A life-changing relationship that began a quarter-century ago was celebrated with a surprise reunion this week.
Thomas Hobbs remembers the first time he had cheesecake — and how he was expecting it to look like a big clump of cheese. It’s one of his favorite memories from the time he spent with Michael LeBauer.
Twenty-one years after they were last together, LeBauer and Hobbs reconnected Thursday night at Hotel Indigo in Columbus for a Big Brothers Big Sisters event celebrating the successful March Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser.
As Hobbs sat in the lobby beforehand, LeBauer was ushered in by Laura Moses, program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bartholomew and Brown County, who had been working for months to set a plan in motion for the surprise reunion.
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The two met through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in 1990. LeBauer was a 24-year-old Cummins employee, early in his professional career, and Hobbs was a 14-year-old self-described punk heading down the wrong path with the wrong people.
From eating Asian food for the first time to attending a Cincinnati Reds game, LeBauer showed Hobbs a different slice of life.
Hobbs remembered that day when he was introduced to a special dessert.
“That was the first time I had cheesecake with Mike,” Hobbs said. “I honestly thought I was getting a clump of cheese, I had no idea. I tried it and ate the whole thing. I thought it was amazing, and I’m addicted to this day.”
In addition to the cheesecake, Hobbs said he fondly remembers the time LeBauer got the two of them pit passes for the Indianapolis 500, allowing the pair to traipse through Gasoline Alley. Hobbs said it was unlike anything he had ever experienced at the time.
“I took him around to do some of the things I wanted to do to show him what my life was like,” said LeBauer, now a corporate vice president who works in the Washington, D.C., area.
“The whole mantra of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to make a difference in a child’s life, but I didn’t really believe that it worked. I just figured we would have fun together.”
Even with so much time gone by, they said it almost felt like no time had passed.
“I’m ecstatic that he’s here,” said Hobbs, who lives in Columbus and works as a quality engineer for Faurecia.
Fulfilling a need
The two men originally met at a time when they couldn’t have been more different. Hobbs needed direction in his life, and LeBauer offered an outlet to be what he needed most — a chance to be a kid.
Hobbs looks back on the four years they spent together as a time that shaped the man he has become, while LeBauer is happy he was able to help a young man in need of direction.
When LeBauer, 49, approached Hobbs, 38, in the lobby of the hotel Thursday night to surprise him, joy overtook both men.
Hobbs said he thought he might see LeBauer that evening, but he wasn’t sure since his Big Brother would have had to make a trip from the nation’s capital, where he works for the Pramata Corp. as a vice president of strategic accounts.
After sharing a hug in the lobby, they were quickly back in their old routine, swapping stories from the old days in a corner of the hotel restaurant.
Last year on Labor Day weekend, LeBauer had sent an email to Moses sharing the success story that Hobbs had become.
In addition to his time in the Marine Corps, Hobbs graduated from Concordia College and University in Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He worked as a machine technician for four years at Faurecia before coming into his current position in October 2013.
It just so happened that Moses was trying to find success stories of the program.
As plans developed for the Columbus event, the two program alumni were asked to speak to the crowd of more than 50 Thursday night.
Hobbs said he’s not sure he can measure the impact his relationship with LeBauer had on his life, and what a resource the program was at a time that he dearly needed direction.
“Thank you just isn’t enough,” Hobbs said.
Moses presented both men with the artwork for the Bowl for Kids’ Sake event, which featured LeBauer, Hobbs and Hobbs’ 8-year-old daughter, Alanna as bowling pins. Additionally, Moses included letters that both men wrote to each other.
Hobbs said the first time he saw LeBauer, he thought he looked like a nerd, but he had a cool car — a two-door Ford Probe.
LeBauer admitted that he probably didn’t set a great example with his speeding at times, but it was just the beginning of so many new experiences for Hobbs.
Coming from a single-parent household, the upbringing Hobbs experienced was rough.
His father went to prison when he was 9, and the lack of a male role model had an impact on his choices early in life. Hobbs said he and his two siblings grew up on welfare.
Running with a gang, Hobbs said he wasn’t headed in the right direction. A two-day stay in a detention center at age 16 became a wake-up call, however.
“I was at a point in my life that I really needed that,” Hobbs said. “I was very unstable. I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.”
Hobbs did say that many of the people he was running with back in those days ultimately excelled, and some even are working today as corporate executives in Columbus.
Hobbs said he owes everything to his mother, Lois, for all the hard work she put forth to provide the best home she could for him and his sister, Charlotte, and brother, Zach.
Following his graduation from Columbus North, Hobbs joined the Marine Corps, and LeBauer went to graduate school in Michigan.
Through time, the two lost touch. Digital search tools commonly used today to find people weren’t available in the mid-1990s, and Hobbs wondered if the two would ever reconnect.
After 10 years passed, the introduction of Facebook brought the two together. Hobbs tracked LeBauer down and, with a multi-paragraph message, their friendship was rekindled.
- $100,271 was raised from the March Bowl for Kids’ Sake, a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters, exceeding a $100,000 goal.
- $47,292 of it came from corporate sponsors.
“I took him around to do some of the things I wanted to do to show him what my life was like.”
Michael LeBauer, then a 24-year-old Columbus Big Brother
“I was very unstable. I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.”
— Thomas Hobbs, then a 14-year-old Little Brother