2017-03-02 / Living

Local author memorializes son in book, “When Tom Went West”

By Sam Tunningley

FLUSHING – Tom Hollar was many things: an entrepreneur, a principal figure in the Denver punk rock and rave scenes and a free spirit able to attract new people wherever he went.

In July of 1993, Tom’s life was cut short by an act of violence that not only affected his loved ones, but also a community touched by his bright personality. The events of his life are detailed in his mother Nedra’s new book, “When Tom Went West,” now available on Amazon and Kindle.

Nedra, a former osteopathic physician, had been writing the book since 2003, conducting interviews with those closest to her son in Denver and piecing together her own memories of Tom’s childhood in Flushing.

The genesis of the book started at a Fenton writers group, where fellow authors review and critique each other’s latest work, many of whom are former English teachers. Nedra has a long history of writing; she was her high school’s newspaper editor, a newsletter writer for her practice and penned a children’s book called “Carousel” inspired by her grandchildren.

Nedra remembers Tom as a popular child and avid learner. She allowed him to build a skateboard ramp in her backyard – a project that, in hindsight, she said was probably “disruptive” to the other neighbors – and kids from all over the area were granted access. At the age of 13, Tom taught himself how to repair the boards.

Nedra said the portion of the book in Flushing fills half of its pages, her son’s ties to the city expand beyond his childhood. In an interesting anecdote, Nedra describes him buying a hearse from Rossell Funeral Home on a trip home.

“It’s basically a memoir,” said Downing. “He had a really good childhood.”

Deciding college was not for him after a short stint at Western Michigan University, Tom moved out West, first to Wyoming and then Colorado. His time in Denver was spent pursuing and succeeding in several business opportunities, beginning with a sunglasses cart at Stapleton Airport.

Tom kept the cart while expanding to a full-sized operation, selling everything from baseball hats to t-shirts. The rented out shop evolved over the years from skater gear to a more punk-inspired attire, such as leather products, Doc Martens and studded shoes. He involved his friend Christina in the store, and the two eventually wed in 1992.

Christina and Tom were headed back from a Colorado Rockies game on July 23, 1993 when they were jumped by two members of the notorious Los Angeles gang Crips. One of the men shot Tom twice and the two ran off with his car, proceeding to brutalize Christina until police tracked the vehicle in a dark alley.

Downing received a call from her daughter Laura informing her of the incident.

“It is the call every mother dreads,” said Downing.

Following her arrival at Denver General Hospital, Nedra put her feelings into a poem for her son as she sat in the Intensive Care Unit. This would be the first of several, many of which are interspersed through Tom’s story.

The trial and memorial service are also recounted, and Nedra referred back to a taping of Court TV to get the precise details and testimonials of the accused. The two men were sentenced to life.

Unaware of her son’s major local reputation, Nedra described the memorial service as an outpouring of love – music, readings and speeches all dedicated to Tom took place in a Denver park. Last year, Nedra and her family held a candle vigil and several of her son’s friends made an appearance.

“He was a pivotal figure in many of our lives,” said Nedra.

The main takeaway from the book, said Nedra, is to keep pushing through the tragic times. She said the target audience is families who have lost a child to murder, and the goal is to leave the reader with a message of optimism.

“It was a real trip to write it,” said Nedra. “It was fun to remember all the times when we were young.”

The author has three other projects in the works – a travelogue about a trip to Turkey, a young adult novel about a cat and an ode to a transformative English teacher – that could be coming in the years ahead.

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