The second Vusumzi Primary School classroom is dedicated to Thomas Ralph Alsgaard, a beloved son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and friend to countless others. Raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Tom attended Delta College and earned a degree in nursing. He was brilliant at his job because he not only liked to help people get better; he enjoyed helping people be better. Tom was an advocate of learning. His approach to education, however, was unique and eclectic.
He supported not only formal education but “life” learning, as well. His wife recalled, “Tom always encouraged me to pursue my Master's Degree. After completing one graduate level course, he wanted me to 'go all the way with that.' It took seven years off and on, but Tom knew that degree would lead to further enrichment and better opportunities down the road." She went on to say, “In every nursing job Tom had, he was selected as a preceptor and took charge of orienting new personnel. He embraced that role, instructing them inthe practical and everyday application techniques they really needed to know. As an educator, Tom went far beyond the information one finds in books."
Tom’s eldest daughter shared, “He was always supportive about our education and grades. He said, 'Just do the best you can.' He never expected anything that was unreasonable. Dad supported our individual needs." Tom’s son added, “Life lessons and personal interactions are what I learned most from Dad. He taught me that some things we have to learn on our own to understand their meaning. This lesson carries over to situations I face today and has given me independence. That was the greatest thing I learned from my father: to be free to experience and learn from life.” His youngest daughter echoed her siblings' thoughts when she said, “When I think of Dad’s approach to learning and education, I really understand now that he knew that education would open our minds to new possibilities, experiences, cultures, and ultimately, friends. Yes, the classroom is important, but it is crucial to go into the world, apply that baseline knowledge, and see where it takes us. Dad believed that we are our only limitations in life and that we can learn something new every day, if we just keep our eyes open.”
Tom was a remarkable man. He touched so many people with his charm, intelligence, and unstoppable sense of humor. His talents were varied, whether they had to do with nursing, jazz, gardening, or even, for me, how to make a wise decision. He had an insatiable search for learning and a knack for finding people from whom to pull knowledge. He was both teacher and student. He was in love with life and all that it had to offer him.
I am blessed to be Tom’s sister, and I am thrilled to dedicate the Thomas R. Alsgaard classroom to the children of Vusumzi School.