Thomas Charles Braun
Braun, Thomas Charles
Walking through the little purple door at Wild Rumpus is like walking through a portal into Tom Braun's brain. A magical, welcoming place full of curiosity and learning, wit, whimsy, artistic vision, great humor and a deep, abiding appreciation of words, language and literature, plus a great love and respect for children and animals.
Tom loved the New Yorker caption contest, the West Wing, Democratic politicians, The Sunday NY Times, coffee with friends, eating out, his children Laura (Chris), Adam (Kim), wife Felicity, brother Alan (Ken), stepchildren Izzy and Luci, grandchildren Mia, Max, Marnie, Linh and Boden, and dog Bella, not necessarily in that order.
To some he was the "The Mayor of Linden Hills", "The man behind the curtain," the owner of the bookstore, a generous philanthropist, or the founder of Linden Hills Power & Light; to others, Dad, Poppa Tom, Dude, brother, cousin, friend or soulmate.
With a background in theatre, it's perhaps appropriate that Tom left us on Halloween to join the supernatural world among costumed superheroes and fairies, goblins and witches. "Always leave them laughing," He said. A celebration of life will be held Nov 25, 1-3PM at Walker Art Center Skyline Room. In lieu of flowers may we suggest the Alzheimers Association or Minneapolis Climate Action (formerly Linden Hills Power & Light).
Tom was born in Lake City, MN to Gilbert Charles (Gil) and Lou Ella Braun (nee Peterson). Lou was a teacher before raising her children and Gil worked in retail, eventually overseeing 113 Braun's stores across the Midwest. Tom and his favorite (only) brother Alan attended Brookside School in St Louis Park before his parents moved to Edina. He then attended Concord Grade school and Edina Morningside High School. At school he made some lifelong friends including Jane Mucke, Peter Windhorst, John Helland, and Fred Nordeen. Fred also attended Lawrence University with Tom.
While attending Lawrence, Tom met and married Julie Biggers. After graduation Tom taught theater at Lea College in Albert Lea, MN. Julie and Tom had two children, Laura, born in 1968 and Adam born in 1971. The young family moved to St Petersburg Florida where Tom taught at Ekerd College for a year before returning to MN to teach theater at Normandale Community College. It was in Normadale's theater faculty that Tom met his good friend and mentor, Jim Wallace. Tom and Julie divorced in 1981.
Ten years later, Tom married Collette Morgan. In 1992 they opened Wild Rumpus Books for Young Readers in the Lake Harriet Commercial Club, a Linden Hills building Tom had purchased in 1988. Wild Rumpus, designed to be a story more than a store, features a menagerie of chickens, Manx cats, chinchillas, birds, ferrets, fish and a tarantuala. Named best childrens' bookstore in 2016, it was awarded the honor of Bookstore of the Year by Publisher's weekly in 2017. The bookstore is a magical place full of whimsical touches reflecting Tom's unique creativity.
Tom was an artist and could paint, woodwork, tinker and write poetry. He was an incredible, imaginitive cook and a passable musician.
Tom adored his grandchildren. Daughter Laura and her husband Chris Pardo have three children: Mia, Max and Marnie; and son Adam and his wife Kim Sauvageot have two children Linh Mai and Boden. Tom loved to read to his grandkids (surprise!) and work on fun projects with them.
Tom in turn was adored by his many friends. Tom was generous with his time and advice. If you wanted to start a business, a new career or had a vision for something, he was a great person to have a discussion with. Whether you knew him for decades, like his friends Joe Donovan and the breakfast boys, Jim Hendricks and Bryce Hamilton, or were a newer friend like his eating pals Sarah and Domenica, he never shot down an idea. If you were passionate about something, he'd become equally passionate about it and become your cheerleader and connector.
Tom loved to tell people (often complete strangers) about his brilliant children. Laura who worked with children with autism, and Adam who'd worked with the KIPP program before starting his own business. Most of all though, he admired what loving and kind parents they were. With a mostly absentee father of his own, whose own father had left the family, Tom often lamented his lack of male role models and parenting guides. He was inspired by the way his children and their spouses treated each other and their children.
One never really "worked for" Tom. Rather, you became a co-conspiritor in his sense of mischief and philosophy of "why not?" Build a basketball court in your living room with Trehus's Dave Amundson? Lead a horse through the bookstore or take a lama on a surprise visit to the nearby school playground during recess? (Leading to an interesting call to the school - "My first grade daughter never lies, but today she swears she sat on a live camel"). Take a shack and create a work of craftsmanship and a shining example of the beauty of reclaimed materials at the Rush River with Miles Cross? Take up with a woman over 20 years your junior? Hey, Why not?
Many years and girlfriends after his divorce from Collette, Tom was finally happily living alone and quietly confident in himself. Along came Felicity Britton, conned by her friend Madalyn Cioci to attend "just one meeting" of Linden Hills Power & Light. After a year of friendship forged working side by side, they tentatively considered dating. Concerned about their age difference, they signed up for relationship testing to see where issues might arise. The therapist was shocked by the results, saying they were off the charts in compatability, and in all his decades of testing he'd never met two people more compatible. Tom wrote, "This is a new relationship in duration, but more important, a new relationship in kind. One that feels equal, safe, and although my usual way is to rush with things, this cannot be rushed or managed. It can only be grown with great patience and care. I think Felicity and I can offer each other an opportunity to risk wanting and finding true intimacy."
Tom asked Felicity to marry him several times a day for years, but Felicity considered moving in together the equivalent of getting married. With two young children of her own, Izzy and Lucinda, it wasn't a commitment she made lightly.
Felicity and Tom worked together on environmental initiatives for the non-profit Tom founded, Linden Hills Power & Light (LHP&L). LHP&L was instrumental in getting a curbside compost pilot going in Linden Hills, which eventually was rolled out to the whole city. The organization's core value is to inspire neighbors to work collaboratively on initiatives to combat climate change. Tom believed in the concept of "Collective intelligence" -that everyone has unique strengths to contribute.
Tom and Felicity were each other's biggest cheerleaders and their strengths were complementry. Tom had never been a big traveler, so Felicity's background in travel and spirit of adventure helped Tom see many parts of the world including Australia, England, Spain, France and the Caribbean. Tom's gregarious nature and extreme extraversion helped Felicity to come out of her more serious, shy shell. Tom was a visionary with little follow through before going on to the next fantastic idea, Felicity was an implementer and helped them stay on track. Their shared sense of humor, love of wordplay and deep love for each other got them through Tom's diagnosis and journey with Alzheimer's. Diagnosed in 2014, he and Felicity quietly married in 2015. While she was his primary caretaker, they had help from a fantastic team of helpers including Riley and Forrest Theisen, David Wick, Mary Claire O'Brien and Johnnie Norris.
For decades Tom had relied on his dear friend Dan Feidt for fun, company and advice and was glad to have him by his side through this new journey. Tom inspired many with his complete transparancy about his disease - his own little campaign to try and take away some of the stigma surrounding Alzheimer's.
Tom died peacefully at home on October 31st.
Published on November 4, 2018
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