A burly man in a wheelchair thanks to an automobile accident that took his left leg when he was 19 years old, Iowan Tom Walters, who died last week from long-term health complications, was a constant joyful presence in Missouri’s close-knit Lake of the Ozarks go-fast boating community. When not running his 38-foot Statement Marine center console—the most recent of several go-fast boats he owned during the years—with friends or on the road as part of the Super Stock-class Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping crew, the fun-loving 40-year-old often could be found at Performance Boat Center in Osage Beach or hanging out with friends at the adjacent Lakeside Grill tiki bar.
For many good reasons, Tom Walters (in Harley-Davidson T-shirt) often was the center of attention.
Like his fellow Performance Boat Center co-owner Mark Waddington, Brett Manire met Walters in the early 2000s as part of a local boating crew that enjoyed rafting up on a Missouri River sandbar. Manire and Walters became instant friends.
“He was the ringleader of the Missouri River crew,” Manire said, then laughed. “Be it Razor-riding or boating, Tommy was always up for shenanigans, especially if it meant messing with somebody. But he was the nicest guy in the world and the life of the party.
“Tommy had a heart of gold—and hands of steel from 20 years of pushing a wheelchair,” he continued. “He was big and strong, and he could take you down with his hands if he wanted to.”
Manire learned that the hard way during a banquet one night. Walters kept intentionally running over his toes with his wheelchair, and Manire told him if he did it again he’d toss him out of the chair and onto the floor.
Which of course inspired Walters to do it again.
“When I started pulling him out of the chair, he grabbed the table cloth and everything hit the floor,” Manire said, then laughed again. “And I got thrown out for picking on the guy in the wheelchair.”
Manire paused for a moment. His voice cracked. “He was a really good dude,” he said. “He’s going to be missed around here.”
For Bill Allen, the owner of the Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping, and his wife, Tammy, Walters was more than a crew member, fine mechanic and fellow powerboat lover. He was a dear friend, so much so that the Allens had a lift installed at their Iowa home so Walters could access every floor.
“Tommy was as far away from a ‘handicapped’ person as anyone could ever be,” he said. “He knew mechanics inside and out, and even though he was in wheelchair he could take off blowers and propellers—he was just such a strong kid. When we blew over the raceboat in Key West (Fla.) last year, we de-rigged all of it together. He was a powerboat nut and gearhead, just like me, and a huge, huge prankster. We got to be really good buddies.
“It’s going to be a way different summer, a way different everything, without him,” he added. “This is an absolute crusher.”
Connie Siddens, another member of the local Lake of the Ozarks crew and Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping family, also knew Walters well and counted him among her close friends. Siddens described him as prankster “who got along with everyone and didn’t ever let his struggles get in the way of friendship.”
Before she moved to the Lake of the Ozarks area, Siddens often tackled the long drive from Iowa to the waterway with Walters. She got to know him well.
Walters (right, with Connie Siddens standing behind him) was a beloved member of the Team Allen Lawncare and Landscaping family.
“Tommy taught each and every one of us to live life to the fullest and not let it drag you down,” she said. “He worked hard at a family business, but like most of us lived to boat and travel. He was an instigator who gave his best friends as much crap as he could.
“I never once heard him complain about being in a wheelchair,” she continued. “He always made the very best of it and he will be a tremendously missed. As I look at my photos over and over these past few days I can hear his continuous laughter. Tommy was a good one, gone way too soon.”
A funeral service for Walters will be held Friday, February 4 at 10 a.m. at Corpus Christi Parish-Queen of Apostles Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa. A visitation is set the day prior from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Cutler-O’Neill-Meyer-Woodring Funeral Home.