Cover photo for Thomas Dwight Gaarder's Obituary
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1938 Thomas 2022

Thomas Dwight Gaarder

March 24, 1938 — April 25, 2022

Thomas D. Gaarder, M.D. died on April 25, 2022. He was born on March 24, 1938 in Leon, Iowa to Olaf Gustavsen Gaarder of Gaardermoen, Norway and Ruth Ellen Smith Gaarder of Lamoni, IA. He was the first person in his family born in a hospital.

The youngest of six children, predeceased by Karl, Raymond, Gilbert, Harold, and Eda Mae, Tom's Depression-era early years were a hardscrabble existence on a farm in northwestern Missouri. Young Tommy's first spoken word was "hollyhock."

Tom attended Lamoni public schools. At Lamoni High School, Tom excelled at team sports, including football, basketball, track, and baseball. He exceeded expectations and became the class valedictorian.

Tom studied at Graceland University then graduated with a B.A. from University of Iowa in 1960. During seven high school and college summers, Tom traveled to the Pacific Northwest to work in fields, canneries, warehouses, and construction sites to pay for the next school year. During one return trip to Iowa (in 1957), Tom asked to be arrested for vagrancy in Sunnyvale, CA so he could save the money he earned for college, but also sleep indoors. During one summer, he worked 13 hours a day at a cannery then picked up another job moving ice blocks into boxcars.

Tom graduated from University of Iowa Medical School in 1965. He completed his medical internship, residency, and fellowship with a specialty in internal medicine and cardiology at LA County, USC. Within days of his arrival in California in 1965, he was treating patients injured during the Watts riots.

Dr. Gaarder joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War and was stationed as a base doctor at the Ching Chuan Kang Air Base in Taichung, Taiwan. He attended the rank of Captain and was honorably discharged in 1971.

In 1981, Tom started a 34-year career practicing interventional cardiology at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier. He performed the first cardiac angioplasty at PIH and was loved by a great many of his colleagues, patients, and their families. Altogether, he practiced medicine for 50 years, and was grateful for the opportunity to "stamp out disease and save lives."

Tom is survived by his wife Susan, their sons Chris and Patrick; and two daughters, Dr. Kristen Gaarder (grandson Leif) and Kelly Lullo, by a previous marriage to Ann Kidder.

If you wish to donate in his name, please support Doctors Without Borders (; or the Lamoni High School Scholarship Fund, 202 North Walnut, Lamoni, IA 50140.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Thomas Dwight Gaarder, please visit our flower store.


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