GRCC Alum tells his own story
By his own admission, Tom Rademacher did not have a stellar high school experience, but a few months after graduating from West Catholic High School he literally dove in to Grand Rapids Junior College. Tom says he chose GRJC, but it was David Clark, the college’s popular swim coach who first connected with the new student and soon encouraged Tom to join the team.
“That was the beginning of a lifetime friendship,” says Tom. “I was fortunate enough to be invited to Opening Day of deer season at his cabin on the Pine River and have returned every fall for that and every summer for a canoe outing that includes several of my teammates from the Class of 1974.”
He says he was also positively affected by other faculty at GRJC. Asked to name a few, he answers readily, “I still consider Walter Lockwood, Gertrude Croom and Marinus Swets rock stars of academia, but I was stunned by the way virtually all of my instructors not only knew my name, but cared about how I fared in their classes.”
If you haven’t already figured out that this is the Tom Rademacher whose columns have charmed Grand Rapids Press readers for decades, here’s your first clue. “It was Dr. Swets who helped advance my journalism career; he made me Sports Editor of the student newspaper, The Collegiate,” says the award-winning columnist. “I wasn’t very good at it, but he had faith in me and I persevered. After that I was Sports Information Director my junior year at Alma and wrote for the GVSU Lanthorn while I finished my degree there,” he says, adding that he spent a lot of that year hitchhiking around the country as well.
Having achieved his college degree in Special Education from GVSU, he says he had an “11th hour” realization that teaching was not his destiny. His next step was the first on a long and accomplished path at the Grand Rapids Press.
He took a job as a “stringer,” a reporter who works on a story-by-story basis. When he was twice turned down for a full-time job, it was his father who gave him some life-changing advice: “Tell them what you’d do to work there.” Tom went back and said he would sweep floors, clean restrooms and drive a truck.
That year, 1978, became the first in his 22-year career in “the best job I ever had and the best job of all at the Press.” Today he is no longer full-time at the newspaper, but he is working full-time for our community by freelancing for institutions like Hope Network, the VanAndel Institute, the YMCA – and still keeping us in touch with each other by writing his Sunday column on “everyday” people.
Another way Tom reaches out to people in our community is by teaching English classes at GRCC. “I actually become fairly emotional in recalling all the people at GRJC who helped lift me up,” he says. “GRJC believed in me, and helped me to understand that with hard work and faith in God, virtually anything is possible. I have a visceral connection to the place, because I believe in the mission.
“I'm a Raider for life!”