Upon the five-year anniversary of the loss of Tom Hamilton, who died in an avalanche in B.C. on March 21, 2015, his father Jim and wife Amanda, both Ponoka residents, reflect on his life and what he meant to the community.
Tom was a dedicated family man, avid snowmobiler, enthusiastic partner in the Hamilton’s IGA grocery store, and a long-time member of the Ponoka Kinsmen. “He had a big heart, a big smile, a big step and went a million miles an hour,” said Amanda Hamilton.
The tobogganing hill behind Siding 14 Brewery in the industrial park was the last project Tom worked on with the Ponoka Kinsmen. He was the co-chair for the project with Kenny Groot.
The hill was renamed the “Tom Hamilton Memorial Hill” in his memory.
Tom served in various positions with the club over the years, including treasurer then later, president from 2011 to 2013.
Jim says that’s not surprising.
When Tom was seven-years-old, he helped stain the Scout Hall with the Kinsmen and said that one day he would join the club.
Other projects he was involved in were chairing the Ponoka Phone Book, Annual Live and Silent Auction and golf tournament.
He also co-chaired the Tri-services playground behind the general hospital with Kenny, and helped with various other projects, including the finishing touches on the outdoor rink, fireman’s playground and splash park.
Tom also spent a lot of time working and volunteering with the Ponoka Stampede Association, delivering food from Hamilton’s IGA to various Stampede events and food booths.
He would also volunteer at the front door of the beer gardens each year with his dad.
Grocery man and snowmobiler
“Tom had a couple of loves,” said Jim Hamilton, explaining that one was the IGA grocery store in which he was a partner, and another was snowmobiling.
Since he was five years old, Tom said that when he grew up, he wanted to take over the store from his dad.
He didn’t take it over from his dad, but he became a dad himself while working there.
Amanda and the kids would visit Tom and he could often be seen — and definitely heard — playing with Kaitlyn and James in his office.
Amanda would also help with cash outs.
After attending high school at the Ponoka Composite, Tom went on to earn a university bachelor of commerce degree, majoring in business and minoring in computer technology. He attended Red Deer College for the first two years of his business degree, and finished at the University of Alberta.
Tom helped write the program for the point-of-sale- system at the IGA. He had the technological know-how and the background in the grocery business needed to design a custom-made system suited to grocery stores.
He worked with programmers to develop it, and it is now used in over 20 grocery stores.
The program was renamed T.P.O.S. for Tom after he passed.
Tom started snowmobiling in his senior year of high school. It was his escape, his way of coping with stresses in his life.
His favourite thing about being out in the mountains was a bluebird day on top of the world, where there was only blue sky and mountains as far as the eye can see.
He would drive out to the mountains and other spots regularly.
After losing a friend in an avalanche, however, Tom had resolved to give up snowmobiling and to spend more time with his family.
He planned to sell his snowmobile and buy a holiday trailer.
Tom and his buddies decided to take one last trip, and sadly, that’s exactly what it turned out to be for Tom, who wouldn’t make it home.
There are a lot of good memories of those trips too.
Jim laughs, remembering how Tom would often get lost, as his misspellings would cause him to put the wrong destination into the GPS, taking him far off his intended course on a few occasions.
It was on one such trip to Buffalo Lake with friends, however, that Amanda realized she wanted to have children with Tom. Tom was in the water, helping a friend learn how to water ski.
“He was so patient and such a good teacher,” Amanda said, adding it was then that she knew.
A family man
Tom embraced fatherhood.
“Kaitlyn and James were his world,” said Amanda.
One of the last things Tom did with his family was to help build a planetarium out of a cardboard box. They decorated the inside with drawings and eventually the kids turned it into a slide until the sides collapsed almost a year and a half later. Amanda has fond memories of spending time at the splash park, playgrounds and the condo his Nan owns in Mexico playing with Tom and the kids.
Although it’s been five years, in a lot of ways, it feels like yesterday, says Amanda.
He passed away three days before what would have been Amanda and Tom’s two-year wedding anniversary, and 28 days before his 30th birthday.
His younger years
Growing up, Jim would take his kids, Tom and Amy, on many special trips over the years in conjunction with various grocery conferences Jim attended.
The children also spent a lot of time with their mother, Jonnette, in Calgary, with many fond summer trips to B.C.
After graduating university, Tom spent one year travelling, including a four-month sail with SALTS, Sail and Training Life Society, starting in Tahiti and ending in Fiji.
In most of the photos of Tom’s trip he will be found with the biggest smile on his face and holding a puke bucket, as he was usually sea sick.
On the 10-year anniversary of his sail, Jim and Amanda went to Victoria, B.C., where they got a tour of the boat, went for a sail and got to meet a bunch of his friends that he sailed with.
He also had a passion for scuba diving, building up over 100 dives over his travels.
Tom also went on many multi-day hikes through his travels with only what he could carry on his back.
His last trip was taken in February 2015, with Jim and Amy, to see the Las Vegas Strip and hike the surrounding deserts.
If Tom wanted to learn a new skill, he went out and did it.
In his final months, he took a carpentry class and built a half-sized grandfather clock.
The course was six weeks long at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton.
Ponoka Cabinetry finished the staining and installed the clock for Amanda after Tom passed away. It became his last gift to his mom, as she had given him the course at NAIT as his final Christmas gift.
Keeping his memory alive
Tom and Amanda’s children were quite young when their father died – Kaitlyn was one-and-a-half and James was just six months old. Most of the memories they have of their dad are what has been instilled in them, says Amanda.
What remains important to Amanda is that her children remember their father and the kind of man he was.
Amanda says that’s one of the cool things she can do with the kids now — drive around town, pointing out things that either their dad helped to build, or that she did herself as part of the Ponoka Kinettes.
The children talk about their dad every day, says Amanda.
Every year the family releases balloons or Chinese lanterns with their messages to Tom and send them up for his birthday. His immediate family also get together every year on the anniversary of his death and spend the day together sharing memories with the kids.
“We still miss you everyday, but we are so grateful for everyday we got to spend with you, so lucky we had someone who made saying goodbye so hard. You will always be in our hearts,” says the family.
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