Tom Wendell — 1951-2013

Tom Wendell will be remembered as a voice for recreation.

Tom Wendell will be remembered as a voice for recreation.

Long before economics dictated that recreation must be the focal point of the Lake Tahoe Basin, there was a man shouting from the mountaintops, the bike trails, the lake and everywhere he went that recreation is what Tahoe is all about.

That message will be carried on even though the original voice has been silenced.

Tom Wendell died Aug. 5. He was 62.

Mr. Wendell had been associated with recreation and environmental stewardship for most of the quarter century he called South Lake Tahoe home.

Born in Montreal on April 13, 1951, Mr. Wendell soon moved with his family to Southern California. He grew up in Los Angeles. The family started spending vacations in Lake Tahoe in the mid-1950s. They all fell in love with the Sierra.

Mr. Wendell’s environmental influence came in large part from his mother, Inge, who was from Germany. Besides being fluent in the language, Mr. Wendell learned about that country’s efficiencies when it came to transportation, cycling and recycling. He brought what he learned during his travels back to Tahoe.

It was rare to see Mr. Wendell on anything but his bicycle. And he had the scars to prove it. When he was a bicycle courier in the mid-1970s while attending Santa Barbara Community College he was in an accident that resulted in his first knee surgery.

That surgery is what led him to learn how to maneuver a mono ski. It was much easier on Mr. Wendell’s knees than the traditional two planks. And this was at a time when fat skis were not available.

Mr. Wendell was often seen skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort on that mono ski. Within the small community of mono skiers, his abilities were praised.

When Mr. Wendell first moved to South Lake Tahoe full time in 1987 he worked as a certified massage therapist at Lakeside Nautilus, where Sierra Athletic Club is now. He worked at Ridge Tahoe and other places as a CMT, but mostly had private clients.

He perfected an original massage move that with his long arm span went from the client’s toes to head in one fell swoop. And for those who experienced it, they remember it still today.

Mr. Wendell also worked for Sports Ltd. starting in 1992 and continued until 2012. He took some time off to care for his ill mother and when the store at the Y closed.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Wendell was the recycling coordinator for El Dorado County. A state law had been passed that required jurisdictions to reduce the waste being taken to landfills.

Mr. Wendell was proud to see people recycle in earnest. He was instrumental in removing the waxy, nonrecyclable material from phonebook covers.

In 2001, with the help of Bob Kingman, Karen Fink, Peter Fink, Jeff Miner and Gary Bell, TRAC – or Tahoe Region Advocates for Cycling – was formed. The goal of Mr. Wendell and others was to promote on- and off-road cycling, along with safety. Grants were secured to help with bike trail improvements.

This group eventually morphed into the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition, of which Mr. Wendell was part.

Mr. Wendell was usually seen commuting to work and any destination on his hybrid bike. It was more of a road bike, but could handle dirt trails. Weeks would go by without him driving his car.

He had a separate mountain bike he used when he didn’t want to be around the masses and especially vehicles. Anywhere in the Cold Creek-Powerline area was a favorite of his.

Kayaking was another big part of Mr. Wendell’s life. In the last year he had also learned how to commandeer a standup paddleboard.

Mr. Wendell was on the South Lake Tahoe Sustainability Commission until the City Council’s recent disbanding of it. He also helped form Compost Tahoe.

At meetings around the basin he lobbied for more recreation opportunities, more and better bike trails, and for people to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Mr. Wendell’s voice of advocacy has finally been heard based on the direction the basin leaders say they want move. Perhaps one day there will be a bike trail named after Mr. Wendell and a plaque to acknowledge the efforts of this man who never stopped fighting for the words “recreation” and “Tahoe” to be synonymous.

Mr. Wendell is survived by his brother, Ted Wendell, of South Lake Tahoe and an army of friends.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Sustainable Tahoe, Barton Hospice, Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition or TAMBA .

Services are pending.




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Comments (56)
  1. Bill Kingman says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    One of the nicest and most-positive guys on our planet.

  2. Bob Fleischer says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    VERY sorry to hear of his death. He is going to be greatly missed!

