Thomas J. Werland
1983 - 2021
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Thomas J. Werland

Springfield - Thomas Jerome Werland, age 37, of Springfield, passed away on January 5, 2021 while at home surrounded by his family. He was born in Loma Linda, California on December 16, 1983 with the challenge of living with a birth defect called Spina Bifida. Thomas was a graduate of Parkview High School, Springfield.

Thomas had volunteered at Wonders of Wildlife and C.A.R.E. Rescue. He was very involved with the Southwest Missouri Herpetological Society where he was the president. Here is an excerpt from his good friend, John Miller. I feel truly fortunate to have known Thomas, and I am honored to call him my friend. I first met Thomas in 2009 and he eventually became a regular member of our SW Missouri Herpetological Society (a non-profit educational and conservation organization) in 2011. At first, he was quite shy, but always had good questions to ask. It was obvious that he was passionate and quite knowledgeable about amphibians and reptiles (also called herps). When it came to herps, his energy was boundless. Whether he spent hours looking for just the right animal at one of the expos or on a field trip to see critters in the wild, he was a tireless supporter of herpetology. One of my first recollections of Thomas was at a big reptile expo shows. He had just told us that he was 'only looking' at the reptiles. Two hours later and four trips through the vendors, he came back with his purchase of a snake and tarantula. He never once let being in a wheelchair slow him down. Usually, he refused any assistance and we quickly learned to not get in his way.

His love of the outdoors was incredible. I admired that he would go out on his own or with one of his friends to 'go herping' across the state. He not only found amazing animals like snakes, toads, lizards and turtles, but he also often caught them to take photos. He became extremely interested and worked hard to develop the skills and knowledge to use his snake hook to catch venomous snakes. I was so proud of him one year at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (Puxico, MO) that he successfully and safely hooked his first venomous snake - a cottonmouth. He had accomplished something that day that most experienced herpers never get the chance to do. Many of his friends traveled with him to distant wildlife refuges and reptile expos. To a person, they all told of how fun it was to travel with him and watch him explore. His enthusiasm was contagious.

Thomas was more than a member of our club and our profession. He instilled a sense of pride and honesty in those who knew him. In 2018 Thomas took on the leadership role of becoming the President of our club. He invigorated the club and helped to build a strong membership. He created a strong social media influence for herpetology with followers all across the country. In doing so, his efforts helped bring in vendors for our reptile expos. He was the inspiration for many field trips to local zoos, museums, and looking for herps in wildlife areas. He helped to mentor many of our members and was one of the first people to be contacted by fellow club members when they needed help with their critters. He was always finding news about new animals being found and conservation efforts around the globe. Because of his leadership, the club made donations to worthy conservation and reptile groups. I admired the fact that little slowed him down. Despite having some physical limitations, he always wanted to do and see more. In fact, he was often the last person to leave our meetings or field trips. He enjoyed the comradery of our group and welcomed newcomers. Thomas always encouraged others to do their best. I know that I am a better person and naturalist because of him. He brought out the best in all of us and the lives he touched are far better for knowing him. I know that he is now finding all the critters he ever wanted, but I don't think he will spend any time looking for vegetables to taste. Thank You Thomas, for your kind soul and being such a good friend to all of us.

Thomas is survived by his parents Tod and Amy (Linman) Werland, brother Jeffrey, and paternal grandmother Sharon Werland, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins. He was preceded in death by his paternal grandfather, Richard Thomas (Tom) Werland and his maternal grandparents Leland and Bernice Linman.

Donations may be made in memory of Thomas Werland to the Southwest Missouri Herpetological Society, P.O. Box 752, Springfield MO 65801.

A memorial for Thomas will be planned at a later date.

Arrangements are under the care and direction of Herman H. Lohmeyer Funeral Home, 500 E. Walnut, Springfield, Missouri 65806.

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Published in News-Leader from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10, 2021.
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January 7, 2021
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