Thomas Allan Tillapaugh
December 30, 1953 – March 16, 2020
Thomas “Tom” Allan Tillapaugh, born on December 30, 1953 in Britton, South Dakota, finished his race in the early morning hours of Monday, March 16, 2020, after an 18 month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was surrounded by his family at the home that he shared with his wife of nearly 44 years, in Thornton, Colorado.
Tom grew up in small towns in North Dakota, Montana, and Arizona; his parents, Herbert and BettyAnn Tillapaugh, were educators who taught at very small schools for several decades. After graduating in 1972 from Salome High School in Salome, Arizona, Tom attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he met his wife, Yvonne Marie Groleau. The two married on July 10, 1976 at Sheridan Assembly of God in Tulsa. Tom received his bachelor’s degree from ORU the same year, and continued his education via correspondence, receiving his Master’s degree in Education in 1986. Tom has also received an Honorary Doctorate from Colorado Christian Univeristy, among several other types of recognition for excellence in service.
Tom was the Founder and Executive Director of the Denver Street School, which works with struggling students and troubled teens in the Denver metro area. Once located in the heart of the city of Denver on Colfax and Marion, the Christian high school has been recognized nationally and internationally, sparking the formation of the Street School Network. Formerly named the National Association of Street Schools (NASS), this national ministry--formed in 1995--used the original school as a flagship, and thus, the “Street School” model began to be replicated globally. Currently, there are more than 40 Street School Network member schools located all over the United States.
It all began during the summer of 1979 when Tillapaugh visited a shelter for the homeless and street people in downtown Denver on a trip from Oklahoma. Tillapaugh, a high-school science teacher by trade, was struck by the fact that the people living and rehabilitating in the home did not have a high school diploma. Without a high-school education, he knew their chances of achieving self-sufficiency were minimal. He believed that by adding the missing component of an education paired with hope and a plan for future success, the people in the home could raise their base level of thinking and grasp a future beyond simply dulling the pain.
With that vision in mind, Tillapaugh moved his family from Oklahoma to Denver in August of 1985, and over the next few months, he began to “cast the vision” to anyone who would listen. And someone finally did. On the corner of Ogden and Colfax, in the borrowed dining room of an old house owned by his first supporter, he started teaching. At first, there were a handful of students, plucked from the streets and sitting around a makeshift table, listening intently as he taught them using some old textbooks that he brought over from his day job as a teacher at a small Christian school in Aurora. Eventually, the student body began to grow, as others heard about all that he was doing. Funding began to trickle in, as well.
He quickly adjusted techniques and procedures from the traditional classroom, in order to meet the special needs of his unique student body. These students were dealing with issues including homelessness, living in poverty, addiction, violence, below grade level reading and comprehension, struggles with anger and an utter lack of hope for a meaningful future. A high school diploma and future success were impossible without a holistic approach that included not only academic rigor, but also career, life-skills, social/emotional development and, the most important element in Tom’s heart: the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To this end, the school began.
Tillapaugh was known as a tireless and loving servant, fully committed to and deeply passionate about the mission of reaching at-risk youth who lacked a vision for their future. Tom was a family man, to his core, raising his own four children at home, and living by example his personal motto regarding reaching the lost. He believed that the only way to reach the lost and broken people of this world is by the sacrificial intervention on the part of loving, Christian adults, to the point of extreme inconvenience. To this end, a great many students said they felt he was the father figure they didn’t have at home. All those who met him were impressed with his devotion to Jesus Christ, his giving heart and personal sacrifice, his love for his family, his passion for his mission, his love for people, and his flawless integrity.
Tom is survived by his wife of 43 years Yvonne, and their four children: Cherie Tillapaugh-Hott (Chris), Rebecca Rasmussen (Anders), Richard “Ricky” Tillapaugh (Sara), and Neil Tillapaugh (Star), and 9 grandchildren--one whom he “adopted” as his granddaughter. He is also survived by his father Herbert, 1 sister and 2 brothers.
Tom departed this life holding tight to his faith, family, and friends, always keeping a positive outlook. We are beyond heartbroken to have lost such a godly man. Tom’s family and anyone who ever knew him are certain that heaven was rejoicing at the reception of a “good and faithful servant.” He will be greatly missed.
