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It’s no surprise that Tom Brooks has the local high school’s mascot slapped on the side of his service truck. That foul-looking fowl is the Baraboo Thunderbird because that’s the high school he graduated from in the namesake Wisconsin town he’s lived in all his life.
He’s been proud of adopting that symbol for his one-man shop since opening up on April 1, 2011, after losing his job at a plumbing operation during the doldrums of the last recession.
“I sent out resumes to plumbers within an hour of here and no one was hiring,” says the 51-year-old master plumber who’s been in the trades since around a decade after he graduated from Baraboo High.
So, he maxed out his home equity credit line, bought a van and started out cold. His first job was changing out a bathtub faucet for one of his mother’s friends. And she raved about the job he did.
“Everything was word of mouth back then,” he adds. “It still is. When you’re born and raised in the same place, you end up knowing a lot of people.”
Nine years later, he says there isn’t any plumbing work he doesn’t do. As his bare bones web site puts it that includes remodeling and new construction, water heaters, water softeners, septic systems and even well systems although, he adds, he doesn’t drill the well.
“I’ll always have work,” he adds. “As long as I can walk and talk, I can be 80 years old and still change out a water heater. Outside of family, my proudest achievement is that I started the business with nothing, and I was never, ever late with any bills or payments to vendors. Never paid a dollar in interest.”
Word of mouth is how he got a call one day from Rev. Dave Mowers, who is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church. Rev. Mowers has led the charge to find a new homeless shelter for his community after the only one in the area closed two years ago.
He had signed a lease on a building that used to serve as a memory care facility. But the facility had sat vacant ever since it shut down six years ago. And during that time, vandals had broken into the building and caused significant damage. The mess was cleaned up prior to Mowers signing the lease, but the damage wasn’t entirely fixed.
In other words, a fixer upper.
Brooks took a look at the 5,200-square foot building and ball parked that to plumb the place to do what Rev. Mowers envisioned would cost $40,000.
Once completed, Rev. Mowers planned a space to house 30 people, including a wing for women, children and families, and another are for men.
"There were probably 80 to 100 people in Sauk County that were homeless at any given time during the last year," Rev. Mowers, told a local TV station last year.
According to Mowers, there are no homeless shelters in Baraboo or nearby Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. He added that in the entire county, there are no beds for men, only spaces for women and children.
"Jesus cares about those folks so for me that's been the only motivator that I needed," he said.
Brooks wanted to help, however, he knew it was too much for just his one-man business.
“But I know all the plumbing companies in town,” he adds. “And I know all the plumbers that work for them. I figured I’d call them about donating labor. All of us are successful because of this town so why not give back?”
Brooks reached out Jerry Sprecher of Sprecher Plumbing; Travis Potter of Potter Plumbing; and Gary Kowalke of Terrytown Plumbing to see if they couldn’t all band together and get the job down for Rev. Mower for free.
“The homeless situation in Baraboo is way worse now than when I was a kid,” Potter told the Baraboo News Republic last May. “I jumped at this chance because I wanted to help the community, but also wanted to work with these guys again.”
Like Brooks, Potter and Sprecher are one-man shops, and everyone can trace their plumbing career back to starting at Terrytown.
The crew convened a couple of time in February to complete all the behind-the-wall plumbing and piping. In addition to installing a new kitchen, the contractors worked to expand the bathroom and shower capacity.
Brooks figured there was about 110 years worth of plumbing experience on the jobsite.
“I’ll always think that this is a great idea,” he says. “I’m glad we could all get together and give back to the community we are all a part of.”
Other local businesses are also helping out Rev. Mower. So far, the community has donated more than $100,000 to the Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter.
The organization is currently asking for donations, which can be made by mailing checks, payable to the Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter. The donations can be sent c/o Trinity Church, 111 Sixth St., Baraboo, WI 53913, or by PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org.