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Donald  H.  Thomas

Obituary for Donald H. Thomas

July 25, 1934 - November 8, 2018
San Antonio, Texas | Age 84


Our Father, Donald "PawPaw Don" Thomas, passed into the Kingdom of Heaven on Thursday, November 8, 2018. He battled numerous illnesses for years like an epic warrior of old, winning time and again until the diseases joined forces and the warrior went down, fighting until the very end.

Donald Harlond Thomas was born in rural Flora, Illinois to Harold and Genelle. The family moved to Harvey, on the South side of Chicago, when he was a young boy. His family has heard stories through the years of how he delivered newspapers to add to the family income, always saving a quarter so that he could see the Saturday matinee, eat a White Castle hamburger with an orange soda, and have a penny left over for the gumball machine, hoping desperately to get a striped gumball, which could be traded in for a candy bar.

Don enlisted in the United States Air Force and worked as a jet aircraft mechanic. He was stationed at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio when he met Shirley Horn, a pretty, petite, blue-eyed redhead from Inez, Kentucky. When he asked her if she was married, the feisty and independent lady replied that she "wouldn't have any man the sun ever shone on". It must have been a cloudy day. They dated two weeks and then married. One year later they welcomed their first daughter, MaryJane. Three months later, Don and his little family were given orders to his new duty station at Ramey AFB in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

Don loved motorcycles and built a little trailer to attach to the back of his bike to take MaryJane on slow rides around the base and the island. Before long every child on the small installation would be seen taking turns on Airman Thomas' motorcycle buggy. Today that would be totally illegal, but for the times it was great fun and brought joy to so many. The Thomas family thrived in this tropical paradise. They arrived in September of 1960 as a family of three. By the time they returned stateside, Don and Shirley had brought forth two more little girls; Donna Rae was born on December 13th, 1961 and Gale Lynn was born less than a year later on December 5, 1962. The Thomas family, now grown to five, would be reassigned to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois in the Summer of 1963.

While at Chanute, Don's skills at photography did not go unnoticed and he was given a change of career fields. He was not only now a military press photographer, he was also the base's medical photographer. There were other changes as well. On Halloween of 1965 their son Harold, known now and always as Woody, was born. So, in 5 years Don fathered 4 children, was stationed at 3 Air Force bases, had 2 careers, and 1 very exhausted wife.

After Illinois, Don and family were stationed at Hof AFB in Germany. The family lived in Helmbrechts until base housing was available at Christianson Barracks in Bindlach. This was an Army post, but the only area close by with dependent housing. Don moonlighted at the NCO club, making friends with young men away from their families, always inviting them home to play pinochle or cribbage, have a home cooked meal, play with the kids, celebrate birthdays, etc. It was not unusual for Don's children to be kept up late, sitting on a lonely soldier's knee because his own child was back in the states. Every Christmas Don and Shirley would host a pancake breakfast for these young men, who would always be ready to help with setting up the tree, taking down the tree, entertaining the kids, and, when the time came, to help the family clean and clear their quarters for inspection as they prepared for their next duty station. These friendships ran deep and were maintained for many years into the future.

When Don and family left Germany to be stationed at Kelly AFB in San Antonio in 1970, many firsts happened. Don was reassigned in his career field yet again, being part of the team setting up the first Computer Output Microfilm division (microfiche) at Security Hill between Kelly AFB and Lackland AFB. The family bought their first house. The family finally lived in one place for more than 3 years. The family had found their HOME. Don and Shirley made the decision to eventually retire in San Antonio.

While still in the military, Don and Shirley bought a business already established. It was known as Pizza Pavilion, located on Harry Wurzbach near Rittiman. Don and Shirley started the first pizza delivery in San Antonio, focusing on Fort Sam Houston. When the building the business was in sold, they moved to a very small strip center on 410 and Nacogdoches. They renamed their business Thom's Pizza and Sub Shop. The focus continued to be on Ft Sam deliveries. A bar in the strip mall caught fire in 1975 burning all three business out. Don had retired from the Air Force a year earlier and had no insurance on the business.

