human being.

At one time, and despite the ordinary man’s quest (and, often, need) for vengeance, I truly felt I could forgive those responsible for taking my stepfather’s life. My mind enlisted every kind of reasoning.

The explosion, which occurred in the home's basement blew out upstairs walls around the wooden frame house. The explosion, which occurred in the home’s basement, blew out the upstairs walls around the wooden frame house Mom and Earl and family members had just finished insulating and re-siding. See a “before and after” slideshow of both inside and outside the house in All That Remains.

I told myself, the thief/thieves didn’t deliberately mean to cause Earl’s death. And when they broke into the farmhouse and cut and stole the copper propane lines to later sell for scrap metal worth perhaps $10 to $15, they probably didn’t realize the basement’s cut lines would continue to discharge propane gas into the house. And even that they probably didn’t think about the smallest actions and reactions — the plugging in of a fan hours after the burglary when the house had long since been aired out — that would lead to an explosion and melt the skin from a man who, even at 80, still worked hard every day and was there to install a new water pump in one of the rental properties he and his wife depended upon for their livelihood.

The truth is, I envisioned the thief and/or his accomplice (yes, there were two of them present that night) coming forward, acknowledging the fact one had burglarized what used to be my grandparents’ former country home while the other kept watch, with at least one of them asking for forgiveness and saying something like “This didn’t turn out like we thought it would,” and last, but certainly not least, “I am so very sorry for the painful death this caused for Earl Thelander and for what this has done to his wife and 11 children.”

Yes, laugh if you will at my unusual (and perhaps unrealistic) expectations from a petty thief. But, given the number of individuals who know who did this (make no mistake; there are many), and given the leniency and understanding my family has extended in the first five months following my stepfather’s unnecessary and untimely death, we honestly expected a day would come when one good man (or woman) would step forward and do the right thing.

Thus far, they have not.

Even where pleas to one’s conscience have failed, so have our family’s attempts to rouse anonymous tipsters with a $5,000 Reward.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” said the British Statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke.

I only wish Mr. Burke were around today because I’d sit him down and tell him, “Evil will not triumph this time.”

Not with Earl Thelander. Not with this family. And we’re a forgiving family. But, our patience is running out.

So is time . Not just for those responsible for Earl’s painful and needless death, but those who know who they are and what they did. They, by God and under law, will be held just as accountable.

It’s not too late for them to still do the right thing. But, the clock is ticking.

Make no mistake about it.

A Message from my mother …

On November 7, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

The post below is a message from my mother — as only she could write — in regard to what led up to and what happened immediately following the copper theft home explosion that claimed my stepfather’s life.

Two months after Earl’s death, Mom wrote this letter by hand and asked me to post it on my blog for her. I did take the liberty, however, of adding one of my favorite pictures of the two of them. They were still this much in love and so very happy right up until the day the copper thieves stole Earl’s life from him and from us.

Here is what my mom, Hope Thelander, wanted people to know.

Earl and Hope, the early years Earl Thelander and Hope Ewing before they married in 1982. A few months shy of their 25th wedding anniversary, Earl died from burns suffered in a house explosion after copper thieves stripped propane lines from a rural home the couple were renovating and let the home fill with propane gas. Earl and Hope had been working daily at the home  — which formerly belonged to Hope’s parents — and had reported the burglary and gas leak to local authorities earlier that morning. After all officials left the rural residence and Earl returned later that day to install a new water pump and tank, the home exploded when he plugged in a squirrel cage blower to help dry water from the basement floor due to water lines the copper thieves had also cut and stolen.

November 1, 2007

Two months ago today, my husband of nearly 25 years passed away at Clarkson Burn Center in Omaha of burns he suffered from an explosion at my parents’ old home in rural Onawa. Earl and I had purchased the home and had been finishing up work there after one of my daughters and her husband moved out.

Since the accident on August 28, and Earl’s subsequent death four days later, my family and friends have taken all interviews in order to protect my feelings at such a terrible time. There have been several newspaper accounts of that day, and though I am extremely grateful for the media’s help in keeping this investigation in the forefront, as Earl’s wife I feel I need to address some misinformation as to what actually took place.

Earl had turned off the propane at the tank when he first arrived at about 8:30 a.m. He then had me call the sheriff’s office to tell them of the break-in.

Between approximately 10-10:15 a.m., Sheriff Pratt and Officer Joe Farrens arrived to take a statement. At that time Sheriff Pratt, Joe Farrens, Earl and myself, my brother-in-law, Dave Anderson, and my daughter, Kysa Ewing, went through the house opening windows. (We later were told we didn’t have the explosion then because the oxygen level was too low.)

