By now you’ve probably heard the story of Tommy Rhomberg and his ‘Great Derecho’ baseball bats. When the August 2020 derecho wreaked havoc on Eastern Iowa and cancelled Tommy’s friend’s birthday party, the enterprising 12-year-old found a way to make the best of a difficult situation.
From a branch found in his front yard, Tommy carved a bat for his baseball-loving friend. The gift, which he aptly named ‘The Great Derecho,’ went viral on social media, and people around the world wanted one.
In the following months, Tommy invested in better tools and started churning out bats—and his story kept spreading.
Tommy’s bats were in high demand throughout the U.S. and beyond, but it was his generosity that really spoke to people.
“I thought if people were interested in buying them, then I would give a portion of the sales to the Community Foundation,” Tommy said. “I just wanted to help people who needed it, and I really thought I might sell 30.”
Tommy did sell 30—and then 170 more. His project brought in more than $4,000 for the Disaster Recovery Fund, which provided critical support during Linn County’s response and recovery efforts. But again, the bats were just the beginning of the story. Inspired by Tommy’s generosity, donors from around the world made gifts in his name totaling more than $16,000.
On November 15, the Eastern Iowa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals will recognize Tommy’s impact and present him with the Outstanding Philanthropic Youth Award at the National Philanthropy Day celebration in Iowa City.
“We’re so pleased to see Tommy’s generosity being recognized,” said Michelle Beisker, Senior Vice President of Development. “His story serves as an inspiration, not just for other youth, but for all of us. Tommy is a reminder that we can all make an impact on our community.”
For Tommy, being a young philanthropist—and a media sensation—has been an enriching experience.
“It was a lot of fun, but it was a whole lot of work, too,” he said. “Everyone has just been so nice and encouraging, and I loved being able to give so much money to the Community Foundation. We have several photos that people have sent us of their bats displayed nicely in their home or business, so that’s fun to see. I’m really glad I did it.”