January 02, 2022 1 Comment
Tom was born and raised in Seward. He and four brothers grew up playing in the woods and exploring the mountains. Many years ago Tom was driving to Long Beach to attend a course in underwater diving for construction. Cathy was heading Outside to visit family, and a mutual friend suggested they make the drive together down the Alcan…. So they headed down the highway together and reconnected that spring - the rest became history!
Tom and Cathy Gillespie have lived decades in their home in Bear Creek, raising their two now-adult sons, Dylan and Austin, to whom they passed on their passion for the outdoors. Free time was commonly spent hiking, kayaking, cross country skiing and camping.
Tom worked as a heavy equipment operator for Metco in Seward for close to three decades. During this career, he spent countless hours working in raging creeks and under the waterfall on Lowell Point Rd during floods. In the winters, he would be up at 3 a.m. clearing borough roads during blizzards. He was an amazing operator, no matter which equipment he was on. “People would often tell me how they enjoyed watching him work - with his concentration and finesse,” Cathy recalled proudly.
Cathy had retired from Seaview Community Services not long before Tom got sick. He was still working for Metco when she retired, but Tom’s retirement and travel was in their plans.
Tom, who had always been tireless, began experiencing fatigue a couple years ago, but kept on going. He had a variety of tests but none of them were conclusive. Last January, he was at work and had a difficult time holding his pen. When this didn’t get better he went to the ER in Seward, where he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was shocking and rocked our worlds. "We had been thinking it might be a pinched nerve but it never occurred to us that it would be a tumor," Cathy explained.
So began the trips to Anchorage. After his initial MRI, we went up for the brain biopsy. It was supposed to be an overnight stay but he had a stroke that night in the hospital, leaving him with paralysis on his right side and inability to speak - needing 24/7 care. So began almost four months in the hospital. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and began chemotherapy by way of a port in his chest.
Originally, Cathy wasn’t able to visit him at all due to covid restrictions but later was able to have limited visitation. Cathy spent the winter hotel hopping and coming home on weekends to check on the house, mail, etc. While in Providence, his oncologist ordered a bone marrow scan, which showed that Tom also has a rare lymphoma called waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. Tom had radiation treatments five days a week during the month of April.
Before Tom was finally released in June, friends and neighbors jumped in and built a wheelchair ramp, installed a stair chair and remodeled our bathroom to accommodate his disability. Friends, to this day, bring food and help in any way they can.
“We have gotten so much support from family and friends near and far, but the community of Seward has been incredible. We’ve always loved Seward [and being able] to call it home, but the people here are truly a special breed.”
The eldest Gillespie son, Austin, works for an engineering firm in Anchorage during the construction in spring, summer and fall. In winter he commercial fishes in the Bering Sea. When Tom was diagnosed they were able to get a call out to him, but decided it was best for him to stay on the boat. He was back in Anchorage in the spring, spending much time in Seward working on ADA projects for his dad. He will be leaving for fishing this month.
Dylan had been working at Resurrect Art Coffee House and was saving up to continue on his love for world travels. But when his dad got sick, Dylan and his girlfriend Ally changed their plans and stayed in Seward. Tom and Cathy own a vacation rental next door to their home, so they canceled all reservations, where Dylan and Ally currently live.
“[I am] so thankful to have them close by. The love both boys have for Tom is heartwarming.”
Currently, Tom is on a daily chemo pill at home; he’s very fatigued but fortunately hasn’t experienced many nasty side effects. He still needs around the clock care, of which Cathy takes on the majority. Tom has an MRI every three months–his last being early December–where results showed some decrease in his tumor and no new growth; the family and community are all hoping and praying for the best.
Friends in the Seward community continue to help in many ways, from bringing food, picking up groceries, splitting and bringing in firewood, helping Cathy organize and navigate massive piles of paperwork, and financial support. The help is extensive, and the list goes on.
“Tom and I wish we could thank each and every one but there are so many who have touched our lives through this. We just want everyone to know what it means to us.
