If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with
When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son's side.
"That's how he lived," Vander Woude's daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. "He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family."
Vander Woude, 66, had gone to Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in
Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude's wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime.
At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph's mom and the workman pulled from above.
When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Joseph remains in
He “doesn't know that his dad died," she said.
For those who knew him, Vander Woude's sacrifice was in keeping with a lifetime of giving.
"He's the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back," said neighbor Lee DeBrish. "And if he didn't have one, he'd buy one for you."
Vander Woude was a pilot in
"He divided his Nokesville farm into multiple plots, offering land to all his sons so they could stay close to home if they wanted," the daughter-in-law said. His eldest, Tom, became a priest. Five others -- Steve, Dan, Bob, Chris and Pat -- all married. And there was Joseph, who loved helping with all the odd jobs that filled the retired days of his father.
"He was retired," DeBrish said, "but that was a misnomer, because he was always out crankin' with the backhoe or the tractor."
All of Vander Woude's sons except Joseph attended
"He never took a cent for it," she said. Carroll said that Vander Woude was a successful coach, winning multiple championships, but that his greatest strength was his ability to guide kids through challenges off the field.
"He was a mentor," she said. "He wanted them to be good young men, not just good players."
Vander Woude also served as athletic director at
But loved ones said his favorite job was the one he did last: being a good dad.
"They always considered Joseph a wonderful blessing to the family," said Francis Peffley, pastor at Holy Trinity, where Vander Woude served as a sacristan and also trained altar servers. "His whole life was spent serving people and sacrificing himself. . . . He gave the ultimate sacrifice. . . . Giving his life to save his son."