Daniel Norman Toma was born February 9, 1932 to John William Toma, an immigrant from Romania, and Margaret Toth. He was the fourth of what would become five children.
Dan was a self-sufficient and independent kid with wide ranging interests. As an eight year-old, he once took the train all the way from Gary, Indiana to Chicago by himself to hear the symphony, because his teacher recommended the music. Decades later, he would recall with amusement the confused look on the usher’s face as he walked in alone, and he his face would light up as he described the music the orchestra played.
Dan was athletic and participated in sports in and out of school. In school, he made the varsity football team as a freshman. The front line of that team was reputed to be as solid as the University of Michigan's. Because he was a freshman, however, the upper classmen decided hazing was in order. The bigger, 6 feet plus guys would set Dan up so that he would have to tackle them. Initially, Dan got flattened. But he started lifting railroad ties to get stronger, and eventually, he tackled them. "Good tackle, Dan," came the astonished response one day. "Thank you", is all Dan would say. In 1946, that team was “League of the Lakes Co-Champion, Undefeated and Not Scored Upon.” Dan's nickname was The Atom. Small and powerful.
When he was 15, tragedy befell his family: his father died of a brain aneurysm. Dan’s brother, John, 5 years older, was out of the house at that time, and even though the extended family was around to provide support, Dan felt the burden of helping his mother and younger brother, Richard. His father had been in the process of building a house for the family. Many of the family members participated in this venture and work continued after his death. Dan had dug the basement by hand all summer, and when a rainstorm came and collapsed a large portion of his work, he was overcome by despair. His mother, an extremely strong and practical woman, provided words of encouragement, and he re-dug the basement. Throughout high school, he helped finish the house, which was his mother’s home for many years.
Dan started college at the University of Michigan, but the Korean War intervened. He was drafted into the US Army, but in a lucky turn of fate was deployed to Germany not Korea. In Germany, he was stationed right at the border between West and East Germany. This was at the height the Cold War and he participated in an exercise that perhaps defined the times. He was on a team that moved an atomic cannon (perhaps the first such cannon in Germany), often at night, so its location could not be determined. He was a mechanic and responsible for repairing and maintaining the equipment used to haul the weapon around in sheer darkness. He had to be able to fix engines, change a tire -- do anything, blindfolded. Pretty amazing for a 20 year old kid. When his term ended, the army asked him to re-enlist, because of his exceptional mechanical skills. They thought he had a future there, but he turned them down because he wanted to go back to college.
Unfortunately, after receiving his discharge papers, Dan had a hernia and required an operation. The money he had saved for college went for that operation, and once again he had to figure out how to bounce back from adversity. His sister Millie was now married, and her husband, George, repaired furnaces in and around the Detroit area. Dan lived with them and went to college at Wayne State University, while working for George, and then later, he worked construction, all the time going to class and doing homework until the wee hours of the morning.
When he was nearing the end of his college years, friends introduced him to Mary Sage, a new student teacher at Dexter High School. Well, one thing led to another, as they say, and on August 16, 1958 the two were married. With degree in hand, Dan looked for work in Michigan, but because of a housing boom, construction jobs payed more than engineering. His brother John had located to Louisville, Kentucky to work at General Electric, and he suggested Dan apply. Dan did, and, impressed with his background, GE hired him as a design engineer.
So off Dan and Mary went to their new home, Louisville, Kentucky.
At first, they settled into an apartment on Taylorsville Road. But in time, they found a home on Woodrow Way. It was a wonderful neighborhood, and many of the friends they made became lifelong ones. Then, on November 13, 1962 Dan and Mary were blessed with a son: Daniel Patrick.
Unfortunately, tragedy once again befell Dan's family. His beloved sister Millie passed away from breast cancer leaving behind two young children: George and Cheryl. Millie had been such an ever-present force in Dan's life, helping him time and time again. He tried to repay that debt in countless ways, one of which was to take a paternal interest in her children. George and Cheryl would visit Dan and Mary frequently, creating a bond that endures to this day.
By and by a plot of land became available just down the road, and Dan built his first house: The house on Woodrow Way (as the family refer to it.) It was a beautiful house on a wonderful piece of land. The front lawn was long and downward sloping. Large maples and oak trees colored it spectacular hues of red, yellow and orange in the fall. On August 7, 1965, Dan and Mary had a daughter, Kathleen Anne.