The LORD the Shepherd of His People
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
- Committal Service Thursday, April 2, 2020
Thomas Allan Tillapaugh
April 6, 2020
To Tom's wife and family:
I knew Tom through CCU and want to tell you that he was loved! Such a great man with an amazing heart. My prayer for you is that Jesus flood you with His mercy, love and peace.
We know where Tom lives now, and that is no doubt a comfort to you.
April 1, 2020
Tom was a great leader caring for those who needed God's love. He knew they would not always get it from main stream people and he wanted to make a difference. Tom truly reflected sacrificial service. Even to his last days he was thinking of the students. Tom has prepared a great group of leaders who will carry on his work. I remember our last lunch together a few months ago, knowing his cancer had returned he still cared about his ministry, the students and his team. Tom over the years was a great mentor to me and a GREAT friend, He will be missed.
March 28, 2020
First a little history, for Mr T’s sake. 1984-85 was the year “New Coke” was released, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time, “We are the World” was recorded to raise money for starving people in Africa, Nintendo released the NES gaming system soon followed by a game named “Super Mario Bros” and Michael Jordan was named Rookie of the Year in the NBA.
I was a naïve, suburban high-schooler attending a small Christian school in Denver and Mr. T was our Algebra II / Science teacher. Our 11th grade class was comprised of 6 students. I remember the first time Mr T talked to us all about what he was planning to do the next year. He was planning to start a school for street kids. I remember thinking that maybe he was a little crazy or fanatical or something. This was Denver in the mid-80’s, there weren’t any street kids, right? So yeah, I was pretty naïve. Mr T did pursue his passion, his calling, of course. We kept in touch over the following decades. I had the privilege of having lunch with him a few times, introducing him to my wife, catching up over the phone from time to time. He’d always remember me whenever I’d see him even though he’s taught thousands of students.
Mr. T continues to inspire me because of his relentless dedication to his calling, to his passion, the Denver Street School and Street School Network. I count it such a privilege to have known him and thank his family for the sacrifices they all made in order to share him with all of us.
“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “ - Acts 20:35 (NLT)
March 28, 2020
I remember well my first meeting with Tom over 25 years ago. I was working with the JDE Foundation that supported many Christian ministries in inner-city Denver, and Tom called and asked for a grant. Not only did we support DSS for many years, but I decided that when I had time for more volunteer work I wanted it to be with Tom and DSS.
I have been involved with Tom and DSS and SSN for over 20 years now, and I've seen the results of Tom's amazing efforts and his love for at risk teens. I've never known anyone so committed to God's call on his life and so willing to sacrifice so much for these kids. He would have loved to spend more time with his family, or travel the country and the world, or follow sports more, but he stayed focused on his work. HIs significant medical problems over the years never seemed to slow him down.
Tom has been a huge inspiration to me and so many others, and it has been an honor for me to serve with him and the great team he put together He'll be greatly missed as a servant, leader, and wonderful friend, but his great work will live on in the lives of many for generations.
March 27, 2020
Found some more recent pictures of Dad, thanks to Sheryl Witt. ❤️
March 27, 2020
I met Tom when Hope Academy was starting up. I heard him speak and helped him move furniture to an apartment for one of the girls and furniture to the first Hope Academy site.
He was a tough guy physically; all the medical issues he faced and fighting this last one longer than most are able to. He was also an inspiring servant of God and the kids and school staffs. I hope to serve my kids in aurora public schools as an occupational therapist as he did.
Del de Windt
March 26, 2020
I was in a Monday morning prayer group with Tom for the last few years. A man of few words, but of high impact. His convictions around the marginalized (and politics!) was powerful and filled with compassion and always with the goal of sharing the gospel of our Lord and Savior. I will miss you brother, your legacy lives on with a capable and spirit-filled team and your students will not be forgotten. I will see you in paradise, and I can't wait!
March 25, 2020
I will never forget this faithful man I met over 20 yrs ago! He asked if I wanted to be involved in his vision for the Denver Street School and I was so moved by my visit to the school that I had to say YES! But Tom would never take a NO anyway! He will always be remembered for his Love of family, his students and his faculty! His passion was so infectious. Tom you will be missed terribly by all of us! We love you!
