You may remember Tom Holman from our visits to the twin towns of Sabula, Iowa and Savanna, Illinois. He figured prominently in our visits there. Check out the old post from the summer of 2015.
At one point, before he even knew us, Danny, Mayfly, and Pollywog had just come out of a bar in Savanna when Tom screeched to the curb in an old VW bus and said, “Hop in! Let’s go to a party.”
I was trying to imagine what kind of crazy off-the-hook party some stranger might take us to in the middle of small-town USA (at the time transitioning from Ground Zero of the Meth Epidemic to Ground Zero of the Opioid Epidemic), but I liked Tom instantly and took a chance.
It paid off. Tom took us to what was essentially a family gathering of sweet old hippies who lived in the area. We ate amazing home-grown food, played music, and listened to stories all night.
We saw Tom again at Bomfire Pizza, kinda the only going concern across the river in the town of Sabula. He opened Bomfire in 2005 in his hometown, an eclectic wood-fired pizza restaurant full of old toys, guitars, peace signs, posters, pages from old Rolling Stone Magazines, maps, paintings, photos, and detritus found on the river.
When people ask me, “Do you remember the best pizza you ever had?” I have an easy answer. “Thin-crust, wood-fired pizza cooked in a homemade oven at 800 degrees for no more than 6 minutes at Bomfire Pizza in the tiny tiny town of Sabula, Iowa.” People come from as far away as Chicago to enjoy Bomfire pizza.
A few days later, with the help of shipmate Stacey Marie Garcia, I had the chance to interview Tom. We talked about his experiences growing up in Sabula along the river, buying and fixing up the building, opening Bombfire, and living life as a perpetual 12 year old. Something he said stuck with me. I’ll paraphrase since I can’t find the exact quote: We were cold, hungry, tired, and mosquito-bitten, and it was the best times of our lives.
Bomfire is usually only open Friday, Saturday and sSunday, but Tom opened the restaurant just for us and we drank beer and ate pizza until we stuffed and drunk. We thought we were going to have to fight Tom to let him allow us to pay.
Tom introduced us to people around town, including a catfish fisherman who showed us how he baited his trotlines. He loaned us bikes so we could bike around Sabula and go to a local lagoon swimming hole.
Tom Holman was a generous man and the eulogies written in local papers reflect that. In one interview his daughter said, “When I was young, I always asked him, ‘Why can’t you be normal?’ and later I understood how special my dad was.”
Another woman who worked with Tom said, “I never saw a day that Tom didn’t help someone somewhere.”
Here’s a short video about Tom and Bonfire in which Tom begins, “My name is tom Holman Sr., and I’m the happiest man in the world.”
The sounds of old-timey music could be heard from Bomfire in the streets of Sabula.
There simply is not enough that can be said about Tom Holman who helped preserve river culture and build community along the banks of a small town on the Mississippi River.
Hoist a glass and a slice for Tom.