Thomas Alan DeBlaker was born January 12, 1960 in Clovis, New Mexico, and died on June 19, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. He was a badass in every way, living life large, never shying away from an adventure.
Tom was a sweet and generous child who earned the title “The Peace Maker” for trying to soothe others. His love of collections started early on walks around the block when he would come home laden with sticks, interesting rocks, or horny toads. He took yoga with his mom, acted as her net when she practiced tennis, was out catching fish for family breakfasts before dawn at the family cabin, and was a magnet for kids who needed a meal, a story, or his jacket. His mother swears that when his two brothers would wolf down their desserts, he would offer to share his with them.
As an adult, he loved dive bars, mojitos on the front porch, warm blankets, a tent zipper that could withstand Utah riverbank sand, dancing to live music, and afternoon naps. Tom had many adventures with his brother Dave and sister-in-law Shelley. There was the epic Tom-on-stilts versus Dave-on-a-pogo-stick battle, the bat-in-the-attic in Leadville caper, and the infamous camping trip in which Tom thought they were being attacked at night and yelled, “Serpentine! Serpentine!” (referencing an evasive maneuver), to name just a few. His favorite places were Oregon, the river, and wide-open valleys. He slept best outside, under the stars.
He loved animals, especially dogs, and had many quirky dogs over the years: Gretchen and Duke, who tagged along on many childhood adventures; Sissy, who loved being warm as much as Tom did, even risking setting herself ablaze to get closer to a fire; Clarence, who went to work with Tom every day after rebelling against being left alone; Clark, who rafted with as much enthusiasm as Tom did; Luna, his faithful companion on many camping and road trips; and Woodrow, who gave Tom the best cuddles after his stroke.
Tom was an avid rafter. On the river, he was known for developing the perfect Bloody Mary. He somehow managed to look dapper and sharp in a crisp white shirt when everyone else was bedraggled. He overcame his fear of public speaking to give a rousing toast at a fellow rafter’s wedding that will never be forgotten (it involved yelling “Amtrak” and having guests moon the newly-married couple). He especially enjoyed introducing people to rafting, including his wife, Elizabeth.
Tom and Elizabeth stayed up all night on their first official date and then he sealed the deal by cooking her scallops on a camping trip. They married in 2011. He made her laugh every single day and took great pride in making her laugh so hard she snorted. They remodeled their basement together. They traveled to Cuba, Canada, Italy, and all over the West. They hosted epic dinners and parties. They slept outside under the stars and danced together every chance they got. Together, these two fiercely independent and strong-willed people learned to yield to each other and support each other unconditionally.
Tom’s kindnesses and generosity are legendary. If he saw someone with a veteran license plate at a gas station, he insisted on paying for their gas. When he flew on holidays, he handed out Starbucks gift cards to airport employees and thanked them for working on a holiday. He helped neighbors jump start their cars, fix their motorcycles, and make repairs to their homes—and he considered everyone in Denver to be a neighbor. When he decided to sell the canoe he had built himself, he ended up giving it away to a father who wanted it for his son but couldn’t afford it. When the pandemic started, he learned how to make masks for his loved ones out of flannel and Carharts. He planted peppers and strawberries in the front yard specifically so neighbors could help themselves.
He was passionate about food, music, and history. His love for Mexican food was boundless and he would happily eat it every night for a week, but kale once a decade was enough for him. He thought National Bacon Day was too short for the amazing meat, declared that in his house, the week between Christmas and New Year’s was Bacon Week, and insisted on eating bacon every single day of that week. He loved live music and was a huge fan of his brother’s band, the Moon Mountain String Band, as well as the Grateful Dead, John Prine, Devil Makes Three, and David Bromberg. He was keenly interested in history and enjoyed watching movies about World War I and World War II and reading books about the history of the American West, especially when he could connect the history he read about with a natural landmark along a river he rafted or a route he rode a motorcycle on. His favorite holidays were Halloween and Hanukah. He would spend weeks crafting his costumes in preparation for an annual rafting Halloween party—and who could forget the vacuum cleaner costume he made for little Dave, who had an obsession with vacuum cleaners as a child. Hanukah he loved mostly for the latkes.