  3. Carl Ribaudo says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    Tom Wendell was a wonderful person and he will sadly be missed. His voice was calm, he always sought to understand the facts and all the sides of an issue. He was fervent in his support and concern for this community and his efforts to work thorough and resolve challenges and propose new solutions will sorely be missed. It was a privilege to know him. I will miss our long and engaging conversations. RIP

  4. Kim says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    Happy trails Tom, the whole Omalley neighborhood will miss you, your smiling face, and all those days we stood out on our street crafting the vision for what Tahoe can and should be!

    For those who didn’t know Tom, know this…we are a better community because of his dedication and commitment to change,even when it wasn’t fashionable!

  5. Judi McCallum says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    And, now all I want to do is hug him. He will be so missed. I love the rebels. Please keep it up. Please do as Tom would do, and change the world in a positive way. Bike on.

  6. Bob Kingman says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    Tom was a true leader and steered a true course. It was an honor to work shoulder to shoulder with him on issues that really mattered. I will miss him and his great smile, laughter, and patience. Tom’s legacy will live in the memories of those who love Lake Tahoe.

  7. JoAnn Conner says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    The first time I met Tom, he was on a bike. We shared so many ideas about recreation and Tahoe; he was truly a wonderful, intelligent, and thoughtful man. Tahoe will miss him.

  8. Lauren says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    Tom’s passion never waivered in all the years I was honored to know him, ski with him, and collaborate with him on many recreation fronts. He walked his talk or rode his talk – spoke and lived in truth and dignity. He will be greatly missed by many but never ever forgotten for all he stood for.

  9. Teresa Bertrand says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    my heart is broken and we have lost a great friend. His laugh was mighty and his path was true. Tom will be missed by so many for varying reasons but he left his imprint on our town and this earth. As said above “Do as Tom would do and change the world/your world in a positive way.”

  10. Parker says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    Besides being a good human being, I really admired how Tom tried, really dedicated himself to making this a bike friendly community!! It’s not that I was working with him on the cause. Just saw how Tom would regularly attend the most boring of meetings, trying to line up support and make things happen!

    Oh, and Tom got quite frustrated with all the bureaucracy, excuses, delays (often blamed on the need to bring in that Tahoe staple, consultants!). But even though he couldn’t hire consultants/lawyers/ lobbyists, I truly respected Tom for how he kept plugging away! RIP!!

  11. Kevin Cole says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    Tom was a gentle man with a strong vision of what Tahoe could be with appropriate investment in recreational infrastructure like bike trails as well as what recreational marketing of the area could do for our economy and environment. He had an equal passion for recycling as a partial solution to Tahoe, and societies, environmental and economic problems. He dedicated huge amounts of his personal time going to meetings and serving on committees to those ends. As a City Council member I always appreciated Tom’s reasoned, thoughtful support on those issues. Tahoe is a better place because of him. I, too, will miss him.

  12. Parker says - Posted: August 6, 2013

    And I should add that Tom’s demeanor, to add what former Councilman Cole said, was always professional & mature!! He never was loud, rude and/or obnoxious, as many can be at public meetings!

    I always wondered if Tom thought that a different demeanor would get him better results? Anyway, Tom still went about his cause/s the right way!

  13. Jill Stanton-Bricker says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Bless Tom’s heart and soul. Tom gave so much back to our community and was an outstanding role model for all of us. He made the world a better place and will be missed. RIP :)

  14. Annette Schoonover says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Tom’s spirit will live in all of us as it will live forever in his beloved Tahoe. I miss you my dear sweet friend.

  15. Jim Marino says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Tom will be greatly missed. The community has lost one of its finest. Rest in Peace Tom.

  16. Les Wright says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Tom was truely one of the nice guys of the world. A good neighbor and a very old friend to me and recreation. Lake Tahoe will miss him. RIP

  17. Ken Weitzman says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Tom you will be missed. Ted, “es tut mir leid.” Du hattest einen guten bruder.

  18. Michael B. Clark says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    I had the distinct honor to work with Tom regarding bike trails. What a wonderful individual. Without pretense or drama while maintaining focus and passion. Rest In Peace, Tom.

