Longtime Butler County educator remembered as ‘larger-than-life human’

Throngs of families and educators turned out Monday morning to pay tribute to Hamilton school board member and longtime educator Tom Alf, who died Wednesday.

Alf, 70, who served the majority of his nearly five-decade career with Hamilton City Schools, subbed or worked for every school district in Butler County, according to The Rev. Larry Tharp of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Fairfield where the service was held.

Credit: Eric Schwartzberg

Credit: Eric Schwartzberg

“He took pride in mentoring the youth and other professionals,” Tharp said. “He always rooted for the underdog and he was truly an icon for the Hamilton-Butler County region.”

The casket, which was closed, was sprinkled with holy water and draped with a white pall before being carried to the front of the church.

Credit: Eric Schwartzberg

Credit: Eric Schwartzberg

FIRST COVERAGE: Tom Alf, Hamilton school board member and longtime educator, dies at 70

Some of the most prominent descriptions of Alf on social media remembrances this past week following his death include “leader, mentor, problem solver, compassionate, loving and understanding,” according to Jeremy Rogers, who said his friendship with Alf stretched back nearly 17 years.

“I’m not surprised by any of these descriptions, because each and every one of them was vintage Tom,” Rogers said during Alf’s eulogy. “Tom was someone that we in the village liked to refer to as a trench guy. When times got tough or difficult decision’s had to be made, Tom was the type of person that you wanted to have in your trench.”

People knew whatever advice they were going to receive from Alf included “a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Rogers said.

“Tom always had your best interest in mind. He was the most selfless human I’ve ever met in my life,” he said, his voice choking up with emotion. “He had a calming quality about him that made everything seem like it was going to be alright.”

Alf and his wife, Debbie, have two daughters, Sarah and Katie, and two grandchildren. Alf’s wife is a retired teacher and principal of the Hamilton City Schools. Sarah and her husband, Robert, are career educators.

While education was Alf’s occupation, his vocation, “his calling from God,” was his family, Tharp said, calling him “a devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle” and “a hero and protector to his family.”

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Tharp said Alf touched many souls in his life and had a faith that was “unflinching,” as he never missed attending Mass each Sunday, with his first task before a family vacation searching out the nearest Catholic church.

Even during his most recently illness, while hospitalized in the intensive care unit following surgery, Alf made sure to turn on the television to watch Mass, Tharp said.

Alf launched his career at Roosevelt Junior High School in 1971 and became dean of students there in 1976 and assistant principal for the 1979-1980 school year, according to district officials. He then worked at Garfield Junior High School in 1980 and George Washington Junior High School in 1981, becoming assistant principal at Garfield in 1985.

He became assistant principal at Hamilton High School in 1988 and principal at Garfield in 1992. In 1997, he became principal of Hamilton High School until 2001 when he became the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources until his retirement in 2003.

Rogers said Alf also was “the greatest communicator” and was widely known for little notes or cards expressing his compassion for a situation someone may have been going through or a way of encouraging them, Rogers said.

“He had a way with words and he had a way to connect with you on a level that’s really hard to explain,” he said, noting that he recently shared those messages with educators to illustrate how the power of written expression can change one’s attitude and, in many cases, their day. “In a day and age when texting or emailing has become the norm for communication professionally or personally, Tom’s style will always be my favorite.”

This summer, to celebrate his 70th birthday, Alf invited Rogers and his wife Julie, plus friends Scott Dennis, Jamie Harrison and Mick Tasso to walk what he said was “roughly” a 26-mile walk from his Hamilton home to Great American Ball Park to watch the Reds host the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Nearly 30 miles later, we still had not arrive at Great American Ball Park,” Rogers said of the 31-mile walk. “The greatest thing about that day was that when we got there, Tom had to be exhausted, but 80 of his friends and family were waiting for him at the stadium and I can’t get out of my mind and I’ll always cherish the look on Tom’s face with his constant smile.”

No matter what a person’s job title was “with Tom, you had a friend, a friend who stood by you through thick and thin,” Rogers said.

“This community is a better place because of Tom,” he said. “There is no doubt that the void Tom left in (his) passing is a tough one for us all.”

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