Today’s Illustration: You Pull, I’ll Push

Who: Thomas Vander Woude 

  • Thomas was 66
  • His son, Joseph – “Josie” – was 20 years old
  • Joseph was born with “Down Syndrome.”
  • Thomas was the father of seven sons.
  • Wife Mary Ellen, married for 43 years
  • Pilot in the U.S. Nacy — Vietnam
  • Commercial airline pilot in the 1980s for 26 years
  • Volunteer Athletic director for a number of years at Christendom College
  • Retired

When: September 2008

Where: Nokesville, Virginia

What: Rescued his son

  • Thomas was working with his son on their Nokesville property
  • Joseph fell through the cover of a septic tank — a 2 by 2-foot opening.
  • Thomas, his father, jumped into the sewage and lifted his head above the waters for 15 minutes until help arrived.
  • Both were pulled out of the septic tank by rescue workers.
  • Joseph lived and had no continuing serious effects from the toxic fluids.
  • Dad was pronounced dead by the medics.
  • Penny Michalak, co-founder of “Angels in Disguise,” established the Thomas S.Vander Woude Memorial Fund for Down Syndrome.
  • Penny Michalak’s daughter, Elena Rose, was born with Down Syndrome.



Erin Vander Woude, Thomas Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law. Joseph is in critical condition and on a ventilator, she said.

“He doesn’t know that his dad died,” she said.

“So, with that, I thought, ‘What better person to name that grant for than Thomas Vander Woude, another hero of people with Down syndrome?’”

Michalak said Vander Woude’s sacrifice is such a “contradiction” in a society that typically devalues people with Down syndrome and allows so few of them to be born.

“Here’s this father, who dived into the septic tank and holds up his son for an almost impossible amount of time to save him,” she said. “His son must have meant something [special] to him.”

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, where Vander Woude served as the athletics director for five years, said the father of seven was “the finest man I ever met.” He recalled that both Vander Woude and Joseph were known to be inseparable on campus, and their presence was much beloved by the college’s community.

“He died as he lived,” O’Donnell said, adding that the memorial fund is a “beautiful tribute” to a man whose heroism and ultimate sacrifice for his son stood in stark contrast to today’s “throwaway culture.”

“My hope is that, through recalling his story, other people, when they hear that perhaps their child has Down syndrome — instead of despairing, will realize that there is a precious gift here, a gift that can be nourished and helped to reach its full potential,” O’Donnell said.

“It also gives you a certain comfort that things don’t happen by accident. It’s all part of God’s providential plan, so now the good of the act Tom did to save his son is even reaping greater fruits now.”

Downs kids are delayed, so in order for their brain to develop properly, they have to go back and relive certain things that we just go through naturally for a quick period of time. Like normally, in your childhood development, the stage where you’re crawling – that helps your brain develop. So dad made these really long socks for his arms, and he and Joseph would crawl around. Here’s my dad, and he’s raised all these kids, and he’s crawling around outside on the ground. He’s crawling around on the floor everywhere with my brother Joseph. So he just taught us an incredible example about, it doesn’t matter what people think, it’s all about just giving of yourself. — Daniel Vander Woude


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

  • child-rearing
  • salvation
  • the Gospel
  • sacrifice
  • Father’s Day
  • Dads / Fathers
  • love
  • the incarnation
  • Christmas
  • Helping others – “You pull, I’ll push.”
  • commitment
  • Easter
  • Christ’s love


Sermonic Example:

(use whatever information from above you find useful)

This would be a great introduction or conclusion for a salvation message on Father’s Day.


It is a worthwhile listen — you will cry!

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