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Octogenarian book giveaway changes lives

The voice on the phone was of an elderly man. I could hardly understand him. “My name is Tommy Sinnott. I’m from Nauvoo, Ill. I read your column. Have you ever read the book, ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ by Rick Warren?’”

I lied and said I had. All I needed was another book to read. My reading list is way too long.

He went on to say, “I read the book and it changed my life.I bought a bunch of the books and now I give them away to whoever wants one, so it can change their lives.”

He had my attention. There was something in his voice that sounded so sincere. I changed my mind and told him, “Maybe I haven’t read the book. Could you send me one?”

He did. The book is divided into 40 chapters. You are to read one chapter a day for 40 days. I am doing that 40 days to change your life. The first sentence in the book says, “It’s not about you.” I’m about halfway through and it is having a profound effect. Such titles as, “What On Earth Am I Here For?” are pretty heady. I decided I needed to meet Tommy Sinnott.

He is 88 years old and lives on the Mississippi River in a house with a beautiful view. Like most octogenarians, he’s had a number of careers. For a short time, he worked for the FBI in Washington, D.C. His main career, however, was with the rubber plant in Keokuk where he worked off and on for 40 years. 

He lost his right thumb in a roller accident which kept him out of the military. He held many positions at the rubber plant. Without any college education, he was an industrial engineer, a time-study engineer and personnel administrator hiring people. He likes to say he went from being hated by everyone to being liked. He worked for Douglas Aircraft in California building C-124’s, the largest cargo airplane at the time. He was an extra or stand-in actor in many movies and stage productions, including, “My Girl” with Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd. His wife and he were also quite well-known artists, displaying their oil paintings from Davenport to Memphis, Tenn. Exhausted from art shows, he put down the brushes 20 years ago. Whatever he’s done, he’s always had fun.

Weighing 193 pounds, he decided to go on a diet. He stopped eating “thirds” after meals and lost 18 pounds. Then he stopped eating “seconds” and lost another 18 pounds. Not satisfied, he started walking. The first day he walked a quarter of a mile, turned around and looked and didn’t know if he could make it back. By the third month, he was walking a hundred miles a month. He is down to 144 pounds.

He’s also a self-proclaimed perfectionist. Although his handwriting is fine, even with the missing thumb, Tommy uses a template or writing guide for much of his written correspondence. He’s been writing with letter guides for 25 years. Whatever he does, he gives it his all.

About Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” Tommy says, “I’m trying to live by it. Eternity is too long to be wrong. If there’s nothing out there, you’re okay. If there is something, you’d better have it right.” So far, he’s on his 17th reading and given away 32 books. If you’d like a book, Tommy’s phone number is 217-453-6409.

Tommy is Catholic but hadn’t been to church in years. Because of the book, he decided to return. He talked to the priest and the priest invited him to confession. The priest asked him how long it had been since he’d been to confession, and Tommy told him 47 years.

He heard the priest whisper, “Record.”

Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, or email at

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