Oconomowoc Mourns the loss of Tom Synder “Mr. Oconomowoc.”
Very few people do we meet in our lives that make such an impact on you that you never forget meeting them. I am a Indiana native that moved to Wisconsin several years ago. As anyone, moving to a new place with a new job was a little stressful. So after arriving in Oconomowoc I met Tom Synder. The first time I met him we talked for about 30 minutes and I’ll never forget it. Tom lived five lifetimes in one. Later on I learned of his past business, travels and more about him. He will be missed by friends, family, Oconomowoc and anyone who ever met him.
Tom Snyder, 85, former Oconomowoc business owner and lifelong philanthropist, died Oct. 3 at University Hospital in Madison, from complications after heart surgery.
His death leaves a void in the community he loved so much.
It seems only fitting somehow that his heart would be the cause of death, as it was surely the cause of a life well-lived.
Deeply loved and respected, the lifelong Oconomowoc resident was always eager to help a worthy cause, or lift someone’s day with a kind word and a smile and that irrepressible twinkle in his blue eyes. He was a bon vivant, a generous host, an incredible storyteller and a party planner extraordinaire. You did not leave his company without a smile on your face.
Snyder was also a successful businessman, running a clothing store in downtown Oconomowoc that his father started and that drew a strong local following as well as some celebrity clientele. That included famed Marquette University coach Al McGuire, who superstitiously believed one of the suits he purchased from Snyder was “lucky” and wore it throughout Marquette’s national championship season in 1977.
After the store’s 112 years of service to the community, Snyder closed the shop in 1996 and retired.
Longtime friend Maureen Stapleton notified friends via email early Friday of the news of Snyder’s passing.
“At 1 a.m. the twinkle in Tom Snyder’s eyes were extinguished,” she wrote. “An expert team of surgeons worked on that heart for hours — but it was too difficult to save him. As you all knew Tom, please remember him with that smiling face and beautiful blue eyes — that’s how he would want it.”
Fellow Rotarian Sarah Williams-Berg was saddened to learn of Snyder’s death.
“A bygone era — If you were sitting next to Tom Snyder at any event, you were in for tall tales, laughter and a wild historical ride. He could pick up on any dialogue and put his own historical spin on it. He was like a walking timeline. He demanded and earned your attention every time you asked him a question,” she recalled.
“He was the last of the great gentlemen, appreciative, thoughtful and generous. When Tom threw a party, it was a party to remember. When Tom offered his own patented rambling repartee, you knew it came from great intellectual depth. We sat next to him at Rotary Monday. Over lunch, he offered insights on everything from the old corner drugstore to helping to eradicate polio worldwide. His Oconomowoc presence will be everlasting,” Williams-Berg added.
Snyder attended Marquette University for two years before graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1951. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a pilot.
Upon completion of his service in the armed forces, he went to work for a medical supply company in Maine until returning to Oconomowoc to take over the family clothing store.
Younger brother Pat Snyder, a retired circuit court judge, marveled at his expertise with the store.
“He was president of the National Junior Men’s Wear Association of the United States and traveled extensively and was instrumental in developing inventory management programs for retailers before there were computers.
“He retired in 1996 and has been Mr. Oconomowoc ever since. He was on every board and anywhere he could help and a friend to all. Everyone should have a brother like Tom. He was the most generous person I have ever met in my life,” he recalled.
Niece Megan Welsh echoed that sentiment and remembered how he celebrated his family.
“I can’t tell you how many friends in the course of my life called him ‘Uncle Tom.’ It was an endearing term for a man who was loved like family by so many. Growing up, Tom never had children of his own but he had 14 nieces and nephews who he called his own. I was blessed to be one of them. He had secrets and special stories with all of us, nicknames and jokes,” she said.
“He taught us to love the community where we live and to care about each other. He held ‘cousins parties’ to make sure that we spent quality time together and that we would always be there for each other. He took an interest in all of us and our families. He taught our kids to drink champagne (some of them were even legal). He taught us to use our china and crystal and live life. One night he had everyone make a wish, spin around and throw glasses in the fireplace. He was full of life.
“He was cherished by all of us. He was deeply loved and will be greatly missed. I don’t know how you can fill a void like that,” she added.
Snyder was a founding member of the Oconomowoc Area Foundation, a past president of the Oconomowoc Rotary Club, past president of the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce, Citizen of the Year, was a member of the Knights of Columbus, a board member at Mount Mary and a board member of the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University.
“Tom Snyder was the spirit of Oconomowoc. No one loved to have fun more than Tom Snyder, and he insisted that everyone around him join in the fun. He was deeply religious and had a good Christian soul and was very proud of everyone in his family and his extended family,” Stapleton said.
Funeral arrangement are pending with the Schmidt and Bartelt Notbohm-Kreutzmann Funeral Home, Oconomowoc