Chicago’s Pizza Owner Tom Booher Talks Army Career & Volunteer Work
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography / Brian Brosmer
Some people have an entrepreneurial spirit. Some have a passion for protecting others. Some like to offer a helping hand. Then there are those — like Tom Booher — who are all of these things and so much more. Born with a great big, wide open heart, throughout his lifetime, he’s worn a number of different career hats, including law enforcer, military soldier, restaurant owner and loyal humanitarian.
Booher started out in the Army Reserves back in 1975. After earning a degree in criminal justice, he worked with the Southport Police Department for 20 years and as a deputy in Marion County for four years. In 1998, he and his wife, Karla, briefly relocated to Florida after their son, Sean, graduated high school. Four years later, however, they moved back to the area and Booher did surveillance work for a friend who owned a detective agency. He then spent 2004-2005 in Afghanistan.
“It wasn’t as pleasant as being home, but it wasn’t horrible,” says Booher, who was there with a small group of soldiers in the Army Corp of Engineers. His job mainly involved providing security for civilians, getting them to and from where they needed to be in order to build bases for the Afghan National Army.
In 2009, he switched gears once again when he entered the restaurant business.
“The guy who founded Chicago’s Pizza was the father of my son’s best friend,” Booher says. “Sean had worked with him throughout high school and we had become friends. One day he asked if I’d be interested in opening up a store in Plainfield. I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Booher has spent the majority of his life diving into projects, usually ones in which he has the opportunity to help people.
“I like to focus on giving back and doing positive things for the community,” says Booher, who for the past 25 years has been involved with Faith Ministry, an organization in Reynosa, Mexico, that is supported by churches all across the country (five or six of which are located in the Indy Metro area). Faith Ministry builds houses for families who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Sometimes these families consist of a single mother and a couple of kids. Other times it’s a husband and wife, several children, and a set of grandparents all living together. In all cases, the house is the same — a 12×24 block building that has electric but no plumbing.
“It’s a pretty basic structure but certainly much better than cardboard or shack or whatever they were staying in before,” Booher says.
To be eligible for Faith Ministry to erect a house, the person must own the land the home is going to be built on. They also must commit to volunteering with the ministry five days a week for nine months to help build houses for others.
Booher travels to Mexico two or three times a year with different church groups to build homes. Teams of 6-20 people go to Reynosa (just across the border from McAllen, Texas) for one-week stretches. Typically, one team will put in the floor and walls of one house and then go pour the roof of another. That gives the roof a chance to set up so that the next team can come in and do the same.
Back in its heyday, Booher estimates that Faith Ministry erected close to 100 houses annually. Last year they built 40. Every person who receives one, however, remains eternally grateful.
“Our church built the very first house in Mexico back in 1994 and that homeowner still invites us to dinner whenever we’re down there,” Booher says. “We develop long-lasting relationships with all of these people we work with and see when we’re there.”
Booher also does mission work close to home as every Thursday he distributes meals to the homeless in downtown Indy. He follows in his father’s footsteps, who began volunteering years ago when the Midwest Food Bank first opened.
It seems that outreach work is simply part of the fabric of Booher’s soul.
“It comes from my upbringing, I guess. I was brought up in a Christian home. My parents were always involved in that kind of stuff,” says Booher, noting that long ago his family quit exchanging Christmas gifts with one another, opting instead to pick a project every year and use the money they would have spent on presents to support that project. “One year we bought blankets for the homeless and went around town distributing them. I thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty special.’ I’ve been going every week since.”
Booher serves both on the board of directors of Faith Ministry and the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he’s an honorary member of the Rotary Club and is a Red Cross volunteer with the Service to Armed Forces (SAF) where he connects members of the U.S. Armed Forces with their families during times of crisis.
“I follow up with soldiers’ families as kind of a quality control thing,” Booher says. He also works with Red Cross’s Disaster Action Team (DAT), which responds to local residential emergencies.
“For example, if someone’s house catches on fire, Red Cross will send someone out to provide immediate emergency assistance and emotional support to help get them through the next 24 to 48 hours. They might need food, clothing, medication, shelter,” explains Booher, who often goes to the scene of the fire to comfort the homeowner. “They’re having one of the worst days of their life. We do what we can so that they don’t feel completely lost about what to do next. Our presence lets them know that somebody cares.”
According to Booher, that’s what life is all about — caring, sharing, learning and loving. Not long after graduating high school, his son spent six months in Mexico in a volunteer internship program.
“That experience turned him around following some rough years,” Booher says. “He gained a new perspective and greater clarity for what he wanted to do with his life.”
Now Sean runs three Chicago’s Pizza locations in Franklin, Greenwood and Mooresville. He also helps his dad with the Plainfield store and will take over down the road when Booher retires. Retired or not, it’s safe to say that Booher won’t be slowing down anytime soon — not with his mission work, community service work and four energetic granddaughters, ages 3-15. In fact, this year the hope is to get the entire family to Mexico.
“I believe that God put me on this earth to bring glory to Him,” Booher says. “One way to do that is by helping people.”