It wasn’t like Tim Petersen not to answer his phone.
“He told all of us he was going on a ride on Saturday afternoon, because it was a nice day,” daughter Tanya Limbach said.
But after a while, Petersen’s kids were asking each other if anyone had heard from him. They tried calling him but received no response.
Then posts emerged on Facebook about a motorcycle crash on 23rd Street in Fremont. His children knew it could be him.
Petersen’s kids said he treated son-in-law Ryan Crandall like his own son.
Crandall went to the scene.
“They had 23rd Street blocked off from Koplin’s all the way to Dillion’s, so I walked and went to ask an officer if he could tell me anything,” Crandall said.
That’s when he saw the familiar license plate on his father-in-law’s motorcycle.
“I just dropped to my knees in the middle of 23rd Street,” he said.
Days after the accident, Petersen’s children and sister talked about their dad and brother – remembering his love of family, generous nature, his many hobbies and the longtime dream business he’d launched six months before his death.
The 52-year-old man – known as “Swabby Tim” — lived in Waterloo but was formerly from Fremont, where he worked at the Lon D. Wright Power Plant for years. He’d previously served in the U.S. Navy from 1990 to 1999.
Limbach, who lives in Fremont, said she was 2 years old when her mom and Petersen got together.
“He stepped up and was a great father to me even though he didn’t have to be,” Limbach said.
His children remember living in Virginia when their dad was in the military. They have memories of him taking them to the beach, boat races, parades and movies. Their mom, Melissa Bell, wouldn’t let the children drink pop, but Dad did.
“He’d walk us up to the fire department so we could get pops at the vending machines,” his son, Zachariah Petersen, said.
There were sendoffs when Tim Petersen and other sailors would leave on a ship for six months.
Without cellphones, families couldn’t share their locations on the people-packed piers when sailors returned.
But Melissa got her children ready to meet their dad.
“We made ‘Welcome Home’ signs and had balloons,” Limbach said. “We were all decked out in red, white and blue.”
Thousands of people looked for their returning loved ones.
“That split moment when you’re looking through people and everyone is shouting and you finally found him and you locked eyes, it was pure bliss,” Limbach said. “We were so excited.”
“It was like walking into Disneyland,” Zachariah said.
Not that the kids had been to Disneyland, but their dad did take them and their mom, Melissa, to Busch Gardens and King’s Dominion amusement parks.
“He loved going on rides with us,” said daughter Seraea Crandall of Fremont.
Petersen later enjoyed camping trips with Zachariah, Tanya, Seraea, Kirsten Taylor, Kendal Freeman and second wife Maggie. There were trips to Adventureland, too.
Family members recall how he helped them.
“If you ever needed anything, whether it was 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning, Tim was the person I knew – growing up – that was my person to call for anything,” said Tim’s sister, Molley Lippold of Omaha.
Petersen helped with car problems.
“You could break something on your car, and it doesn’t matter if he knows how to fix it or not, he’s going to try to help you fix it,” Zachariah said.
Limbach remembered when Tim Petersen helped her assemble a large trampoline for her gymnastics studio, Kartwheel Kids, in Fremont.
“The trampoline took eight hours, but he never gave up and he stayed there and we got it together,” Limbach said.
Petersen was generous.
“He’d give you his last shirt off his back,” Ryan Crandall said.
Petersen had a variety of interests.
His love of music and motorcycles began early.
Lippold remembers the stereo console in the cabinet they had as kids. It played records and 8-track tapes.
“He would always pick me up and sit me on one side of the console and play his records and he would sing or try to mimic the music with his guitars,” Lippold said.
Petersen liked Bon Jovi rock tunes such as “It’s My Life,” and “Living On a Prayer.”
As a boy, he developed an interest in motorcycles, which continued throughout his life. He formerly was part of the American Veterans Motorcycle Club. Lippold said the entire club came to Nebraska Medicine Hospital and waited outside with family after the accident.
Petersen enjoyed riding to different places. He and Maggie often took long motorcycle rides.
“Dad enjoyed his wind therapy,” Ryan Crandall remembered.
Peterson loved the fire pit at his house outside Waterloo and gatherings where family members played corn hole and dart games. He loved target shooting and taught his kids about gun safety. He loved his grandchildren. He loved dogs and named his blue heeler, Oz, after rocker Ozzy Osbourne.
One of Petersen’s passions was cooking. His kids knew where they’d spend their Sundays. They didn’t need special invitations.
“It was a mandatory family dinner on Sunday,” Ryan said.
Petersen’s family enjoyed his soup, fried chicken, pasta and chili. He barbecued in the spring and summer. His meat smoker was his pride and joy, Zachariah said.
After all the cooking, he’d make sure everyone else was seated and eating. He’d be the last to sit and enjoy what he’d cooked.
