Making Manitowoc: Tom Drill explains his motivation
Tom Drill seems to have an endless supply of goodwill and compassion for the people of Manitowoc. His volunteer work and smile brightens the day of many people. Watch what he has to say about what inspires him to give back. Josh Clark/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
MANITOWOC - Tom Drill is keenly interested in learning about others, but he tends to deflect questions about himself with a sly joke and a wink.
Drill, who was born and raised in Manitowoc, loves this town. He spends his days volunteering and looking for ways to help others. The city’s volunteer of the year award is named after him, and he raises far more money than anyone else during the annual Salvation Army of Manitowoc County’s Red Kettle campaign. His Facebook page has nearly 1,300 followers. His annual Showtime event raises funds for local charities.
The smiling, outgoing Drill is a big part of what makes this city special, but he’s pretty modest about his efforts, and worries he’ll look self-important in a newspaper feature story.
The senior won’t reveal his age; however, Drill did share a few details those who have seen him waving from his red Salvation Army cabin each December on the corner of Franklin and Eighth streets may not know.
He has lived most of his life in the Clark Street house his mother and father bought for $16,000 back in the day, which he and his sister Barbara inherited when their parents died.
“I grew up in a much simpler time,” he said. “When doors were not locked. When you knew your neighbors and trusted them all. We would play outside until dark, and my parents would call, ‘Get in the house Tommy, it’s time to get cleaned up and get to bed.’ No one worried about anything bad happening.”
Drill attended grade school at First German Lutheran, and he’s still a member of the First German church.
“My family inspired me with a strong sense of faith,” Drill said. “Our mother played a strong part in forming our values. If we just followed her lead, we would be in very good shape. She was inspiriting, such a role model of integrity and great compassion.”
His mother, Leone, died shortly after he graduated from college.
“Life has never been the same,” Drill said. “It was heartbreaking. She was such a huge influence on my life. Since she died, there’s been many ups and downs. More ups than downs.”
Drill graduated from Lincoln High School and majored in education at what is now the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He taught sixth grade for two years in Sheboygan.
“It was a very happy experience,” Drill said of his time as a teacher. One of his former students comes to Drill’s Salvation Army cabin to donate during the Red Kettle campaign each year, so Drill said he must have done something right in class.
After teaching, he worked for about three years in Manhattan as a nanny (manny?) for his twin niece and nephew. Drill is not married and has no kids, but his sister’s three children are his godchildren.
He said he loved living and working in New York, and went back after 9/11 to work in a food kitchen from December 2001 through February 2002.
“I would have liked to stay in New York, but I wanted to come home,” he said. “I love Manitowoc. This is the best city in the world.”
Barbara and Drill remain close, talking on the phone twice a week. He also travels to New Jersey, where most of his family lives.
“(Barbara) is the most precious part of my life,” Drill said. “I’m lucky, I’m lucky.”
His sister even took him on a 10-week tour of Europe years ago. The pair visited Iceland, London, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Paris, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Holland.
“She had gone from one career to another, and there was a gap in time, so she underwrote my travels,” Drill said. “It brought us closer. We left at the end of June and came back in August. It was the trip of a lifetime.”
Later, Drill worked in retail and menswear.
Today, he devotes most of his time to helping others, but he is reluctant to name a favorite organization.
“Whatever, I suppose, would be a boost to the less privileged,” Drill said. “Those who really are down and out. I don’t know what hard times are. We think we do, but we don’t. There are people who have suffered circumstances that are beyond their control, and they truly need a leg up.”
Drill’s volunteer career began when he saw Ron Kaminski cleaning the sidewalk in front of the Capitol Civic Centre. Kaminski played a lead role in transforming the 1921 vaudeville theater into the civic center, which opened in 1987.
“I saw him out there hosing down the terrace in front of the box office,” Drill said. “It was a Sunday; I was walking on my way to church. I thought, ‘If he’s doing that on a Sunday, I want to be part of that.’ I want to see if I can get involved. And I’ve been involved now for decades. Doorman, postal distribution, I’ve done it all.”
The town loves him back, too. Drill, who doesn’t cook and claims his oven doesn’t work, has friends and neighbors leave food for him on his front porch.
“They leave complete meals,” he said. “How wonderful is that? I do have a working microwave.”
Drill said it’s the people that make Manitowoc a special place, and he hopes he’s a small part in making the community better.
“I am not here to make a footprint,” he said. “I don’t think I’m a big deal. Many have inspired me, including Barbara and my mother. Things have changed these days. We have more technology today but it hasn’t made our world any more beautiful. The sunsets are still as lovely, the sunrises are just as lovely, but we have more of a kind of decay, and if there’s something that I can do in some small way to lessen that, I would be happy. It’s not me, I’m following the work of those ahead of me. This is just about as good as it gets.
“I’m so thankful I have the years I’ve had. These days, as I move a little more slowly on the dance floor, I hope that I can continue to do what I’ve been doing, if what I’ve been doing is the right thing.”
Many would say that Tom Drill is doing exactly the right thing.