March 25, 2020
Rest In Peace Mr. Tillapaugh. I thank God for him and his humble, Christlike service. My daughter attended Pikes Peak Academy in Colorado Springs & graduated in 2000. My heartfelt sympathy to his family. What a blessing to have this beautiful husband, father, grandfather, & son. He left a legacy of Christ to us that will never be forgotten. God bless and may your memories sustain you in the days ahead. ✝️ Peggy Vaubel (Beauvais)
March 24, 2020
I met Tom at the main offices of ACSI I believe with Vernard Gant. Later Tom called and asked if The Potter's House would join NASS as it was known at the time. He said that he knew that we did not exactly fit the model as we were K-12 with about 400 kids. But since we also primarily served at risk students he said it was a match. And "besides it will only cost you $50." Well that was the best $50 dollars we ever spent. We were soon recipients of a Gates grant of $133,000.00 thanks to Tom's staff's grant writing. We then had all our staff trained in economic literacy in Virginia thanks again to SSN. We enjoyed numerous summer conferences in Denver and Colorado Springs. What a gathering of people, ideas, vision, passion, and mission were brought together under Tom' s leadership and countless lives changed. He was a great man and will be missed. John Booy
March 23, 2020
There are not many people in this world like Tom. If it was not for Tom I am sure I would not be living the life I am today. He gave me an opportunity to be part of the Street School that forever changed me. From teachers, students and teammates they all impacted my short time there. Thank you Tom for giving me the chance to get my diploma, play basketball, and get closer to god. You will be forever missed.
"Who's rockin' that dog house? BULLDOGS, BULLDOGS!!!"
Penny Totani Marr
March 22, 2020
Yvonne and kids..
I've always counted it a great privilege to know you all and to have those special memories with you and Tom.
The one memory that remains as if it were yesterday is..when you all drove off looking like the beverly hillbillies with belongings strapped to that little car..to head to Colorado with a vision from the Lord.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in all ways.
The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thess 3:16
Much Love and always praying for you.
March 22, 2020
Yvonne and kids --- my heart breaks for you as you grieve the loss of this wonderful, godly man. He gave so much to so many. Rest in the comfort that you know where he is and that you will see him again. We will all miss him and will look forward to celebrating his life when the time comes. Praying for all of you for the peace and comfort only the Lord can provide. Thanking God he is no longer suffering in his body and will soon have a new body when Jesus returns. Love to you all!
March 22, 2020
I know he has affected thousands of lives. He will be so missed but he was wise enough to create systems that will continue beyond him. Grateful for his witness of a life well lived in service to Christ.
March 21, 2020
Having been in ministry since 1979, and having traveled extensively in missions, I know an extraordinary Believer when I meet one. And this man is in that cohort... although he would object to my saying this.
Tom has left an enormous trail of people who were inspired, encouraged, and equipped to better glorify God with their own lives. He gave us a new definition of loving God and others, more than himself. He consistently saw more in others than they saw in themselves, and he built an educational system that many others deemed impossible.
My life is richer because I knew and occasionally partnered with this man.
Mae Washam and Angie Cole
March 20, 2020
Angie and I were blessed to meet Tom, Yvonne, Cherie, Rebecca, Ricky, and Neil at ODF in Fall 2000. Angie and I are very blessed to have been apart of your family for 19 years and thankful that God placed us at ODF when he did. You all have treated us with such love and kindness that we will hold deep in our hearts forever. We are so very sorry for your loss and your family's loss. We are praying 🙏 for you all, love you💜💚 all, hugs, and we'll hold your feet 😀
Below is what I (Mae) posted in Yvonne's post on Believing in Tom after Tom had moved his address to Heaven.
Dearest Tom, may you now see every scenic route and adventure that your heart desires in the presence of our Heavenly Father and his perfect peaceful paradise being healed and being honored for each and every life you touched, had planted God's seeds in their hearts, watered those seeds, changed their hearts so they could be saved, and helping them walk in their walk with their faith following our Heavenly Father. Tom, you finished your race. I love you and miss you, keep guiding your family through life since you moved your address to Heaven.
Angie will miss her Grandpa T lots and so will I.
March 20, 2020
Thomas Tillapaugh was an influential figure in my life. When I was a teenager runaway with nowhere to live, I got the chance to stay with my friends for a couple nights. As it turned out they were receiving hospitality and assistance from Mr. Tillapaugh and unbeknownst to him decided to share this with me. When Tom found out, he didn't bat an eye, he must have have thought "yet another poor soul in need of me". So his life was. Always ready and willing to serve and sacrifice. I lived with him for quite some time after, and ended up attending his school. He drove me everyday. I will miss him dearly but more importantly, I will never forget his way of life and will strive to exhibit even a portion of his excellence in manners of life and caring service of humanities most needy. God Bless Thomas and all who knew him.
