Aaron Thomas didn’t plan on becoming a professional public speaker. He was a high school coach and assistant principal at Union High School. But then his father, Ed, was murdered, and Thomas was presented an opportunity. He could feel sorry for himself and be bitter, or he could build on his dad’s legacy and move on.

He and his family chose to move on. That led to greater things, other platforms like public speaking and honoring his late father through various achievements and awards.

"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react. It’s about perspective," Thomas told members at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s 97th annual meeting in Des Moines last week.

Ed Thomas was a cornerstone in his community. A long-time high school football coach, he was the first to say that Parkersburg would rebuild after a devastating tornado destroyed a large part of the community, the school and his home.

"He was an extreme optimist," Thomas said. "He said Parkersburg would be better after the tornado than before."

People were attracted to Ed’s high school football team at Aplington-Parkersburg, not necessarily because they enjoyed football but because they liked Ed, who spent much of his time getting to know his players and their families and encouraging them to be better people, Thomas said.

Positive energy

Others can learn from his late father, Thomas told members.

"People are attracted to positive attitude and positive energy," he said. "If you’re negative about what you do, why would others want to work with you?"

Thomas said his dad encouraged each and every player on his team. They were better students and people after going through Ed’s program, Thomas said.

"He told me before I started my coaching job (at Union High School) that if young men aren’t better people after going through my program, then I have failed them as a coach," Thomas recalled.

Thomas is currently the principal and head basketball coach at Aplington-Parkersburg High School.

He said it wasn’t until his dad’s funeral visitation, which 4,500 people attended, that he knew the extent of how much his father cared about other people. Thomas recalled stories from former players and their families that showed his father’s true caring nature. Ed paid for football cleats for at least one family, helped another player deal with the death of the player’s father and made sure his players knew how much he cared about them, Thomas learned.

He encouraged farmers to think about their platform and what opportunity they might have to encourage others and lead. "You never know when you’re going to have a platform or an opportunity," he said. "When it comes, be ready to capitalize on it."