That said, I almost felt like I was writing an obituary, writing about things he can no longer do. But he still keeps his sense of humor and positive outlook through all this. Our family has always been very close but this has brought us and the boys so much closer.”Tom loves creating, and was known to have a knack for building with logs. Cathy claims Tom’s “biggest accomplishment is our log home on Bear Lake where we raised our family and still live.”
“Each winter when the lake froze over, he would put up a tree offshore and string it with lights. Tradition. This winter, our oldest son followed that tradition.”
As a nod to this tradition, and in honor of one of Seward’s finest, we’ve named our Polar Bear Jump Team “Tom’s TREEsures”. We plan to dress as trees to pay homage to his very own frozen tree on Bear Lake - with Tom’s son, Dylan Gillespie, and his girlfriend Ally, also on our team!
“He is very kind and would do anything for anyone. He has an incredible sense of humor and wit. Even through all this darkness, he continues to make us laugh.”
It is our hope and goal to raise funds and celebrate in a tradition that is very unique to Seward, all in the name of finding an end to cancer and to spread awareness of the good people whose lives are touched by its relentless hands.
We are grateful to know people like Tom, who for decades have built the wonderful community that we live in today. We are invigorated to fight against cancer, foster unity with our neighbors, and find even more ways to support the Gillespie family, and more.
We extend special gratitude for Cathy and family for their willingness to open up with us about Tom's story and allowing us to elevate cancer awareness (and its complications) on these platforms. Your strength and vulnerability is something to be admired and not taken for granted. Thank you.
December 30, 2021
To begin, we hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season with you and yours.
We began the year not sure what a post-covid year would look like in Seward, Alaska. There were so many different strategies being implemented around the US and world. It was hard to decipher what the most responsible way to navigate it all as responsible community members and a small buisness. To our surprise, however, the momentum of 2020 continued from the 1st days of 2022 and we were able to continue serving our community and visitors safely, responsibly and without disruption.
On the flip side, staffing was extremely challenging all year long for us. Having wound up with only half of the team we normally have for the summer, we were forced to close 2 days a week and open 3 hours less a day. But because of the mix of Team have and their perseverance, we still had a record season.
Familial surgeries at the beginning and end of year created additional challenges for us. Linda wound up having to shoulder most of the day-to-day duties during the height of the season. Luckily, there were lots of silver linings in all of this though; one being that we were able to stay on top of ordering and avoid a lot of the logistical challenges that so many experienced.
This year, it was especially exciting to watch one of our local staff members, Marisa Phasomsap, blossom into one of our top 10 selling artists. It's incredible to think just a year ago she started out selling hand-painted rocks in our shop. We are so proud of her. And she continues to stock our shelves with her work even now after after leaving for college in the Lower 48.
Great job, Marisa! We celebrate you and all that lays ahead for you.
Expanded Offerings & Top Hits
We were also fortunate to be able to continue to expand our reach across Alaska as a result of our expanded selections this year. Guests literally came from all over Southcentral Alaska to shop with us throughout the year. Some of the biggest hits were the addition of Salomon Shoes, Cotopaxi and Kavu clothing. We were also able to expand our selections of Salmon Sisters, Kuhl and Patagonia mercahndise with success. It tickled us to no end that Alaskiwear hats became our biggest hat line, hands-down this year.
Meg Smith and Annie Brace continued to lead the way in the Gallery, along with His Design metal wall art and Todd Salat’s Aurora Hunter photo prints. We started carrying Ivory Jacks jewelry and knives from Juneau, with their single and double Damascus axes becoming the biggest conversation pieces. We added coffee this year and enjoyed all the smells of Uncle Leroys out of Anchorage and Harborside Coffee out of Kodiak all year long..Ruffwear continued to be one of our anchor lines, so it was not surprising that adding dog treats Alaskins from Soldotna and Drool Central from Anchorage were such hits.
It’s really satisfying curating such an assortment. We are blessed to be able to work with all of these people, building relationships with each artist, artisan and vendor along the way.
We were especially lucky to grow our Team this year with a few even working remotely with us.
To say the least, 2022 is really looking good with this Team. We look forward to continuing to build it throughout the year. (We are still looking for a Warehouse manager and Retail clerks for the summer season. Send anyone interested to our Coolworks job posts: here!)
