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Tommy “Tom” Darrell Prather was born November 7, 1934, and died at age 89 on January 24, 2024, due to Alzheimer’s disease and COVID complications. Tom was the only son of Ross and Ethel Prather. While growing up in Bloomington, IL, his family moved frequently and finally settled in a house on E Baker Street, two doors from his beloved Grandmother Lina who was later joined by his Aunt Ora. As a kid, Tom enjoyed horseback riding, boating, fishing, his dog Petey, and his many Prather uncles, aunts and cousins. He was industrious, helping at a local auto garage during his grade school years to have some pocket change. Tom graduated from Bloomington High School in 1953 and he went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Illinois State University-Normal. One of Tom’s pursuits while attending ISU was membership in the “Black Friars” fraternity that presented annual humorous stage productions.
Tom held many jobs to help support himself during college, first at a candy factory working nights (allowed him to get paid to study), but the most memorable one was working at the shoe store in downtown Bloomington, IL. It was there that his life changed forever on a warm sunny day when Joan Lipka, a cute college coed, and her friends dropped into the air-conditioned store. Tom was immediately smitten with Joan and asked if he could fit her with a pair of shoes. Before she left the store, he had managed to jot her phone number on the back of a matchbook. It didn’t take long for Tom to call Joan and ask her on a date. While Joan had multiple suitors and more than one marriage proposal, Tom quickly won her heart, and the rest is history. Tom and Joan wed on August 10, 1957.
As newlyweds, Tom and Joan began their teaching careers together, including positions in McLean and Waynesville, IL where they built a house on a small farm outside Waynesville, (house stands today and remains in great shape) before settling in Cary, Illinois. Tom’s career in education spanned 30 years in Cary, including being an assistant principal at Maplewood, then principal at Briargate grade school. Tom moved on to Cary Junior High School where he taught Industrial Arts and English for many years before retiring in 1991. Tom had an uncanny ability to recognize former students, even in their adult years and greet them by name.
Tom and Joan have five sons: Tim, Keven, Brian, Eric and Brent. As a dual career couple with five boys to raise, Tom and Joan forged a true loving partnership in running their busy household. Together they supported each of their sons’ educational pursuits and interests in music and sports, as well as being supportive of each other’s careers. Through the years they made sure their sons had a meaningful connection to Cary United Methodist Church where they were longtime members, and where each of their sons was confirmed.
Tom was an active member of the United Methodist Church his whole life until his recent declining health. Tom sang baritone in the choir, served on various committees including the UMC board and a member of the UMC men’s group, and often Joan and Tom provided weekly hospitality after worship services. Tom’s Christian faith was important to him and guided him throughout his life.
Tom was part of Kiwanis Club, enlisting his sons to help sell peanuts to people in cars at stop signs as their main fundraiser. Tom led the Regions Commission for America’s 1976 Bicentennial, riding the Freedom train to Cary. Tom was a founding member of the Cary Park District with friend and neighbor, Larry Phalin. The park district has nature parks and sports fields throughout the area because of the forethought of the original members.
While stories abound from those years raising five sons, perhaps most noteworthy are the cross-county summer road trips Tom and Joan took with the five boys in tow, camping along the way in their pop-up tent trailer. All total they visited 47 states, as well as numerous landmarks and tourist destinations, and they created lasting memories for the whole family, which they continue to talk about to this day.
Over the years, Tom and Joan welcomed five daughters-in-law into the family, as well as 13 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren (so far). During their retirement, Tom and Joan enjoyed traveling abroad, as well as many visits to see their family in Alaska, Idaho, California, and Ohio. They also enjoyed extended trips to Florida in their 5th wheel RV to see cousins and friends. Tom loved to read fiction, dabble with whittling and woodworking, and write satirical prose which reflected of his keen sense of humor; he enjoyed camping with the family, and fishing with his sons and with his grandchildren, and most recently he enjoyed attending the grandchildren’s sports events. Tom led a full life, and he loved his family deeply. His love extended to his many cousins, maintaining relationships with frequent family reunions, often at his Uncle Vaughn and Aunt Noreen’s farm. Recently at the large extended Prather family reunion Tom realized he was the oldest family member in attendance.
Tom is survived by his wife Joan of 66 years and his sons Tim (Rose), Keven (Cathy), Eric (Sara), Brent (Karyn), and daughter-in-law Laura (Brian); his grandchildren: Tristan, Ian (Katie), Mason, Alexander, Alyssa (Joe), Amanda (Joel), Wyatt, Sam (Jesi), Jack, Nicholas, Noah, Emma and Madeline; and his great grandchildren Sophia, Oliver and Adeline. Tom is preceded in death by an infant sister, his parents, and his son Brian. Tom Prather will be greatly missed. A wake will be held Friday, February 2nd, 2024, from 4:00 PM until 8:00 PM at Cary United Methodist Church,. A private Committal Burial Service will take place Saturday. A Memorial Service to celebrate Tom’s life will take place at a later date.
Memorials in Tom’s name would be appreciated to: Cary United Methodist Church www.caryunc.org, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Alzfdn.org or Cary Park Foundation, c/o Cary Park District, 255 Briargate Rd., Cary, Il 60013.