If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with a smile, friends and neighbors said yesterday.
When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son’s side.
“That’s how he lived,” Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. “He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family.”
Vander Woude, 66, had gone to Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville on Monday, just as he did every day, and then worked in the yard with Joseph, the youngest of his seven sons, affectionately known as Josie. Joseph apparently fell through a piece of metal that covered a 2-by-2-foot opening in the septic tank, according to Prince William County police and family members.
Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude’s wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime.
At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph’s mom and the workman pulled from above.
When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
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Vander Woude was a pilot in Vietnam, a daughter-in-law said. After the war, he worked as a commercial airline pilot and in the early 1980s moved his family to Prince William from Georgia. In the years to come, he would wear many hats: farmer, athletic director, volunteer coach, parishioner, handy neighbor, grandfather of 24, husband for 43 years.
He divided his Nokesville farm into multiple plots, offering land to all his sons so they could stay close to home if they wanted, the daughter-in-law said. His eldest, Tom, became a priest. Five others — Steve, Dan, Bob, Chris and Pat — all married. And there was Joseph, who loved helping with all the odd jobs that filled the retired days of his father.
He fathered seven children: one a priest, five other sons married. A loving father who doted on his youngest son, who suffers from Down syndrome. A daily communicant. A veteran. A farmer, working the earth, even subdividing the family farm to keep his progeny close, working the land with him. Twenty-four grandchildren, to boot: Talk about instilling the right values in his sons! I know not what his politics were, but how he lived his life exudes conservatism — real conservatism, that of home and hearth, of God, family and community — from every pore, so to speak. I have no doubt that this man will be missed by many, and that a place awaits him at the eternal banquet. May Thomas S. Vander Woude requiescat in pace. Read the entire touching article here.