“He’d stand in the corner and watch us eat,” Zachariah said.
Petersen cherished family meals.
“He knew that brought us together,” Limbach said. “To see us having fun and being together and eating the food he cooked was just pure joy to him.”
Petersen liked getting people outside their culinary boxes, even teaching his nephews the right way to eat crawfish.
For years, Petersen talked about owning a food truck.
“And for the last six months of his life that’s what he spent his time doing,” Limbach said. “He quit a full-time, very dependable job at the Fremont power plant to finally do his dream.”
At one of the last Sunday dinners, family gathered to taste test every item he’d serve from what would become his food truck business, “Swabby’s Kitchen.” He parked the food truck at Whis’s End Zone Lounge on South Broad Street in Fremont.
Then on Nov. 6, Petersen was involved in a two-vehicle accident on 23rd Street. Crandall made a conference call to family so no one would be left out.
A medical helicopter flew Petersen to Omaha. Family members headed to Nebraska Medicine Hospital.
“The waiting was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” Limbach said.
Limbach had flashbacks of Zachariah’s accident. In 2019, he was a passenger and sole survivor of a helicopter crash in Arkansas. Two other passengers and the pilot, renowned for his flying skills, died. Zachariah had a long recovery.
Family members hoped Tim Petersen would recover, too.
“At first, things seemed kind of stable, like there was still hope,” Limbach said.
Seconds ticked by slowly, before they learned nothing further could be done.
He wouldn’t survive.
They stayed until 6 a.m. that Sunday, left for a couple hours, then returned. Only two people could be in Petersen’s room at a time due to COVID restrictions.
It was tough seeing Petersen hooked to machines. It was tough to leave, too, but they went to his house.
Before the accident, Petersen had started working on the cheesy chicken noodle soup for the family’s Sunday meal.
“In honor of him, we finished the dinner and we all ate together,” Limbach said.
Petersen passed away during that time.
“I feel like once we left and gathered together, he felt like he could go,” Limbach said.
Medical staff had intended to call if machines indicated Petersen’s brain death was imminent, but Lippold believes her brother didn’t want his loved ones to experience that.
“So he took that pain from us,” she said.
Ryan said he figures Petersen just didn’t want to be at the hospital any longer.
“Dad didn’t want to be there by himself so he left the hospital and came and joined the party with all of us,” Crandall said.
“And stood in the corner and watched,” said Zachariah, quietly reminiscent of earlier times.
Family members went to the hospital on Monday, where they learned Petersen had died a very peaceful death.
Petersen also had indicated on a driver’s license his willingness to be an organ donor.
“We were so devastated and when we were told he was an organ donor, it was so beautiful to know he would go on to help save lives,” Limbach said.
“It was the best news we’d had all week,” Ryan Crandall noted.
“It was very healing,” Zachariah added. “Even at his time of dying, he was still helping.”
Family learned Petersen’s kidneys and liver would help three other people.
Family members were at the hospital from midnight Tuesday and spent the next four hours – until 4 a.m., Wednesday _ laughing, crying and sharing stories.
He looked so peaceful.
Family left the room shortly before “The Hero Walk.” Hospital personnel wheeled Petersen, partially covered by an American flag, from his room.
Holding hands, family members walked behind. A few hospital staffers stood in the hallway.
Then the procession turned the hallway corner.
The long hallway was lined with hospital staff.
“When we saw all of that staff there, we all started crying harder, because we felt so blessed that they all showed up to honor him,” Lippold said. “It was a joyous moment to know they were there to honor him and what he was giving through losing his life.”
Limbach continued: “We said our final goodbyes. I prayed with everybody and then we sent him down and watched until those elevator doors closed.”
Lippold, Limbach, the Crandalls and Zachariah Petersen later were in the same vehicle when someone mentioned a funny thing about Tim.
“We all started laughing and it was a relief,” Lippold said. “It felt good to laugh and to remember him in a happy moment after all that happened.”
A Celebration of Life service will start at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, at Lifegate Church in Fremont. Starting at 9:15 a.m., family members and the AVMC club are planning a procession from Whis’s, where the food truck is, to the church.
“The last week of his (Petersen’s) life, God was calling him hard,” Limbach said. “God was speaking to his heart, because he’d come to church with me Monday night. In the group chats, he was sending us Christian songs and I’d been sharing Scripture with him and he took notes at church.”
Family found devotional materials at his house.
“The last week of his life, he heard God calling and he got curious and walked toward him,” Limbach said. “God’s timing is amazing.”
One recent morning, family members talked about the importance of vehicle drivers looking out for motorcyclists.
Lippold pointed out a life lesson.
“One thing we’ve all learned from this is how precious every moment is with your family, with your loved ones, and life truly is so short,” Lippold said. “Don’t put off those family dinners, that birthday party. Take the time and enjoy your family.”