The biggest party in Independence happened last Saturday as flyovers, classic rock bands and enough food to feed an army highlighted an event that celebrates the memory of a life lost to cancer while helping those still battling the deadly disease.

What began as a private party for a group of Tom and Carman Duvall and Steve and Kiers Rowley’s 450 closest friends in 2014 has grown into one of the largest single-day fundraisers in the metro area. The 2019 edition of Tomstock surpassed $300,000 for The H8 Cancer Foundation last Saturday at the Duvall’s home.

Checks totaling $240,000 went to six charities, all raised Saturday night through donations, auctions and the sales of T-shirts and hats to fund cancer research or help families with medical or monetary needs.

Kiers Rowley, who lost a 10-year battle with lung cancer in May 2018, is the inspiration for the event.

“I still can’t believe how big it’s become,” said Tom Duvall, who was still recovering from the massive post-Tomstock cleanup effort at his home near Missouri 7 and Truman Road. “Back in 2014, we thought it would be fun to get a band, invite some friends over and maybe raise some money for cancer research or to help families who had financial needs.”

“We invited about 450 or so people, and I think we raised around $75,000.”

Flash forward five years and the total amount of participants and donations dwarfs those numbers.

“We like to say fat guys don’t run 5Ks,” joked Rowley, whose son Conrad was a standout football player at Blue Springs High School and now is a freshman on the Northwestern University football team. “We wanted to raise some money, and have some fun, and what better way to do that than have a concert and invite your friends?”

Others have recognized the Duvalls’ passion for philanthropy. At its gala next month, the Truman Heartland Community Foundation will honor Tom and Carman as its humanitarians of the year. The foundation points out that they are best known for Tomstock, but also notes that Carman, a former principal in the Blue Springs School District, is a board member and past board chair of the Blue Springs Education Foundation Board, as well as being the founder of The Closet, which provides donated clothing to Blue Springs School District students.

The Duvalls have been strong supporters of the Drumm Farm Center for Children in Independence, and Carman been on its board since 2013. Specifically, they have supported Drumm Farm’s Compass program, which helps young people who have aged out of foster care make their independently as young adults.

Tom, president and CEO of TruckMovers, established the TruckMovers Charitable Foundation that gives to local nonprofits based on employee recommendations. He also is a former member of the Truman Heartland board.

The lineup for this year’s Tomstock included cover bands such as the Cowardly Lions, followed by Hotel California (an Eagles cover band), Motley Inc., Atomic Punks (covering the early days of Van Halen) and closing with Arch Allies, who brought Bon Jovi, Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon to life.

Moments after Arch Allies left the stage at 12:40 a.m., a half-hour fireworks extravaganza lit the skyline for more than 30 minutes.

“We’re just so grateful that so many people came and made the event a success,” Carman said. “And believe me, everyone liked the bands, the fireworks and our air conditioned ORI outdoor restrooms. That was a great touch that everyone appreciated – especially the ladies.”

One of the most memorable ohh and ahh moments came when the KC Flight Formation Team did several flyovers as checks were presented to this year’s recipients.

“That was pretty cool,” Tom said. “One person would come up and tell me how great the bands were, and another would say how much the loved the flyover. I think everyone had a great time.”

Carman and volunteers are working on collecting the final donations so they can come up with the definitive amount the event raised.

“Last year we raised $260,000 and when it’s all said and done, we’ll top $300,000 this year,” she said. “And that’s so important because the more money we raise, the more people we can help.”

As Rowley and the Duvalls laughed and talked about the event, which has taken on a life of its own, Carman took a moment to talk about her late friend who used to close out the night by singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

“We all think about Kiers all the time, but we really think about her during Tomstock because she loved it so much and it really gave her something to look forward to,” Carman said. “We miss her, but she will always be with us in spirit.”

While the bands played and food from Operation BBQ Relief, Backyard Burgers and Cowtown Donuts was enjoyed, one question remained for many of the newcomers: How did Tomstock get its name?

The trio smile at the question and have a ready answer.

“Tom wanted to try and get Def Leppard to come play for his 50th birthday, and while that didn’t happen, that was kind of how this all began,” Carman said, grinning.

Rowley is quick to add, “So we’re all sitting around and trying to come up with a name, and someone came up with Tomstock – which was perfect! We don’t really know who to credit, it was just a collective effort, and we loved the name.”

So Tomstock was born, and $1.1 million has been raised since its inception.

“And we believe that bigger and better things are yet to come,” Tom said.

For more information on future Tomstock events, go to Tomstock.rocks.