This Was Their Life!
It is very hard for a boxer to go out a winner. The lure of the ring with all of the fame it casts usually makes them try one more time. Although Joe Louis held the Heavyweight title longer than anyone in history and retired with it he ended up making a comeback and his last fight saw him knocked out helpless under the ropes. Muhammad Ali had a similar fate. He was the only Heavyweight to win the title three times! After the third time he retired only to be lured back into the ring. He ended up losing his last two fights finally admitting that he didn’t have it anymore. Sadly a little bit of luster from their boxing greatness is lost when we remember how their careers ended.
As happens sometimes I awoke in the middle of the night and watched an old show from 1979 or 1980 called “This is Your Life”, where they were doing the life of Muhammad Ali. Ali’s life is well documented but it was very interesting still! They brought his wife, mom, dad, and brother in and they all told tales about him. They brought the two guys that gave him his first start in boxing and even brought in his first boxing opponent as a kid. His childhood friend Jimmy Ellis appeared. Jimmy also had dreams of being the Heavyweight Champion. They both were very successful in boxing and Ali was thrilled to see Jimmy again on that day! One by one guests showed up to tell their stories about the champ. The man from Poland who Ali (then Cassius Clay) beat in the Olympics, his trainer Angelo Dundee, his tough opponent from England Henry Cooper and the guests kept coming! A friend and confidant Drew Bundini Brown appeared and told the story about how he made up the phrase for Ali “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee!” Ali was visibly moved as guests on that show always were, when their life passed before them onstage! One of the last guests was Ali’s biggest rival Joe Frazier. Although during their careers it was clear they didn’t like each other all of that was different now. They both embraced and Joe told a very funny story about meeting Ali in 1970 when Joe had the title after Ali had been stripped of it. Ali always the attention getter announced to everyone the fact that Joe and him were together that day. Frazier in a very good Ali voice recreated the moment and it was hilarious!
A show like “This Is Your Life’ works for a world figure like Muhammad Ali, but wouldn’t work for most of us. It’s only because they are famous and people are interested in knowing more about them that the show was successful. Although nobody would care about the details of my life on a show like that, when watching it’s easy to ask what if? What if that show was about me? Who would be the surprise guests telling stories? Would I be moved and what conclusions would be made?
Thomas and Marilyn Wolma from Grand Rapids, MI were ordinary people like most of us. They didn’t have a show like “This Is Your Life” looking their way. Thomas was a retired Government Engineer and Marilyn taught in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Bernice Wisnieski, a fellow teacher, described what Marilyn was like. “She was always the first one there when you needed something!” Marilyn’s sister in Wisconsin needed them this past week. She was recovering from surgery and Thomas and Marilyn made the trip to help out. Thursday afternoon at about 3 pm disaster struck. On their way home from Wisconsin on I-94 near the Michigan border traffic was moving well. Then unexpectedly a whiteout occurred. Apparently a Semi-Truck jackknifed and there was a massive pileup. Over forty vehicles collided with over half of them being trucks. Thomas and Marilyn were killed. (click below for video)
After watching the old “This Is Your Life”, about a famous person, how ironic that I would learn about Thomas and Marilyn’s story! Back to back I watched one person whose life is on the worlds radar all of the time and two people who lived under the worlds radar. One person who the world knows and two who were known only to friends and family. There will be many stories told about Thomas and Marilyn recapping their lives in the days ahead. The stories will be told from the hearts of people that were touched by their love. They won’t be physically present as Ali was in the “This Is Your Life” program, but the love they shared will be revealed just the same! Friends and family will hear the stories instead of a national TV audience. Julie Schafly, a friend and neighbor summed up what will be spoken in many different ways when she said “what comes to mind first when I think of Tom and Marilyn Wolma is that they loved Jesus with all of their heart and that was first and foremost for them!” Before this morning I knew a lot about Muhammad Ali’s life but I had never heard of Thomas and Marilyn. After hearing Julie’s tribute I know that Thomas and Marilyn will be missed dearly by all that they helped on life’s road! By staying the course in their Christian walk many were blessed and their legacy will continue to shine! There will be an abundance of tears shed for now, but in time the tears will turn to smiles as Thomas and Marilyn are glowingly remembered for going out winners!