Tom Beck was a Marine who came out of the Korean War with two Purple Hearts. He was the sort of Marine who . . . how shall we put this? . . . well, when he was off-duty, he did not seek out conflict, but if something got started, he was a finisher.
He went to Capital University on the G.I. Bill and played football and ran track. He was later inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
He became a history teacher (principles of democracy, world history) and a coach (football and track). We’ll get to his distinguished charitable service in a minute.
Let’s talk about the coach. The teacher.
Beck got the Whetstone High School football program off the ground after the school opened in 1961. By then, Bishop Watterson was established as a powerhouse and ruled Clintonville, and beyond.
Comparatively, Beck’s Whetstone teams weren’t very good.
“His best year was 1970. They were 4-5,” said Beck’s elder son, also named Tom, who as a youth doddered about at his father's practices.
One might guess that losing was tough on the ex-Marine. If it was, it did not alter the message he sent to the young men in his charge.
“He was very positive. I think that always had a huge impact on me,” said Mike Golden, who played for Beck at Whetstone. “The idea of always making sure you’re saying positive things to kids was something I always carried on.”
Golden retired last year after a 31-year coaching career and stops at five high schools. He won 225 games and a state championship (at Watterson, in 2002). He is in the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
He still marvels at his old Whetstone coach.
“He was just a very good soul,” Golden said. “He was a man that served his country and served Columbus very, very well. He was an absolute role model.”
Beck passed away May 8. He died peacefully at his Bexley home. He was 89 years old.
Before he was slowed by heart trouble, and prior to the pandemic, he got to watch his grandson Patrick play linebacker at Bexley High. Patrick played for Golden, whose staff included Patrick’s father, Tom Beck the younger.
Those were tough years on the field for the Lions, but that is not the point.
If one thinks of what anyone could hope for in a leader of young people, one might conjure Beck. His history students ate their vegetables knowing they’d get dessert. His athletes understood his priority, and his priority was his athletes. His toughness lurked, but somewhere way in back of his huge heart.
“You always hear stories about how coaches and band directors don’t get along,” Beck the younger said. “But dad and the Whetstone director, Les Susi, got along great. They even worked together on a band program one year. Wonderful guy, Les Susi. And what a great band!”
Beck, it seems, could start a track program anywhere. He started one at West Jefferson High in 1958. They won a league title not long after he departed. He transferred to Columbus City Schools and started a track program at Starling Junior High, where the kids had to dig to clear the old cinder track in The Bottoms. They won a city title in 1961.
He coached track at Whetstone, and they won a city title in 1967. He coached track at Briggs High, and they were state runners-up in 1977.
He volunteered to help Tom the younger coach track at Licking Heights, and they won a state title in 1987.
Tom the younger, by the way, not only followed his father’s footsteps by coaching track but also taught history and coached football until his semi-retirement.
“I had a great role model and many of the same interests,” Tom the younger said. “I always looked up to my dad. I can’t walk in his shoes.”
Beck got one Purple Heart after his minesweeping detail was ambushed in 1953. He took shrapnel. He was back in action a month later. He got a second Purple Heart after taking hostile fire while on patrol. His parents, and later his kids, were never fully aware that his wrist was badly damaged and one of his thumbs was almost useless.
He came home and served for the rest of his life.
Beck became a member and later commanded Purple Heart Chapter 500, the mission of which is to foster goodwill among wounded veterans, promote patriotism, back legislation that aids veterans and support all vets and their families in Central Ohio.
Beck joined Charity Newsies in 1962 and also served as president of the organization, which raises money to buy new clothes for kids in need. He remained an active Newsie for 60 years, until his death.
How many lives did this man touch?
His wife of 66 years, Nancy – his sweetheart from South High School – sent out a letter to fellow Newsies which read, in part, "Tom's accomplishments are too numerous to mention in an email, but Tom helped thousands of children through his good deeds, whether it was raising money, maintaining our facility or directly assisting children and families in need in times of emergency."
Rest in peace, Semper Fi.
Calling hours are at Egan-Ryan Funeral Home, 403 E. Broad Street, from 4-7 p.m. Thursday. Graveside services are at Green Lawn Cemetery at 10 a.m. Friday. Following services, a reception will be held at the Charity Newsies’ Headquarters, 4300 Indianola Ave.
Beck's final request: In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Charity Newsies or the Buckeye Purple Heart Foundation.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Tom Beck 'an absolute role model' as teacher, coach, citizen