Tommy Zurhellen grew up in the Bronx and Putnam County. After earning a B.A. from Beloit College, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a Nuclear Electrician with two deployments to the Persian Gulf as well as participation in Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. His military honors include the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, and the Coast Guard Special Operations Service Medal. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy and used the G.I. Bill to earn an M.A. from Western Washington University and an M.F.A. from the University of Alabama.
Tommy served as a full-time Lecturer at Alabama and also taught at the Northwest Indian College (Lummi Nation) before joining the faculty at Marist College, where he has served as Associate Professor of English for the past 19 years. Over his tenure at Marist, Tommy has served in a range of administrative posts including Chair of the English Department, Director of the Marist Summer Writing
Institute, and most recently, Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
In 2018, Tommy Zurhellen was elected Commander of VFW Post 170 in Poughkeepsie. This experience ignited a deep commitment to serve his fellow veterans in Dutchess County and beyond.
In 2019, Tommy walked solo across the country to raise awareness of veteran homelessness and veteran suicide rates in America. His journey was documented by NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Fox News’ The Five, and the New York Post, as well as dozens of local media outlets.
Since then, Tommy has only increased his service as a veteran advocate, creating programs like the VetZero Ride program, which gives veterans free rides to essential appointments such as doctor visits and job interviews. The program has given over 2,000 free rides so far. Tommy also created the VetZero Heroes Making Heroes program, which employs homeless veterans in a food-making enterprise. Tommy has also served on the Board of Directors of Hudson River Housing since 2020. And in 2022, the VFW Department of New York appointed him State Citizenship Education Chairman, which serves as a liaison between the VFW and teachers across the state.
Upon his return from the walk, Dutchess County created the “Tommy Zurhellen Fund” to help veterans in need, and the R.E.A.L. Skills Network in Poughkeepsie honored him with a Rosa Parks Icon Award. In 2021, he was recognized for his contributions to rural suicide prevention by the New York State Office of Mental Health.