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In Memory of Thad Jones

By Martin Hackworth

Thad Jones

Editor's Note: Many of the strongest friendships I've developed in my life have come from climbing, skiing and motorcycling. There are few things my "brothers in arms" could ask that I would be likely to refuse. The most painful moment of my life was when my brother from another mother and climbing partner Jerry Lucas was killed in the Tetons 23 years ago. I hitchhiked from Kentucky to the Tetons to recover his car and belongings and I still think about that week sometimes at night when I'm lying in bed.. I understand all too well how visceral and personal it is when a friendship forged in fun and fire ends suddenly and irrevocably in death. It hurts like a sonofabitch. 

Though I knew Thad Jones well enough as an acquaintance we were not close friends. But Thad was a great friend to friends of mine and as far as I'm concerned a friend of a friend is a friend. The following piece was compiled from two columns that first appeared in the Idaho State Journal earlier this month and were a tribute to a great friend of great friends.

September 4, 2011    

If a good measure of a person happens to be the friends that they keep then Thad Jones — husband, father and motorcyclist — enjoyed a wildly successful life. Thad’s friends are numerous and loyal and the best people I know to be friends with. It’s a good thing too because Thad, who recently passed away of natural causes at the age of 33, left behind a wife, Amy, and a daughter, Natalie, who are going to need support from the very large community of “Friends of Thad.”

Thad enjoyed his family, motorcycles, his iPhone, playing golf, skiing, wake boarding and the absurdly addicting smart phone app, foursquare. He was a presence at our mutual favorite hangout, The Sand Trap, where a memorial to him exists that I challenge readers to spot during their next visit. Thad was a motorcycle guy — an extremely gifted off-road rider who was a fixture at local races. He was also a member of a very successful team that competed in the Vegas to Reno 500-mile off-road race several years in a row. I spent a good deal of time this summer picking his brain for insights I thought might help me merely ride from one end to the other of the same race without getting run over. Thad worked in the motorcycle industry most of his life, first at Pocatello Power Sports then as the regional rep for Western Power Sports — a career at which he excelled. He was the best industry rep I ever met.

Thad took his last ride on Monday, Aug. 1, and was getting ready to head home for his daughter’s 8th birthday when his time in this world came to an end. I have never in my life seen as many grown men stunned and silent as I did the next day as the news spread. Thad meant a whole lot to a whole bunch of people. His passing is the kind of thing that gets on top of you and sticks for a while.

Not only do Thad’s family and friends have a hole in their hearts that isn’t going to get fixed anytime soon, but there is bottom line to deal with as well. Even though Thad worked hard for his family to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle he, like many Americans, was under insured. The result is that his family now has to contemplate not only a future without a husband and father, but without his income as well. That’s the thing about the middle class in contemporary America. There are a lot of us who manage to provide for our families well enough as long as things are nominal, but without that breadwinner’s income the wheels could come loose pretty rapidly.

Should we all have something squirreled away for a rainy day? Certainly. But even if one is fortunate enough to have a good job these days, where’s the money supposed to come from after the mortgage, car payments, utilities, groceries, etc. Middle class in America has, for some time, been a mirage — and even by that standard not what it used to be. So before you dismiss this family’s plight and turn the page you might consider the possibility that there but for fate go many of us.

Fortunately, Thad’s friends are a community of good people who’ll step up and make sure that his family is provided for. A Thad Jones Ride Day is being held at Cache Valley MX Park in Preston next Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 10 & 11) to raise money. There will be raffles, food, T-shirts and all kinds of activities to benefit Amy and Natalie. My part in this is to arrange for music Saturday night. If you are a local musician who’d like to play at this benefit, please contact me via martin@motorcyclejazz.com and I’ll hook you up. I recall doing many favors for local bands back in the days that I ran an audio company and the time to return those would be now. If you are a member of the very large community of local off-road riders I expect to see you there as well. Taking care of each other is what community is all about. Don’t make us come looking for you.

