Thomas Alan Kees, 56 years old, passed away on September 1st, 2014 in Moscow, Idaho at the Milestone Decisions Lexington group home. Tom was born in Moscow on November 14th, 1957 to parents Don and Shirley Kees, the third of six children. Tom was a healthy and active baby, but within two years it became apparent he was afflicted by something that prevented him from walking without assistance and affected his ability to speak.
Visits to the Boise Elks Rehabilitation Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital resulted in a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, complicated by seizure disorder. Tom would never have the ability to walk unassisted or to speak conversationally, and would battle seizures his whole life. Tom’s special challenges did not prevent him from living a full and happy life. He was an active participant in all family activities, such as swimming at Red River Hot Springs, rolling around the back yard inside large empty wire spools, playing with trucks in the horseshoe pits, hand sawing blocks of wood and helping his Mom vacuum the house. Unapproved activities included riding on the back of his brother Barry’s dirt bike, and as an adult, getting secret sips of Dad’s whiskey or beer with his brothers or going to the Corner Club with brother Barry and friends.
Tom’s adrenaline really got going when riding on his uncle Babe’s tractor, or a Moscow Fire Department truck, or with uncle Jim in his car (driving backwards), or when squeezing the trigger of a loud running chain saw (full on, but without a chain). His soft side was a love of music, with which he strummed an old guitar and sung along (his way) to recordings of Lawrence Welk, Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, as well as movies and TV shows. Number one on Tom’s top 40 was Johnny Cash.
Schooling became a reality for Tom when the Moscow Opportunity School for children with disabilities accepted him in 1963. He enjoyed his teacher Ms. Madeleine Espy, and made significant improvements in speech and motor skills under her direction. He made many friends over that time, whose names he could recall and talk about for many years after. Tom transferred to the Moscow High School special education program in 1975 after the Opportunity School was closed, and graduated in 1980. During his high school years, Tom participated in Special Olympics, garnering several trophies and enjoying the camaraderie of other team mates and coaches. Jeff Helbling was his good friend and mentor in high school.
Tom loved holiday and birthday celebrations because there were lots of people around, music, singing and excitement. He was fun because he believed in Santa Claus through his adult years (or so we thought). All would hide in the basement while neighbor Jim Soltez stamped around upstairs rustling presents with a big Ho Ho Ho while the kids (including Tom) got round eyed and excited. One year when Tom was in his 20’s and “Santa” was stomping around upstairs, someone whispered “Who’s that!” to which Tom replied “Jim”, so we knew the jig was up.
Tom always had a keen sense of humor and liked to laugh and joke with all. His laugh was infectious and once he got started, sometimes he couldn’t stop (and neither could you). You could even hear him laughing after he went to bed, retelling jokes to himself and cracking up at the day’s events.
After Tom graduated from high school, there were no other options for care outside his home other than a state hospital in south Idaho, so he continued living with his loving parents. But the burden of 24 hour care and increased physical demands convinced his Dad to join the newly formed Stepping Stones board in 1976, whose purpose was to provide intermediate care homes in Moscow, none of which existed at the time. With initial grant money and funds raised from the local community, Stepping Stones built its first group home in 1983. A second group home was built in 1986, which accepted Tom at the age of 28 years. This was a big shock for both Tom and his parents to be separated, but his weekly visits to the family home helped ease the transition. A third group home was built on Lexington Avenue in 1991, which became Tom’s permanent residence in 1992. Stepping Stones turned over management of their three group homes to Milestone Decisions in 1998 to better focus on the mission of foundation funding for independent living.
Milestone Decisions managed the three group homes with the same dedication and staff as Stepping Stones, providing a caring home environment and rehabilitation training for Tom. He worked at the IDEAS center in downtown Moscow, and had a daily plan of activity and training while at his group home. The Milestone staff became Tom’s close extended family, and made sure his favorite foods, music and shows were always there for him. Their loving care for his emotional, physical, and medical needs was superlative. The Kees family extends a very special thanks to all the Milestone staff that helped make Tom’s life so enjoyable.
Tom’s parents Don and Shirley preceded him in death. He is survived by brother’s Ken (Dawn), Barry, Gary (Kim), Steve (Linda), his sister Sandy (Doug) Racine, and eleven nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Tom’s life will be held at Short’s Funeral Chapel in Moscow on Saturday, September 27th at 10:30am. The family suggests donations in Tom’s honor be made to Milestone Decisions, Inc., 611 S Main, Moscow, ID 83501