  19. Jeff [email protected] says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    South Lake Tahoe has lost a great spirit and great citizen. I will miss you Tom! He was a great communicator, a great thinker and a man who lead by example.
    On behalf of everyone at TRPA, our sincere condolences to Tom’s brother.
    He made this Basin a better place and has left a legacy for many of us to follow.

  20. Deb Howard says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Was just thinking of Tom, he will be terribly missed in body but his spirit definitely lives on here in Tahoe and amongst those who knew him. Ditto the wonderful comments above, we are very fortunate to have had him amongst us while we did and now enjoy his legacy.

  21. Kirsten Duane says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Our town, lake, and mountains has lost a beautiful, kind, loving man. We were all so blessed to have him be a part of our lives… Peace to you Tom.

  22. Dennis Liebl says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    What a tragic loss to the Tahoe community. Tom was such a wonderful and likeable individual with such passion for the issues he was involved in. I knew him through the Lake Tahoe Water Trail Association, where he volunteered so often to help make Tahoe more paddle friendly. He was such a kind soul and always thoughtful of others. You will be greatly missed, my friend.

  23. Mama Bear says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    These tributes are so heartwarming to read. I feel a great loss at having never known the man.
    Godspeed, Tom.

  24. Karen Fink says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Goodbye Tom. It is really hard to believe you will not be here to lend your ideas and enthusiasm to all projects bike and sustainability, not to mention spearhead the next exciting direction. I so appreciated your thoughtful letters to the editor, City Council comments, and respect for all sides of the issue and all people in all of your work. You made a lot of things happen in Lake Tahoe. I will miss you.

  25. David Hand says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Tom would have made the best city councilman we have ever had. This man was the true sprit of what Tahoe is all about. My ski buddy my friend. See you on the other side Tom thanks for being you.

  26. Pedaling Pete says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Godspeed Tom, you will be greatly missed. It was an honor to have worked with you through the years, I really enjoyed the excitement and the sense that we were a part of the solution when TRAC was forming and I was learning to be involved in my community. Thanks for the inspiration, see you on the other side. Pete

  27. Garry Bowen says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    When Tom, Karen, Peter (before they were married), Bob, Jeff & I (it was I and not Mr. Bell that formed TRAC in 1998 with this great group, with all due respect to Gary’s cycling virtues & vision), we met regularly at Sprouts to project what Tahoe could be with a ‘visitor-based’ economy focused on cycling, with the much needed diminishment of car traffic – less congestion, more enjoyment of what Tahoe has always offered, and been to all of us, less polluted communities & citizens (whether they lived here or not) and due recognition for the bicycle as the “most efficient form of transportation yet devised” by man – you want to get somewhere, you expend just enough energy to do so; you want to go faster, you expend just that much more energy – if you don’t go, you can use the energy for something else you’re doing…

    No gasoline, no car payments, no insurance needs, just head out into the world and enjoy it as it is. . . still not that easy to do with a national highway dissecting your town – but some of us do it anyway. . .

    As mentioned, Tom represented the City’s Sustainability Commission when a meeting was convened to begin the “official” Composttahoe project, with John Marchini, Rick Angelloci, myself, Embassy’s David Hansen & Gerry DeYoung of Marriott met at the “Embassy” in December, 2009. David had inspired “food waste diversion” by taking Embassy loads in his pick-up truck, but Tom & I were adamant that this should be formalized into a program beneficial to his (Tom’s) earlier work for the City as recycling coordinator, and the then current work of the Sustainability Commission.

    One of the only Tahoe projects to get approval all around the table in an hour-and-a-half. . .

    We started that route the following January with the end-point of Craig Witt & Full Circle Compost – still going to this day. . . going on 300 tons now. . .

    Tom was extraordinarily devoted to making Tahoe the “best it could be”, as these simple examples show, but of course are not all of what he was – a great human being. . .

    C’est la vie, Tom. . .

  28. kelley pedigo says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    RIP Tom, it was a pleasure knowing and working with you and having you as a friend

  29. ljames says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    This was a nicely written article and great to see everyone have kind words about Tom – someone said always polite demeanor, even in public meetings – Candian hey?
    We’ll miss you buddy~

  30. Monica Sciuto says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Tom is an amazing person. Friendly, personable and one of the best advocates for positive change that I have come to know. We were lucky to have his influence in Tahoe for so long. He was a positive beacon and protector for all the things we love about our area. I will miss seeing him on the trails, on the river and around town. Thank you Tom, for all you meant to us.

  31. GRUNT'S says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    “As good as the best, better than the rest.”

    Peace to you, my friend.

  32. Dan Wilvers says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Of all Tom’s pursuits the one that left the most indelible mark on me was when he moved back to So Cal for an extended time to care for his ailing Mom. I saw him shortly after he returned and told him how his sacrifice inspired me. He said, “There was no other place for me to be then there.”

    May the God of all mercy and His Son Jesus Christ bless your eternity.

  33. Jeff Tillman says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Just saw this and what a sad day for our community, Tom was such a great man. I was able to work with Tom on many things over the years and he always would take the time to see both sides and learn everything he could about a subject. The first time I met Tom we were on different sides of the fence but were able to pull in the same direction after spending some time with each other. I will miss the many talks we had, about so many subjects, and the tall guy in line for the tram at Heavenly. RIP Tom this community will not be the same without you.

  34. Michael Ward says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Rest in Peace Tom. Thank you for all that you contributed to a vision of sustainability in Tahoe and for “walking your talk” so elegantly. Your spirit and energy will be missed. Your passing is a solemn reminder to us all that life is far too short to do anything other than live fully and completely.

  35. Firebreaker says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    RIP Tom. We live in the same neighborhood and I recall Tom being a mono-skier. I remember he did not like the Snowglobe noise! We will miss you and you were a very nice person who cared deeply about the community.

  36. bronco billy says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    i had the privilege of knowing tom for most of his time here in south shore, and echo what has been said in previous posts. however, if you knew tom, you would know that the reference to jesus would have been dismissed him.

  37. Cindy Beberg says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    RIP Tom. You will be missed – your passion for the area, your humor, and your kindness. Sad day, indeed.

  38. 33 year local says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    Love you Tom, you will be greatly missed and never forgotten !

  39. Jeff Miner says - Posted: August 7, 2013

    The number of people and comments on this page attest in no small way to the impact Tom Wendell had in this community and in the world. Tom was always working on some improve-the-world project, or two or three. I was lucky to have been involved with Tom on some of them; TRAC and the Bicycle Friendly Community project to name two. Tom was a good leader and team member, fun to work with and an inspiration because he didn’t just work for positive change, he lived it.
    God’s speed Tom.

  40. Cynthia says - Posted: August 8, 2013

    What a gentle man,and one of the best huggers in town, S.Lake Tahoe will miss him dearly.(What Would Tom Do)… Many Blessings to his brother and family. PEACE BE YOURS, Your Buddy

  41. Chris Rodgers says - Posted: August 8, 2013

    I love you my friend. I miss you already.

  42. connie says - Posted: August 9, 2013

    I love and miss you as well, my friend. Thank you for being a shinning light, an inspiration, and tower of support to me over the years. You taught me what a true pillar of strength, inspiration,and love for our community looks like. I’m truly blessed to have known you and to have spent time with you on your last days on this earth. You will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. I will see you again my friend.. but not yet- still recycling ;)

  43. slim says - Posted: August 9, 2013

    While out jogging this morning on one of the bike trails
    that Tom ‘endorsed’, I began thinking of all the good
    things that he had done in his life, and how he would be
    remembered. I had passed those thoughts on to him during
    a visit last week and he responded that “it’s not as important who you love, as those who love you”. I asked where he got that comment and he said “from the Wizard of Oz”.
    To ensure his memory for all of us, I hope that one day a trail or path is certainly named in his memory as he was a true inspiration.

  44. Atomic says - Posted: August 9, 2013

    Auf wiedersehen Herr Wendell, mein freund!
    You will be missed Tom , we will carry the torch on your behalf.

  45. Bob Oden says - Posted: August 11, 2013

    Tom will be sorely missed by those who knew him.

  46. Joni Peterson says - Posted: August 11, 2013

    I can’t imagine coming back to visit Tahoe, without Doc being there? He so loved the Lake and was such an advocate for all outdoors people! Did my first “Flume Ride” with him, incredible! In addition to everything else he did for the community, he was also instrumental in get tuna industry to label their cans Dolphin Safe? A life saving implementation for dolphins in the Pacific! Now you can swim with the dolphins whenevah you want my friend!
    You will be sorely missed!
    Love ya Doc!

