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Jefferson County Native , Inventor Of Kaepa Athletic Shoes passes Away

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Jefferson County Native, Inventor of Kaepa Athletic Shoes, Passes Away at 89

May 22, 2021 8:34 am·
Author: Haley Bauer

imgonline-com-ua-FrameBlurred-7J7uVoJ2C6Thomas Michael Adams of San Antonio, inventor and founder of Kaepa athletic shoes, and noted flight instructor, died after an unexpected and brief illness. He was 89.

Tom was born at home on December 5, 1931, in a Slovak ghetto in Toronto, Ohio, the third of eight children of George and Anna Karaffa Adams. From his immigrant family, Tom acquired his first two languages, English and Slovak, and learned family traditions he would treasure throughout life. From his grandparents, he learned the value of hard work, and love for God, family, and America. Their love for freedom and this country were impressed upon Tom.

When he was nine, Tom’s family moved to Brockway, Pennsylvania, where his entrepreneurial spirit began to show. He worked jobs to help support the family such as newspaper carrier, grocery store stock boy, movie theater manager, and groundskeeper. He had stories about every one of these jobs, having seen each experience as an opportunity to learn.

At age 13, Tom left home to prepare for the Catholic priesthood with the Maryknoll Fathers, an American missionary society. After receiving an exceptional Maryknoll education, what he called “the best in the world,” he was ordained into the priesthood, June 1958. Besides Latin, Tom added Spanish and French to his fluent languages and had a working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. Morse Code was also in his repertoire.

As a priest, Tom worked mostly on promotions for Maryknoll in the United States, becoming one of Maryknoll’s best fundraisers, a feat unknown to him for many years. He spent a year in Bolivia and Chile among the Mapuche people. His final assignment was to the foreign student center in New York. He took a leave of absence for health reasons, and later Pope Paul VI granted his request for laicization. Tom’s active priestly ministry ended, but his reliance on God and devotion to his faith life never ceased.

Tom’s life was full of stories of sacrifice, adventure, joy and humor. Tom has been called by many a “Renaissance man” for his interest and aptitude in so many things. He was an excellent athlete, playing baseball, basketball, football, and especially tennis, winning many tournaments. He had a ham radio license, played harmonica, memorized poetry and acquired new words, simply for enjoyment. He was particularly fond of philosophy and the use of logic, passing on to his children critical-thinking skills. Tom taught real estate and business classes. He liked to incorporate humor and Latin as mnemonic devices for his students. He was constantly inventing and innovating, and held 14 U.S. Patents and numerous international ones for his inventions. His final endeavor was to get to market a multi-patented shoe closure system with no shoelaces under the company name Fit Squared.

In the 1960s he attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his second Master’s degree in just over a year, putting himself through school as an instructor pilot, for which he qualified after only 6 weeks of intense flight training. Any spare time, he used to study for an Airline Transport Pilot license, which he did, also, at break-neck speed. Flying brought him great joy.

Over the last 20 years, he was a flight instructor at Boerne Stage airfield, where he shared decades’ worth of experience and held high expectations of his students: He expected them to study hard to be able to fly safely. He rejoiced in his students’ achievements and formed close bonds with his fellow pilots. In 2019, Tom earned a lifetime achievement award for flying: The esteemed “Wright Brothers Master Pilot” award, with over 60 years of safe flying and over 12,000 flight hours logged.

Tom married Jean Gratton in 1968. For 53 years they were blessed by marriage to one another. Tom earned his real estate license and soon became the real estate sales manager for the then new development called Horseshoe Bay Resort. He founded The Bottle Shop and Highland Lakes Travel agency, which were subsequently run successfully by siblings he convinced to move to Texas, and in particular to Horseshoe Bay.

Tom was the primary leader in organizing the Catholic community in Horseshoe Bay and arranged for a priest to celebrate Mass on Sundays. He was instrumental in the founding of St. Paul’s Catholic Church there. Later, Tom and Jean were founding members of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and parishioners of San Francesco di Paola Catholic Church in San Antonio, at the time of Tom’s death.

While in Horseshoe Bay, Tom and Jean welcomed two daughters, Mikaela and Paula, and he also founded Kaepa, Inc. Kaepa shoes would become one of the most popular and best-selling brands of athletic shoes in Texas and southern states in the 1980s. Tom had invented the two-laced, split-vamp shoes because his shoelace broke during a tennis tournament in 1962, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Never one to quit something he had started, he tied the laces into two separate bows and resumed his match. He recognized the better performance of the foot with the dual-lace fastening system. He believed in this idea so much, he deliberately cut the laces of his other shoe and tied it in a similar fashion, then cut the sides of his shoes to create enhanced flexibility. They were his only pair of athletic shoes, and now they had a custom fit. He patented these ideas. With the help of his brother, Doc, who moved his family to Texas, and other relatives, friends and loyal employees, Tom led Kaepa to international success.

Tom loved people. He was known for lifting the moods of others. He would chat with every cashier, restaurant server, all whose paths he crossed and put smiles on their faces. He’d deliver a clever quip and light up with joy if the other person was quick enough to deliver a clever response. Those who knew him will remember his infectious smile, respectfulness and kindness, optimism and goodness, and in many cases the nickname he gave them, one of the ways he showed affection.

Tom is survived by his wife Jean; two daughters, Mikaela Rios (Ron) and Paula Hilliard (Steve); grandchildren Kateri, Nathaniel, Ava and Jill; three brothers, Richard Adams, Cornelius “Doc” Adams and John Adams, and one sister, Barbara Shields; and beloved relatives.

Besides his parents, Tom was preceded in death by siblings, Monsignor George Adams, Mary Catherine Keeney and Andrea Reitan; and other loved ones.

Visitation: Porter Loring Mortuary North, 2102 North Loop 1604 East, San Antonio 78232, from 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday, May 27; with remembrances beginning at 6 p.m.

Funeral Mass: Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 20523 Huebner Road, San Antonio 78258, at 2 p.m. Friday, May 28.

Inurnment will follow at a later date and time.

Those wishing to make a material tribute may consider contributing to the Chi Rho Fund, Inc. (nonprofit) which provides financial relief for former Maryknollers: P.O. Box 850153 Braintree, MA 02185-0153.

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