March 20, 2020
In 2002 I was in a rollover accident that I miraculously walked away from. In the aftermath I asked God for a purpose in my life. Virtually the next day I got a call from someone I had never met or even knew of that wanted to take me to lunch....it was Tom. During that lunch he laid out his ministry that was the Denver Street School. He asked me if I would consider serving on the Board. What I didn’t know then but I do know now that it was God introducing me to a new world where I could serve those less fortunate than me and yes find a purpose and a sense of being a part of something. That something was to be of service to God’s Kingdom here on earth. And I have Tom to thank for opening the door that led me into that new world.....his world. What a beautiful world that is and I will always feel blessed by being a part of something special that is the Denver Street School. Love you Tom. Thank you for the kindness you showed me. You will be missed.
March 20, 2020
Tom was my roommate at ORU during the 1974-1975 school year. He was a good friend and a very interesting person to talk with. He was very smart, with so many varied interests. He was my friend.
Tom and I were both from Arizona, Tom from Wenden , and I from Scottsdale. Tom did not have a car on campus so I offered to drive him to Phoenix for Christmas break. We left Tulsa at 3:00pm and drove all night all the way to Phoenix, stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. We arrived in Phoenix at about 7:00am where I dropped him off at the Greyhound bus terminal to take the bus home to Wenden. Neither Tom nor I had slept a wink the entire trip as we traded off driving. We talked for over 16 hours and enjoyed every bit of it.
We had a funny incident while driving at night between Grants and Gallup, New Mexico. We were going over the speed limit and saw a car in front that had a horizontal bar across the top that we just knew was a cop car. We slowed way down and followed this car for about 30 miles, not wanting to pass the cop car. When we got into Gallup the street lights showed us the “cop car” was just a sedan with a luggage rack. We had a great laugh as we sped up and passed the car.
Tom was a very special guy. I never met his family, but know he was very loved by them. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so proud that I had the opportunity to know Tom and be his college roommate.
“Princess” “Baby Doo” Cherie Tillapaugh-Hott
March 20, 2020
There is such a massive void in my being, without you here. I keep hoping to see you walk by my bedroom door, and hear you say, “Baby Doo,” or “Dut luh-loo and luh-loo, cud oo id,” or “Cherius!”
Oh, how I wish I had recorded you calling me by all of your pet names for me. My favorite will always be “Princess.” I will always be your little princess, Daddy, as you always said I would be. And it’s true what you have always said to me, whenever my heart was broken, all that will ever matter is that my Daddy loves me.
I wish I had been obedient as a child! You were always right! And you knew it, because you also always said, “The key to success in life is blind obedience to me!” Always said in jest, but no truer words were ever spoken—with the exception of your declaration that Jesus Christ must always be our anchor and our moral compass. You and Mom were the example of that belief in practice. If I can ever be a fraction of the kind of human you were, or make a fraction of a difference that you made in this world—I will be satisfied.
From this moment on, I will also always live by my 2 favorite quotes from you, to the best of my ability and with the help of the Holy Spirit:
1. “When in doubt, don’t.” — If ever I am unsure of an important decision, I will wait. I will sleep on it, pray about it, and consult someone wiser than myself about it; and I will also never make a decision while my emotions are high—as you taught me, avoid knee-jerk reactions whenever possible.
2. “The only way to reach the lost and broken people in the world is through the sacrificial intervention—on the part of loving, Christian adults—to the point of extreme inconvenience.” Daddius, I promise to work hard every day to act this out, as you always did, in every interaction I have with those who do not know the love of a Daddy like you, and especially the love of our Heavenly Father through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Until we meet again, precious Daddy. ❤️
March 20, 2020
Tom, always my friend, one of the best men I knew. You were an example to me of tenacity, sharing love and a great dad. After 9/11 I lost I suffered a devastating loss financially you encouraged me and helped me in a very difficult time offering me an office and business mentor ship. Thank you for being my friend. Love and Miss you! Till we meet again.......
March 20, 2020
Prayers and condolences Yvonne and family it has been a very long hard road for you and all your family god just wanted Tom home his work was done here I pray you all have the strength to heal lots of love from Pam and Brian Geraghty from Ireland 🇮🇪 🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻❤️