Thomas Esco Magruder, 81, of Great Falls, Montana went peacefully to be with his Lord in the early hours of June 13, 2020. A Memorial Service will be held FRIDAY, June 26th at 6:00 PM MDT at First Alliance Church in Great Falls. The service will be livestreamed at facebook.com/firstalliancechurch or simply type “youtube first alliance church great falls” in the search bar and look for the live stream.
Tom is survived by his wife of 58 ½ years, Judith Ann (Harshbarger) Magruder; his children, daughter Kimberly Ann (Joel) Wombolt and son Kris Esco (Tobi) Magruder; and grandchildren Jacob Esco (Hannah) Magruder, Levi Brian (Ashley) Magruder, Emma Marie (Micah) Clark, and Elli Ann Wombolt. Also, surviving are four great grandchildren, his cousin Dennis (Nancy) Schneider, and Jacqueline Galm, his “granddaughter” who came to the family as a foreign-exchange student from Germany.
Tom was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania on January 2, 1939. His mother, Delilah Marie Walker, of Smithfield, Pennsylvania went to be with the Lord shortly after Tom’s birth. His father, Harry Eugene Magruder of Altoona, raised Tom for the first four years of his life and then, out of love, took Tom to be reared by his maternal grandparents, Henry Esco and Laura Helen Walker in Smithfield, Pennsylvania. The Walkers taught Tom the tenets of his Christian faith and provided him with a loving family, including Denny Schneider, his cousin, who was more a brother than cousin.
Tommy, as he was then called by his family, was an enthusiastic Boy Scout, earning the rank of Eagle Scout. He also was a Vigil Honor Member of the Order of the Arrow. In 1953, at the age of 14, he traveled by train to California for a Boy Scout National Jamboree–a trip that was the genesis of his lifelong love of the Rocky Mountains.
Tom was graduated from Huntingdon High School in 1956, attended Thompson Business College, and then joined the U.S. Marines Corps. Upon discharge from the Marines, he returned to Smithfield near Huntingdon, Pennsylvania where he worked temporarily for the Pennsylvania Railroad and then secured full-time work at the State Correctional Institute-Huntingdon. During this time period, Tom became interested in building stereo equipment and assembled the first FM stereo receiver in Huntingdon. This hobby, which became a part-time business, led to a major turning point in his life.
In August of 1961, while assembling a stereo receiver from a Heathkit, he discovered that he needed an additional part—a #7199 glass vacuum tube. He promptly went to C.H. Miller Hardware to order the part where he met a pretty sales clerk named Judith Ann Harshbarger who handled the transaction.
As Tom often recalled, after forty dates and one argument, he and Judy were married on October 27, 1961.
Subsequently, on a cold morning in February of 1962, Tom and Judy headed west to Montana in a 1959 Ford Fairlane Galaxy 500 with a U-Haul trailer attached. It would be the first of many U-haul trips. They landed in Billings, Montana where his first job was selling insurance on the road. Tom then worked for the Montana Power Company before becoming a police officer for the Billings Police Department in 1964. Tom worked full-time as a policeman while driving a school bus part-time, and attending Eastern Montana College. After he received a B.S. degree in education in 1969, he took his first teaching job in Helena, Montana. During their first seven years in Montana, Tom and Judy also started a family with daughter Kimberly Ann arriving in 1967 and son Kris Esco in 1969.
In November of 1969, the desire to live near extended family took the Magruders back to Pennsylvania. Except for a brief interlude when Tom served as police officer in Colorado, they lived in Pennsylvania for over twenty-one years. During those years, Tom worked as a regional executive for the Boy Scouts, directed the Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp, taught at Huntingdon Middle School, held a temporary teaching position in State College, Pennsylvania, and earned a master’s degree in education from Penn State University. In 1974, Tom took a job with Iroquois School District in Lawrence Park, Pennsylvania where he taught until 1991. During his years at Iroquois, he left an indelible impression upon his students who, to this day, fondly recall the positive impact he had on their lives.
Though the years spent in Pennsylvania were happy ones, Montana tugged at the hearts of Tom, Judy, and their children. Summers were spent driving from Pennsylvania to Montana, backpacking, camping, boating, and visiting Montana friends. In 1978, Tom, with his family at his side, spent the summer as a ranger with the National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park. When their adult children returned to Montana to live in 1990 and with Big Sky Country constantly beckoning to them, Tom completed his tenure in the Iroquois School District, and he and Judy headed west in 1991. He took a teaching position in Great Falls, Montana in 1992 where he taught until his retirement in 2001, again leaving a lasting impression upon the students he taught.
From his retirement until his passing, he enjoyed traveling, exploring the plains and mountains of Montana, spending time with his children and grandchildren, and just being with his wife Judy. He spent hours talking about faith, family and patriotism. He enjoyed reading and listening to music in his den, which he fondly called his “intellectual sanctuary.” Significantly, in that sanctuary, a place of honor was reserved for an old, Heathkit FM stereo receiver—the same receiver that was destined to introduce him to his wife Judy.
During his last years, when he graciously battled Parkinson’s disease, Tom managed to write his 300-page memoir entitled “A Victorious Journey: A Note to My Grandchildren.” For the back cover of that book, a lifelong friend, Bill Cousins, wrote this about Tom:
“Some men travel through life unaware of those factors that shape their character. This is not the case with Thomas Esco Magruder whose book “A Victorious Journey” chronicles his journey from childhood in Huntingdon, PA to patriarch of an extended family centered in Great Falls, Montana. Thomas Esco Magruder’s life journey began on January 2, 1939, in the central mountains of Pennsylvania. That journey, which became a pilgrimage, carried him to places far and wide, bringing into his pathway a host of adventures, people, and ideas that shaped his character. Now, his journey continues on the high plains of Montana where he resides with his beloved wife, Judith, and within short distance of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.A devoted reader of history and the things of God, Magruder is keenly aware of the importance of knowing one’s heritage. Devoted to his family, he wrote “A Victorious Journey” to help his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren better understand their heritage as his descendants and as the children of God, and in doing so, be inspired to live boldly and faithfully in the future. I am certain this book will fulfill its mission because the author has helped me live victoriously for over fifty years.”
Indeed, Thomas Esco Magruder lived life as a devoted man of God and shared that life with his beloved wife Judith Ann, his children, grandchildren, friends, coworkers and students. He truly lived a life that was a victorious journey and now has moved on to a glorious adventure in Heaven with God his Father. He will be missed, but as he liked to say, it’s not “goodbye” but “see ya later.” We all look forward to the day when we will be reunited with him in the Glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In lieu of flowers please make donations to Special Olympics Montana or First Alliance Church of Great Falls.
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