One of my favorite Thad stories is about the time he found himself press-ganged into service as a mule for a youngster who’d broken his bike way out in the sand at Lake Channel. Thad took a set of motorcycle tie-downs and managed to strap a fairly good-sized motorcycle to his bike and then ride several miles uphill through deep sand to deliver the bike to the young man and his father at their trailer. That, my friends, is a deed. Now it’s your turn. I’ll see you next weekend at Cache Valley.

September 18, 2011

Most of the things that op-ed columnists have to write about are not particularly pleasant. It’s not a lot of fun to delve in the usual raft of crooks, political machinations, public policy gone awry, stupidity, greed and mendaciousness. So it’s a great treat to be able to cover something that renews one’s faith in humanity. Thad Jones ride day, held last weekend at Cache Valley MX Park, was such an event. About 200 people attended the two-day fundraiser for the family of Thad Jones, a well-known local motorcyclist who recently passed away at the age of 33 of natural causes. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. For two warm days in September, on a remote ribbon of dirt surrounded by wheelines and crops, we built a community of "Friends of Thad."

For many years I ran a production company that was involved in assisting fundraising events. I’ve spent six months assembling the pieces for very well-planned, well-funded and well-attended events that were a fraction as effective as this one — put together in about 10 days by Thad’s friends sans any glitter and little advertising beyond word of mouth. All of this just goes to show that good people trump good planning every time.

Thad Jones ride day was the invention of Chris and Sarah Hymas, and Jason Weeks and Jess Burry at Pocatello Power Sports. Dave and Cindy Jones, and Gary and Kourtney Brough of CVMX donated the facility and worked hard all weekend to keep things running. Pete Treadwell and the crew at Western Power Sports came with several RVs full of items to auction off. The Sand Trap and MotorcycleJazz.com donated food and music. A ton of folks whose names I can’t remember pitched in all weekend long to make everything work. It was a festival of spirit and a celebration of life as much as anything else, and the mood was infectious. Even my 8-year-old son, JR, who like all kids occupies his own orbit, decided that he’d rather serve up cold drinks than ride around the track after meeting Thad’s family. Multiply that by 200 and you’ll get the picture.

The poor economy has made life very difficult for a lot of folks in Southeast Idaho during the past few years. Most of those who came to this event didn’t drive up in expensive trucks and unload sparkling new motorcycles. The friends of Thad’s in attendance were working class people — many of whom are in the midst of challenging circumstances themselves. That’s what makes the level of giving so remarkable. The most fortunate in our society can easily afford to be generous (which makes me wonder why so many are not), but many of Thad’s friends pitched in with resources dearly earned. It is a wonderful testament to Thad’s life that he knew so many people like this.

I drew the privilege of conducting the auction Saturday evening and was amazed at the quality of items donated by Western Power Sports — jerseys, helmets and number plates signed by nearly every luminary in MX racing — just for the benefit of Thad’s family. I know almost everyone who bid on these items and I know that all of them work for a living and that none of them has money to burn. After the auction I asked my buddy, Jason Weeks, who was the winning bidder on several high-ticket items, if he was going to be OK taking such a hit. “I can always go back to work on Monday and make more money,” Jason told me, “but Thad can’t.” Well there you go. Whatever Jason (along with the rest of Thad’s legion of friends) may lack in material wealth he more than makes up for in being a stellar human being. Well done, my friend.

Thad’s family asked me to be sure to express their gratitude to everyone who helped out. As I spoke with Thad’s parents, Rod and Sheila, my own son at my side, I could not imagine what it would be like to be in their place. It’s too dark and too terrible. But they told me that all of the loyalty and attention from Thad’s friends made it easier to get through. That is the real power that we as individuals have — to make the world just a little bit better place for those around us. If more people valued friendship at this level, I can’t help but believe that the world would be a much better place.

There are some wounds that time does not heal — it just kinds of flattens them out instead. And though there isn’t a thing that anyone can do about Thad’s passing, there is something everyone can do to help out the family he left behind. A fund has been set up for his daughter, “Nattie Bug” (Natalie), at the Potelco United Credit Union and you can be a part of something special by donating to it.        

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