Community helps veteran, neighborhood volunteer clean-up home

Tom Fruehling speaks to volunteers helping to clean up his Cedar Rapids home on August 22, 2020...
Tom Fruehling speaks to volunteers helping to clean up his Cedar Rapids home on August 22, 2020 following the derecho earlier in the month.(Aaron Hosman)
Published: Aug. 22, 2020 at 6:02 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - People in Cedar Rapids of all ages came together Saturday to help give back to someone who they say has always given to them.

Time and time again Saturday afternoon, people spoke a similar sentiment about Tom Fruehling of Cedar Rapids.

“He has just reached out to many, many people and it’s our turn to give back,” Julie Morningstar said, who is a kindergarten teacher at Coolidge Elementary where Fruehling volunteers.

Dozens of people helped clean-up Fruehling’s home after the derecho, which took out his garage, crushed his only car, and damaged his home.

“I am really humbled and embarrassed by all the people that have come out, so many more people are worse off than I, but I appreciate it,” he said.

It all started with a post by Fruehling’s daughters, asking the community to help the 75-year-old veteran, longtime Coolidge Elementary volunteer, and neighborhood crossing guard.

“Tom here, he’s the crossing guard here for years, he walks my kids across the street every day and so when they decided to have a volunteer thing here, I was sure I was here to help,” Justin Jacobus, a neighbor said.

For over 40 years, Fruehling has lived in his southwest Cedar Rapids home, touching so many lives now willing to come back to help him. Doing work he said would otherwise take weeks.

“It’s just been an overwhelming response, unprompted by me I might add,” Fruehling said.

Lending a hand were students past and present Tom’ who he’s mentored over the years.

“He reads to the kids, he mentors the kids, he usually stars in the school productions around Christmas, so I think this really shows who he is and how much people value him,” Catherine Fruehling, one of Tom’s daughters said.

Jason Birtch hadn’t seen Fruehling in 20 years but was mentored by him for 10 years in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters Program.

“Tom was such an influence in my life and when I heard about this there was no way I couldn’t not come out here,” Birtch.

Showing how tough times can bring people together, helping one another, something Fruehling knows all about.

“But there are so many positives and this shows, and I’m sure and I hope this is going around all around town, people helping people, that’s what it takes,” he said.

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