With his small monthly retirement, and what he could sell and salvage, he and Shirley reopened Thom's two months later on Austin Highway, still close to Ft. Sam. They had 38 cents left between them on that day. Shirley would be the head delivery driver, while Don worked inside, taking orders, making pizzas and subs with the help of his children, now teens and preteens. Gale was the main sub maker and cashier when not in school. Donna helped wherever needed and would ride with Shirley, assisting with deliveries. Woody would fold pizza boxes, and MaryJane would join the delivery team when she got her license at 15. All the children knew how to work at whatever task was needed behind the counter. There was other hired help, but Thom's was truly a family business. The tradition of befriending lonely soldiers continued. Shirley would leave with four or five deliveries to the barracks at Ft. Sam, and often return with 2-5 soldiers, men and women lonely and wanting to get off the post. Often they would be broke, hungry, and lost looking. Don would feed them whatever they wanted, telling them to see him on pay day. This happened frequently, but rarely was he not repaid. As in Germany, many friendships were made that lasted well into the future. Thom's made a lasting impression in the years it operated.

During the years after military retirement and running a business, Don also went to college. He attended St. Phillips and then earned his longed for teaching degree from SWTSU in 1976. He loved being a vocational educator.

In later years, Don went on to work as a mechanic spending years as a manager and brake mechanic for Brake Pros on Perrin-Beitel. He even worked as a Walmart greeter, stocker, and cashier well into his late 70s.

He finally had to stop working to have back surgery. He also developed ITP, a rare auto-immune disease in which your body destroys its own platelets and which can cause spontaneous hemorrhaging. His kidneys began to fail as well, but the ITP prevented him from being a candidate for dialysis.

In 2011, Don lost his love of 52 years when Shirley passed away. He was 77 years old and did not wish to just fade away with his grief. Despite finding out he had advanced prostate cancer, he joined the San Antonio Spark Team in their year long training to walk a half marathon. While they walked, he rode his three wheeled adult trike with a basket on the back carrying a first aid kit and a cooler filled with cold water, snacks, glucose tablets, juice and gatorade to help out any struggling walkers, runners, or bikers on the Salado Creek trails from Lady Bird Johnson Park to Tobin Park to Oakwell Park to John James Park. He was a familiar site with his holey straw hat, big smile, greeting all and honking his Disney "Cars" horn when he would come around any corner or bend. He trained and completed what was supposed to be a half marathon but for him ended up being nearly a whole marathon because he kept riding back to check on the walkers and give them aid. This was all done while he was undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.

Don campaigned for Mayor Ron Nirenberg on that three wheeled trike at the age of 82. His trike was festooned with banners for Ron. A picture of him was used on the Mayor's banner, which gave him so much pride and delight.

Don loved his church, Colonial Hills United Methodist. He loved the sermons of Pastor Diana Phillips, who drew him to this church, the music of the band and praise singers, the singing and beautiful ministry of Pastor Polly Angle, and The Word and gentle ministrations given by Pastor Germaine Mathis, who he called his Sister. He got special joy helping out at the cascarone booth at the church's yearly Fiesta.

His special pride were his five grandchildren, now grown. His delight and joys were his 5 great-grandchildren, one of which will be born in early 2019. He loved to tell people at church that there were 4 generations of his family sitting in the pew at service. He loved being Dad, Grandpa, and PawPaw. He loved being surrounded by his family who loved and cherished him.

Don is preceded in death by his parents Harold and Genelle (Slack) Thomas, and his beautiful partner and wife Shirley (Horn) Thomas. He is survived by his children and their spouses MaryJane and Charles Harrison, Donna and Rick Raser, Gale and Don Webster, and Harold (Woody) and Sarah Thomas, and by his grandchildren and their spouses Joli Crow, Kimberly and Eric Shaw, Robby Christiansen, Donny Bourke, and Carly and Colin Castillo. His is also survived by his great-grandchildren, Ian Crow, Riley Shaw, David Castillo, Robyn Castillo, and soon to be born Juliana Shaw and by his brother and sister-in-law Terry W. and Jerilyn Thomas and his sister and brother-in-law Connie and Frank Klobucar, along with many nieces and nephews.

One of Don's last wishes was to ask for anyone who wanted to honor him to do some or all of the following:

1.Donate blood and plasma. It took many, many donors to keep him alive through the years.
2.If you smoke - stop! All of his diseases were because of, or made worse by smoking.
3.If you are eligible - VOTE. Vote every time you have the opportunity. Make change!

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