Giving back is a huge priority for us. Seward has a wide range of incredible organizations, nonprofits and businesses who put their hearts and souls back into this beautiful town, and in 2021 we strived to do our part as well.
We had the privilege of working with a range of organizations, including:
We have the groundwork laid to begin working with even more organizations in 2022 and will be unveiling a new 'Round-up" program in the Spring! It really does take all of us working together to address the serious challenges faced those living in our communities.
After a slew of cancellations in 2020, Seward was able to bring back the First Friday Art Walk Summer Series in 2021. It was so wonderful to participate in First Friday events throughout the summer, with both dear old friends and new artists alike.
One of the most unique First Fridays happened in July when we had Annie Brace (Corso Graphics) and all 3 of her kids participate together on that cold windy day. It was a mini art festival right under our awning! (You can read more about Annie, Eliza & Cooper in their Heart of Art entry: here!)
Only the 2 deliveries by Meg Smith (Meg Smith Design) made via her own bush plane could have topped the Brace Family Art-A-Palooza. Meg never ceases to amaze us with her jetsetting bada**ery in both her personal and professional endeavors, though. (In fact, you can learn more about her history with Art, Design & Airplanes in our Heart of Art blog entry: here!)
We must confess, though, that our top highlight of 2021 was when we streamed the Olympic heats of our local swimmer Lydia Jacoby live for you in the wee hours of the morning this summer. Our whole community came out and screamed oursleves hoarse crying together, hugging everyone around us as she went on to win both gold and silver medals in the Tokyo Olympics! Welcome to Seward Alaska - where we have more Olympic Medals than stoplights.
In 2022, we will be growing soon and can't wait to share all the news once we finalize everything and have signed on the dotted line. We are over the moon and deep into plans, designs and new collaborations to make it all happen.
In 2021, we were so proud to make our first foray into sponsoring local events, by being one of the co-sponsors of the 2021 New Years Eve fireworks last year. We decided to make it a tradition going forward and are also co-sponosring the Firewroks again this year. We will be streaming the fireworks live on our Facebook Page 12/31 at Midnight if you want to see!
We will also be ringing in the New Year by jumping in the frigid waters of Seward’s Boat Harbor for the Alaska Polar Bear Plunge, benefiting the American Cancer Society on January 15th. We are jumping in honour of a local dear to our hearts who is fighting cancer and also to raise awareness and funds for cancer survivors. Please keep your eye out for upcoming emails/posts on social media about how you can donate to support the cause!
As we wrap things up, it is not an exaggeration to say that none of this would be possible without you. Your patronage, support and participation make all this possible. You are our inspiration and the force that drives our FTT family. We would be less without each of you and all that you share with us. You make us better. We are forever grateful to each of you.
We always say that our store reflects all of you and 2022 will be no exception. Fun things are coming. Stay tuned… And keep on sharing!
We are better together. Always.
Thank you for being you and taking the time to share your lives with us.
All the best in 2022 for you and yours,
The FTT Family
Linda, Cliff, Deb, Mary, Cassie, Travis, Carol, Morgan, Smokey
Woof! Smokey Here!
I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all the belly rubs, ‘good boy’s, and daily treats this year.
And while many-a-canine will joke and say, “Life is Ruff”, and even though I strongly believe that the shop iRoomba is secretly run by an evil feline, it’s been wonderful to share this year with you all. If you stop in, know that my resolution for 2022 is to go through 32 moosey chews - so if you want to give a dog a bone… (*wink*)
Hope your next seven (dog) years bring you lots of belly rubs, and warm couches to stretch out on. Woof!
August 16, 2020
August 15, 2020
July 06, 2020
We raise money everyday for SOS Pets & the Seward Animal Shelter by offering a round-up option at the register during each transaction. The Guest has the option to round-up to the next whole dollar or dollars. In 2019, 6,536 people rounded up over $4000 a penny at a time.
July 06, 2020
We created a Student Art Show in March of 2020 that included works created by her student. We will continue to show their pieces throughout the year with 100% of all proceeds going straight back to their schools art department.
June 19, 2020