Hall County Historical Society and Firefighters Union working to get marker on a beloved firefighter’s grave

Tommy Goodchild (middle) pictured with the Grand Island Fire Department.
Tommy Goodchild (middle) pictured with the Grand Island Fire Department.(Courtesy of Stuhr Museum)
Published: Jan. 3, 2021 at 8:31 PM CST
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - A beloved firefighter and business man of the past is finally getting a proper burial. The Hall County Historical Society is partnering with the Grand Island Professional Firefighters Union on a project to place a marker on his grave.

Thomas Goodchild, also referred to as “Tommy”, was a highly respected man in Grand Island from the late 1870s to the time of his death in 1892. He was laid to rest next to his brother and three others at the Grand Island Cemetery. As far as historians know, the only person to receive a tombstone was his brother Wilford which was later destroyed from old wear and tear.

“We want to rectify that,” Historical Society Vice President Michelle Setlik said. “We want to have a place where people can come and say this is where Tommy Goodchild is buried. He was an important man in the history of our community.”

Tommy came to Grand Island in 1876 to go into business with his brother Wilford - the first African American barber in the city, who opened his own shop two years before. After Wilford died, Goodchild became the sole owner of the successful business.

“Tommy ended up expanding the shop. He had four barber chairs, he had an eight iron-sheeted bath house, he had a lot of really amazing services, and he actually went home to home to do shampoos for women,” Setlik said.

This wasn’t Goodchild’s only notable achievement. He also led a labor parade to city hall, which later resulted in a meeting with the mayor to discuss closing businesses at 6:30 p.m.

“He was also a labor advocate which was kind of interesting because he was a business owner, but he really was looking out for the working man,” she said.

Goodchild’s contributions didn’t stop there, as he was firefighter for the first volunteer fire department in Grand Island, and at the time of his death, the fire chief actually put out a notice in the paper calling all firefighters to be in the funeral procession.

“As we learned more about his story, it was natural for our folks to come alongside and help raise some money,” said Grand Island Professional Firefighters Union Communications Director Jared Stockwell.

The Historical Society and the Firefighters Union are working to raise at least $600 to get a decent marker. They plan to get one with Goodchild’s name, birth, death, and a short passage from his obituary:

“Of him it could truly be said that he had good will for all and malice toward none. He was straightforward, honest and honorable in all transactions and there isn’t a single one of this friends or acquaintance but who will uncover his head and in meekness say, ‘peace to his ashes.”

They will be having Marker Mondays at Wave Pizza Co. on Jan. 4 and at Sin City Grill on Jan. 18, where a percentage of sales will be donated to the Goodchild Project.

People who can’t make it and would still like to support can send their checks payable to the Hall County Historical Society at 603 N Plum St, Grand Island 68801 or make an online donation through their website with the name Goodchild on the donation.

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