On Halloween, Tom Robinson -- longtime IBM guy, longtime community volunteer, longtime foster parent -- was celebrating his 90th birthday.

But "celebrating," in the time of COVID-19, can be tough.

"It was a milestone birthday for a great man," says Tom's daughter, Kristine. "We wanted it to be a moment to reflect, remember, honor, and make special ... with social distancing."

Korean war Marine veteran Tom Robinson Sr., right, stands with his son Tom Robinson Jr. at the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club Saturday October 31, 2020. Robinson was able to fire a M1 Garand service rifle similar to the one he carried while in service as part of a 90th birthday celebration for him. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Korean war Marine veteran Tom Robinson Sr., right, stands with his son Tom Robinson Jr. at the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club Saturday October 31, 2020. Robinson was able to fire a M1 Garand service rifle similar to the one he carried while in service as part of a 90th birthday celebration for him. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Tom, the oldest of nine kids, joined the Marines in 1947 -- his mom had to sign the papers -- when he was 17.



By 1952, he was a sergeant, and a rifle squad leader, in Korea, where he earned his Purple Heart.



Came home and met and married Norine Forrest, and they had two sons, Tom Jr. and David. Eventually made his way to Rochester as an engineer with IBM.



Tom and Norine, now married nearly 60 years, have spent their lives giving back to Rochester.



One child at a time.

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Korean war Marine veteran Tom Robinson prepares to fire a M1 Garand service rifle similar to the one he carried while in service at the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club Saturday October 31, 2020.. It was part of a 90th birthday celebration for Robinson. With Robinson are his son, Tom Robinson Jr., left, and Jim Haase, middle. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Korean war Marine veteran Tom Robinson prepares to fire a M1 Garand service rifle similar to the one he carried while in service at the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club Saturday October 31, 2020.. It was part of a 90th birthday celebration for Robinson. With Robinson are his son, Tom Robinson Jr., left, and Jim Haase, middle. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)




For 30 years, the couple fostered kids -- Norine says she stopped counting after 100. They adopted four children -- Leslie, Kristine, Kathleen and James.



"You can't find better people than my parents," says Kristine, who was adopted when she was a few months old. "Mother played the organ at church. Dad was a confirmation teacher. What foster parents! My youngest brother Jimmy was a foster as a newborn baby in our home. The five kids begged my parents to keep him. My parents surprised us and Jimmy became a Robinson before he turned a year old!"



Kristine describes her dad as "calm, cool, collected. A humble and simple man."



So the family -- along with family friend Jim Haase (an assistant Olmsted County attorney and former Marine) -- came up with a plan for Tom's 90th birthday.



They would surprise Tom with a trip to the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club where he could fire an M1 Garand rifle -- the same rifle he used in Korea. Then cap it off with a birthday parade.

Korean war Marine veteran Tom Robinson prepares to fire a M1 Garand service rifle similar to the one he carried while in service at the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club Saturday October 31, 2020.. It was part of a 90th birthday celebration for Robinson. With Robinson are his son, Tom Robinson Jr., second from right, and Jim Haase, right. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Korean war Marine veteran Tom Robinson prepares to fire a M1 Garand service rifle similar to the one he carried while in service at the Southern Minnesota Sportsman's Club Saturday October 31, 2020.. It was part of a 90th birthday celebration for Robinson. With Robinson are his son, Tom Robinson Jr., second from right, and Jim Haase, right. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)




On that Halloween Saturday morning, Tom's son, Tom Jr., picked up his dad. Drove him to the outdoor rifle range where they met up with Jim Haase.



Haase showed Tom that M1 Garand. It was a gun Tom hadn't even seen in 60-plus years.



When the other guys at the range heard why Tom was here, they all stopped shooting. Out of respect.



Then Tom, who was admittedly a "little excited," took aim through those iron sights at the target, 200 yards away. Fired his M1. Hit the target.



Took aim again. Fired. Hit the target.



"Everyone cheered him on," Haase says. "They treated him like royalty."



One of the other guys at the range said, "Mr. Robinson, will you shoot my rifle? I want to say a Korean War vet shot my gun."



And so it went.



When they took Tom back home, he and Norine took seats at the end of their driveway and watched the cars -- decorated, filled with old friends and old neighbors -- drive past and wave and honk.



"Wow!" Tom said, over and over. "Wow."

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.