There was a swimming pool just up the road where Dan would take Pat and Kathleen to swim in the summers. He became actively involved in Highview Baptist Church, where many of the families in the neighborhood went. He taught Sunday School there, every Sunday, for as long as he was a member (which was, save for two years in the 70s, until he was age 83). He was the church Treasurer for several years, and he helped with outreach for seniors.
Around 1970, Dan got an itch for more land so he could farm a bit. He found seven acres out in the country on Dawson Hill Road and there he built his second house. It was larger than the Woodrow Way House. It had four bedrooms upstairs, and the lower level was largely open, with one long wall essentially dividing the space in two: on one side was the kitchen/family room and on the other side was the living room, a long uninterrupted space, the centerpiece of which was the fireplace: Three sections of emerald green marble defined the mantle and the hearth was made of pure black slate.
On Dawson Hill, there was space for a larger garden than at Woodrow Way, and Dan built a chicken coop in the back by a pond. There was plenty room for the family dogs, first Ginger and then Bliss, and room to plant the live Christmas trees once the season had ended.
But time was marching on, and both he and Mary had been away from family for a long time. Dan decided to leave his successful GE career to try something different. So in 1975, the family left Kentucky to return to Michigan. Dan found 20 acres in Lowell Michigan, and there he built his third house.
Mary's uncle passed away during this time, and she inherited his lake cottage. Dan spent many a weekend trying to shore up the cottage, which was quaint yet not quite built to code. The cottage was just over an hour away from Lowell, and the family went there often, in the winters and in the summers. Mary and Dan were both able to visit their families with frequency. The kids were able to form connections with their cousins.
But the time in Michigan was short lived. In the end, Dan returned to General Electric where he remained for the rest of his career.
This time, the family located across the Ohio River, on Nadorff Road in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. The house on Nadorff Road is where Dan and Mary lived for the next 37 years. It was a 100 year old-fixer upper on 30 acres. (Green Acres, as Mary used to call it). There was no heat in the upstairs. Red and white check contact paper on the bedroom walls, purple carpeting.... There were still outhouses as part of the external buildings. Also, two dilapidated sheds and a huge dilapidated tobacco barn. Over time, Dan utterly transformed that seemingly unlikely track of land into a little piece of paradise.
All Dan’s other houses were brand new, built from scratch. This time he had to tear down before he could build up. He added an addition, with a marvelous curved staircase. He tore out a bathroom that had been an addition and built the room up two stories, leaving the end of house open two to create a spectacular family room. He added stone to the front facade of house and used that same stone to build the stove chimney up two exposed stories inside the house. But those are just the highlights. The house was in a constant state of evolution. Even during the few years before they left, Dan added stairs leading to the deck above the garage and created an outdoor patio below.
The external buildings were all eventually demolished and replaced with new ones. The barn Dan built was a large two-story structure that housed his equipment: a backhoe, multiple tractors, every piece of yard equipment imaginable and, curiously, a 1976 Ford Thunderbird.
A highlight of the Nadorff house was Dan’s large garden. He grew an astounding array of vegetables. Eventually he added fruit and nut trees. But the property was larger than needed for even an ambitious garden, and he put it to good use. He grew tobacco which he and the kids stripped and cured before selling it at local auctions. He raised and sold strawberries. He even had several head of cattle.
Finally, retirement approached, and Dan ended his career at General Electric. In total he had amassed over 30 patents. Quite an amazing outcome for the kid who was born to poor immigrants!
Retirement gave Dan and Mary time to travel. They frequently went to visit their son and his family in California and, later, Minnesota; went to Baton Rouge to visit with Patsy, Richard’s wife; to Lexington and Washington DC to see Kathleen and Jay; Michigan to see his sister Margaret and Mary’s brother George. And on top of that, for ten or so years, Dan and Mary fled the Indiana winters to spend a few months in their condo in San Destin, Fla.
Dan had an amazing life. He was devoted to his family and to his faith. The combination of these forces, family and faith, enabled him to face and overcome a series of emotional, financial, and physical setbacks, any one of which might have permanently defeated him. His memory will live on in all who were dear to him. He will be greatly missed.
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