He was a jack of all trades, working as a coal miner, a commercial diver, a truck driver on harvest, a day laborer, a carpenter, and more. He was a meticulous craftsman, remodeling his house in Aurora using many materials that were left over from his carpentry jobs. When he moved to Denver with his wife Elizabeth, he transformed the basement from a condemnable pit of asbestos and spider webs to a luxurious retreat.
He took his hobbies seriously. When he decided to learn how to distill vodka, he spared no expense on elaborate equipment. After making his first batch of vodka, Elizabeth asked him how much it cost to distill the three small mason jars of terrible final product. He replied, “Let me put it this way. I could have taken the most expensive limo from the most expensive limo company in Denver to the most expensive liquor store in Colorado Springs and bought their most expensive bottle of vodka and that would have been cheaper.” A less expensive hobby was gardening. He prided himself on growing the best peppers and tomatoes in the neighborhood, and when Japanese beetles hit in Denver, they attacked Tom’s plants last.
His most favorite (i.e. expensive) hobby was motorcycles. He and his brothers and cousins rode Honda 90s all over Colorado as kids, going to ghost towns, mountain passes, and places where today you need to make reservations a year in advance. There are an infinite number of stories that could be told about Tom and motorcycles—many of them involving crashes, like the time he crashed his motorcycle going up Ophir Pass and then coming down, he crashed in the exact same spot. Or the time he was camping in Idaho and talked his brother Dave into one more little 30-minute ride that ended up being a three-hour drama where they had to winch Dave’s bike off a minor cliff.
He prided himself on teaching the children in his life about camping, nature, rivers, and practical skills, like electrical outlet-testing (little Dave survived this lesson, but barely), car maintenance (ask Lily how to change a car battery), and lock-picking (Max can pick any lock!). He was super competitive, especially with his brother Dave, at bocce ball, card games, and most everything else. He often claimed that he had medaled in the Olympics for whatever the activity at hand was—to hear him tell it, he silver-medaled in thumb wars and just missed being named world champion of the old game Sorry on a technicality.
He suffered a massive stroke in June 2020 and fought hard with his characteristic fortitude. He faced down 24/7 pain and physical and cognitive challenges with courage. He was a favorite of all his physical and occupational therapists because of his hard work and sense of humor. Despite the challenges of his last year, it was one of tremendous emotional and spiritual growth for Tom. He was able to deepen his relationships with many people and find personal peace. He became a devoted Nichiren Buddhist and was recognized as a Hope Champion. He became an antiracist. He took up knife sharpening as a hobby, posting an ad on NextDoor that he would sharpen knives for free. He made several new friends that way.
Tom was preceded in death by his brother Wesley, cousin William Wallace, and dogs Clark and Clarence. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth Kleinfeld; his mother Donna Heckendorn Wallace and her husband Barry Wallace; his father John W. DeBlaker and his wife Sandy; his brother David Michael DeBlaker and his wife Shelley Snow; his son David Wesley DeBlaker and his partner Caleb Cover; his stepdaughter Lily Therese Kleinfeld-Hamilton; his sister-in-law Katherine Kleinfeld Weigle and nephew Max Weigle; and his beloved dogs Luna and Woodrow.
Celebrations of his mighty life will be held in Denver, on the river, and in Oregon. Details will be shared on Facebook, CaringBridge, and here as they become available. All friends and relatives are welcome.
Please send stories and photos for an online collection to Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org
The family asks that you keep Tom’s memory alive through good deeds, laughter, kindness to strangers, and gin and tonics. Donations in Tom’s memory can be made to Habitat for Humanity, Denver Dumb Friends League, and CaringBridge.