We all came back home to Onawa, having left open all windows and doors to ventilate the house.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., Earl went back to the farm to hook up a new water pump and tank in the basement. Ordinarily, I accompanied him when he was working at the farm, but he insisted it wouldn’t take long and that he would not be too late for lunch.

My nephew, Norman Johnson, arrived at our Onawa home shortly after that, bringing Earl and me some lunch.

Shortly after 12:00, Earl came in the door with his burned shirt hanging around him in shreds. He was badly burned and said the house “exploded” when he plugged in a squirrel cage blower to dry the water on the floor that had leaked after the water lines on the water heater had been cut. (Not to air any remaining propane fumes as has been mistakenly reported in the media.) Norman and I – not the ambulance – took Earl to the hospital where Dr. John Garred Jr. called for life flight to take Earl to the Clarkson Burn Center in Omaha. Dr. Garred explained to us the prognosis of someone Earl’s age surviving the vast scope of the third-degree burns was not good — despite Earl being otherwise quite healthy.

Four days later, after being kept in an induced coma to prevent pain, Earl passed away. At his side to say last goodbyes were his children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and myself.

We have been through anger, frustration, grief, loneliness and disbelief that he is gone, particularly because he was taken away so suddenly and there was so much more he wanted to do with his life. I miss him so much.

I miss the coffee breaks (every 15 minutes).

I miss him watching Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” at 7 p.m.

I miss seeing him fill the bird feeders and calling me to see a cardinal whenever they would fly in.

I wanted so badly to have him see that his three puny tomato plants produced literally hundreds of tomatoes.

If there is anything to be thankful about over this, it is that he didn’t have to endure months of painful treatments for his burns. In addition:

I’m thankful he didn’t know I was diagnosed with breast cancer six days after his funeral.

I’m thankful he was able to get out of the basement and drive home to me.

I’m thankful that he woke me up at 4 a.m. August 28 to look at the eclipse of the moon with him in what we didn’t know then had just become our last morning together.

I’m thankful that instead of five children, I have 11 to help me with the things he’d always insisted on doing himself.

Yes, he was a good man, a good friend, and a wonderful husband and father.

We will all miss him, but we will work together to solve this senseless and needless crime.

In Earl’s memory

Respectfully yours,

Hope Thelander

I Can’t Believe “Dad Earl” is Really Gone

On September 2, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

Earl Thelander Yesterday, with his 11 kids and my mother surrounding him, my 2nd father, Earl Thelander — who’s been a part of my life for more than 25 years — died as the result of a cowardly thief who burglarized my grandparent’s former country home (which was mostly empty and now belongs to my folks), for a $10 piece of copper piping. The burglar didn’t bother to shut off the gas before cutting the copper gas line, and let the home fill will gas for the inevitable explosion.

“Dad Earl” — as my four siblings and I always called him — wanted to live. And, he had everything to live for. He was healthy, happy, and couldn’t wait until his tomatoes finished ripening on the vines. He’d planned to give some to each of us and looked forward to the BLT sandwiches my mom always made for him.

Yes, he wanted to live. Even after the explosion, he somehow managed to crawl through the fire, climb into his pick-up, and drive the two miles back home in town, where my mother then immediately took him to the hospital. With both his knees burned clear through to the bone, he’d managed to make it back to her.

Yes, how Earl wanted to live.

Yesterday, we each took turns holding the tips of his fingers … one of the few parts on his body without the full-thickness, third-degree burns, and we told him again and again how much we loved him, how much he’d taught us about life and respect and hard work and looking out for one another and reaching out to help a neighbor in need.

I shared 28 years with my first father and 28 years with “Dad Earl.” Both my fathers died on Labor Day weekend. Both died the Saturday before Labor Day. Both died unexpected and extremely tragic deaths.

Who was this person who exchanged $10 worth of copper piping for a good man’s life? What right did he have to make such a gentle and loving man suffer so?

We will find him. I tell you this with certainty; we will find the one who did this to our father and he will be brought to justice. God, the pain this has brought to my family.

Earl, you will always be with us, in all ways. The heavens opened and the angels wept down upon us the day they gently carried you through the clouds and then lay you down to rest here while we prayed and held your hand and they prepared your place in heaven. And when they came back to take you home, they opened your eyes one last time to hold with those of the woman you so loved ~ so that as you ascended to meet your God you knew you were ever safe and wrapped within an everlasting love that would never die.

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