  47. Igor Ridanovic says - Posted: August 11, 2013

    I have great memories monoskiing with Tom. He was such a great man to be around. I will never forget following Tom and other fine Tahoe skiers around Squaw Valley as a beginner monoskier.

    I did the best I could to keep up the speed. At the end of the day we were swapping mono stories. Unlike others I didn’t have years worth of stories to share as this was only my third time ever on a monoski.

    Tom turned to me and said: “You’re skiing with big dogs.”

    And so I was skiing with Tom and other big dogs, but I felt very welcome by this warm man on that day and every time I later visited Lake Tahoe.

    I thought of Tom often this winter while skiing at Mammoth. I will miss him, but wherever there is deep powder he will be with me in spirit.

  48. David Wells says - Posted: August 12, 2013

    Doc Mono was such a great guy to be around, to ski with, to talk with, to hang with. I have many excellent memories of the times I spent the weekend at the ‘Hotel Wendell’, having dinner with Tom & Mom at the Fresh Ketch, listening to Niall and the band crank out smooth jazz…

    Bounding through knee-deep powder on Gunbarrel or in the North Bowl woods…

    Sitting around the living room plucking guitar strings with him & Clay…

    Tom was a great skier, but always patient – even when I was a beginner he would always wait up for me and ensure we stayed together. Later when I progressed he was the one who showed some of the greatest hidden spots at Heavenly like the entrance to Maggie’s Canyon, the Firebreak, and Sunnyside in Mott’s…

    He often claimed to be – and I believe to this day that he was in fact – the “world’s most surgically altered monoskier”…

    And he was always supportive when the politics surrounding the USMA were getting me down…

    Auf wiedersehn, und gutte reise mein freund! We miss you dearly…

  49. Scott Terrell says - Posted: August 12, 2013

    I was looking forward to my next chat with Tom when I make my occasional visit to SLT from Truckee. I was not even aware he was ill. I’m guessing he did not want anyone to feel bad or sorry for him; incredibly modest and honorable gentleman. I wish he could have been around longer; all of us would have been better for that. No doubt, he will be one of Tahoe’s most missed persons- never forgotten!

  50. Helen says - Posted: August 13, 2013

    Will miss you in the trees out in The Palisades at The Wood my friend. Always a pleasure to run into you on those powder days. Can’t believe you are gone. Such a vivacious soul take way too soon. RIP my friend.

  51. Jeff Turner says - Posted: August 14, 2013

    Originally Tom was a friend of a friend. He never treated me like that’s what we were, so soon, we were friends. I remember long conversations with him about his most recent letter to the editor. Seeing him in Raley’s, it was always a kick. He would hold up his items to the many friends he would encounter to assure them it was motor oil or something else like it and not some food product from a grocery store! I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years but I’m sure he would have embraced me like I was his best friend, he always did. I’m better for knowing him, Tahoe is better because of him and we both will miss him.

  52. Mark D. says - Posted: August 15, 2013

    Tom presence and advocacy in our monoski clan will be sorely missed. Many have gotten into the sport hearing or reading about his reccomendations regarding troubled knee skiers. He was always a joy to be around, and showed passion, and walked his talk, or rather bicycled it, in all his enveavors to spread good. we love and miss you tom, RIP.
    monomark and peppermint patty

  53. STEVE PEACHE says - Posted: August 17, 2013


  54. David Hansen says - Posted: August 26, 2013

    Tom was an awesome guy that truly knew what sustainability meant and it importance. I was extremely influenced by Tom and will always be indebted to him. We love you brother and will miss you.

  55. Deb Vreeland says - Posted: August 26, 2013

    Always steadfast in supporting the community projects that benefited both the people and the environment. We have lost a friend who made a difference and in a very kind and positive manner.

  56. John Hara says - Posted: August 26, 2013

    Tom was the wind blowing across our waters – gentle, steady, strong, consistent and true. It was an honor to have spent some time with him trying to turn ripples into waves. May his legacy live on in the good work he shared with so many of us.