Guest Column: Reflections on the life of Tom Littrell, 1945-2014

By Mary Jo Powers, Barb Oehlke, Colleen Magee and Jane Hayes
Watchdogs for Ethics in Education members

You may not be aware of who Tom Littrell was, but you may know about Studio 317 on Market Street, a popular art gallery promoting local artists.

We first met Tom at a Rockford Public School District 205 (RPS 205) school board meeting. Who was this man speaking so fervently about educational issues? We knew he wasn’t a parent. He wasn’t a teacher. He wasn’t an administrator, but it was clear he was passionate and well-spoken about education. Tom was an eloquent speaker who showed lots of emotion cutting to the core of the issues. We approached him after the meeting to find out just who he was, and immediately knew we had found a kindred spirit.

Our initial meeting led to many discussions, debates and ruminations regarding the many challenges facing Rockford. His studio was an open door for starving artists, students, the WEE (Watchdogs for Ethics in Education) women and anyone else with a cause.

As a former art teacher, married to a teacher and father of a teacher, Tom was well aware of problems and was concerned about issues facing education today. He was always willing to speak out to the press, at school board meetings and at community gatherings. He volunteered to serve on the Community Input Committee of RPS 205, but was snubbed by the district. He gave of his time to the district’s CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) program and mentored young artists by allowing them to serve internships in his studio.

At one school board meeting, Tom was speaking when suddenly, the microphone was turned off before his time limit had expired. Could it be that someone didn’t agree with what he was saying? That didn’t stop Tom — his passionate words flew in the face of hypocrisy.

Tom avidly participated in ArtScene with extended times and instituted First Fridays downtown. His studio was alive with art, music, food, discussions and activities to keep everyone engaged and motivated. How many of you have left your mark on one of his interactive art projects?

Tom was more than an artist —

He was an advocate.

He was more than a friend —

He was a force.

Tom Littrell was more than a person —

He was a presence in the lives of his family, friends and community.

He left his mark; how are you leaving yours?

Mary Jo Powers, Barb Oehlke, Colleen Magee and Jane Hayes are members of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE).

From the Feb. 5-11, 2014, issue

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