Ronnie Thomas, 73, touched lives of people throughout Rock County
JANESVILLE—Longtime Janesville volunteer Ronnie Thomas didn't know the word “no.”
Thomas got up in the morning and went from one project to the next “and then he went to bed and got up the next day and did it again,” said Local 95 President Tim Silha.
“If I could nominate one person for sainthood, it would be Ronnie Thomas. He was that kind of human being,” he said.
Janesville and Rock County charities and organizations face a giant void after Thomas, 73, died Monday. The list of events and groups Thomas volunteered for or organized is so long that Silha believes Thomas, along with his late wife, Delores, affected every person in Rock County.
“Somehow, their life was improved because of Ronnie and Delores Thomas,” he said.
Delores Thomas died in February 2012.
Together, the Thomases coordinated the now-defunct food-buying club SHARE in Janesville, played Santa and Mrs. Claus throughout the community, dressed as the Easter bunny for an egg hunts they organized in Palmer Park and volunteered for the Salvation Army.
They volunteered for Coats for Kids, Back to School Clothes for Kids, Meals on Wheels, Special Olympics and area nursing home events. Their dedication earned them spots in the Rock County Hall of Honor.
A retiree of the General Motors plant, Thomas was active in the UAW and served as president of the retiree chapter.
“I don't think LaborFest would be here today if it wasn't for Ronnie,” said Tom Brien, a friend who has long been active in the UAW.
“Anything that he belonged to, he gave 110 percent to,” he said.
Of the 7,000 to 8,000 raffle tickets sold for the annual LaborFest, Thomas probably was responsible for selling about 6,000, said Bill Breidenstein, who grew up three grades ahead of Thomas in their hometown of Ontario.
“He was the No. 1 supporter of LaborFest,” he said.
Donna Dutcher, support staffer at the UAW hall in Janesville, had the tough task Thursday of talking to organizations Thomas worked with as news of his death spread.
Thomas often would stop in her office just to see if she needed help with anything. His outgoing personality led him to make conversation with everybody.
“I don't know if there's a waitress in Janesville that didn't know him,” she said.
Breidenstein served with Thomas on the executive board of the Rock County Democratic Party. He had urged Thomas to slow down a little and take time for himself, but Thomas' response was always, “Somebody has to do it.”
He offered years of his time to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Rock County.
“He didn't want the glory,” Silha said. “He got the satisfaction out of knowing he helped. He didn't have to read his name in the paper.”
Thomas was a member of Rock County's Education, Veterans and Aging Services Committee, and he had just filed papers to run in the April election for the District 28 seat on the Rock County Board.
Thomas attended many county board meetings, Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler said. Thomas' brother, Terry, is a county board member, and when he couldn't make it to a meeting, Thomas would attend so he could fill in his brother, Stottler said.
“It was the sweetest thing. He would sit and listen and go back and report to Terry,” she said.
“It seemed like he'd get up every day and see what he could do to help.”