Between the fall of 1945 and the spring of 1947, had one visited old Lusk High School he would likely have seen a young teacher in a wheelchair being carried by some of the students from one floor to another. The teacher was Samuel M. Thomas who had been wounded by a sniper's fire on the island of Attu in the north Pacific May 26, 1943.
For over two years he had been in VA hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation. Now back home with is wife and two small sons, he was returning to his community - and that contribution was to be great, an inspiration to everyone who came in contact with him and his wife companion, Ruth.
Sam died late the night of Feb. 15 at the Veterans Hospital in Cheyenne. The body paralyzed from just below the arms down just gave out. Ruth had taken him to the hospital Feb. 2.
Samuel Malter Thomas, 61, was born June 4, 1916 at the Thomas Ranch north of Harrison, Neb., the son of Samuel E. and Clara Larson Thomas. He attended schools in Niobrara county, Wyo., and graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1939. At the time of his graduation he received a commission as a reserve officer in the United States Army. He married Ruth Johns of Harrison Oct. 12, 1939, and taught schools in this area of Nebraska and Wyoming.
In February 1942 he was called to active military service and was assigned to the 17th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Division. His unit engaged in the battle of Attu in the Aleutian Islands in May 1943.
For his outstanding leadership during this action he was awarded the Silver Star. It was in the closing days of the campaign that he was wounded.
After completing the two years of teaching in Lusk High School he entered Vaughn Veterans Hospital in Chicago for treatment.
It was without resentment or bitterness that both he and his wife returned to Lusk to become a part of community life.; Ever resourceful, he learned to drive a specially equipped car, devised methods of getting in and out of it. Shortly his family with others were to be found out on picnics, on visits to Fort Laramie, at social events. No parents were more avid followers of school activIties as their sons progressed through the Lusk schools, or better supporters of and participants in community enterprises. He devised ways so that helping hands would more easily help him up the steps into a home. He frequented the businesses of Main Street.
LEADS 4-H CLUB
When the Thomases' new home was built on South Barrett Blvd. it was equipped with a complete wood-working shop, and for a number of years Mr. Thomas produced special Items of furniture for businesses, homes and the Congregational Church. But more than this, in 1950 he organized a 4-H woodworking club called the Woody Woodpeckers that for five years produced prize-winning craftsmanship displayed at the county fairs and started many a boy on occupation or hobby that has lasted him to this day. In fact, many objects produced by that club may be found in local homes even yet. In 1953 Mr. Thomas was named the Outstanding 4-H Club Leader of Niobrara County. His talents were utilized in the Congregational Church's vacation schools.
In July of 1949 he was elected county chairman of the American Red Cross and served in that capacity to 1953. He expressed at the time he was first elected his great appreciation of what the Red Cross has meant to him and other service men, especially while in the hospitals, and he happily served as liaison between the community and other men in the service. But at Lusk his great interest with the Red Cross centered in its swimming program and the use of the Lusk pool. In his shop he built the lifeguard tower. Often he and his wheelchair were at poolside helping with scheduled events. At a June 1952 meeting of the Lusk Lions Club he gave a talk about that Red Cross program, and as he closed the club members stood in a vote of thanks for the accomplishments he had encouraged and inspired.
The Thomas home was to become a place of beauty, inside and out - inside with imaginative, beautiful creations from the shop, outside from the couple's teamwork at landscaping and flower and vegetable gardening. Under lights, carefully selected varieties of plants were started early in the spring, delicately transplanted, transplanted again to ingeniously devised cold frames outside to await frost free time. Sam himself, with self-invented tools did some of the outside work from a wheelchair. At times he hired various boys to assist and for most it was an experience in Iearning as well as a job. In fact, in horticulture, as in anything else he did, he was a student of it, and many came to him for gardening advice.
As winter came on, his yard was a mecca for the birds, and no strange species came to the yard but he was quick to get it identified.
In 1953 Sam began working as bookkeeper for Lamb Construction Company, road contractors, and it seemed that through all his endeavors he was constantly working at improving the function of his right hand and arm which were damaged by the same bullet which struck his spine. He worked for the Lamb firm for 17 years until he could no longer continue because of his health.
With his philosophy of "plan a project for tomorrow," his deep concern for others who were handicapped, and with his creative mind he was able to help others - out in civilian life and at times when he was back in the VA hospitals.
Although a grateful nation awarded 1st Lt. Samuel M. Thomas the Silver Star for bravery and the Purple Heart, probably a greater honor came to him when from the nomination of the Lusk Woman's Club he was named in 1970 Wyoming Handicapped Citizen of the Year by the Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped.
In his later years, he assisted in the two-year program of the Lusk Woman's Club for successful 1969 legislation to provide access to and use of new public buildings in Wyoming by physically handicapped persons, and again when amendments requiring curb cuts and lowering of elevator controls to better accommodate the handicapped were successfully sponsored by the Woman's Club.
Sam was a member of the Congregational Church of Lusk, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3511, and the Paralyzed Veterans Association.
He is survived by his wife, his sons Donald and Larry of Monrovia, Calif., his mother Clara N. Thomas, one brother Lawrence M. of Lafayette, Colo., and a sister Marguerite Davies of Lusk. He was preceded in death by his father.
Last rites were conducted Saturday afternoon at 2:00 from the Peet Mortuary Chapel with the Rev. Frank Blish, pastor of the Congregational Church, officiating. Music was provided by Mrs. Gerald Bardo, organist, and a quartet of James Willson, Lee Johnsonbaugh, Dale M. Bardo and Gerald Bardo, singing "Sun Of My Soul," "Be Still My Soul," and a benediction of "Now the Day Is Over." Organ music used included Andante from Beethoven's "Kreutzer" sonata for violin, Theme from Beethoven's piano Sonata Op. 26, "Cantilena" by Golterman, "Andante Cantabile" by Widor, "Arioso" by Bach, "Sheep May Safely Graze" by Bach, "Tripartita" by Handel, "Andantino" by MacDowell, "Be Thou Still" by Franck, and "Prayer" by Guilmant.
Interment was at the Lusk Cemetery where Richard Kant, commander of the American Legion Post presented an American Flag to Mrs. Thomas. Casketbearers were former students of Mr. Thomas when he was teaching in Lusk High School - Kester Akers, Richard James, Bill Smith, Dale Gunn, Everett Kilmer, and Henry Wasserburger Jr.
Memorials may be made to the Niobrara County Nursing Home.
Friends gather for Sam Thomas
Friends and relatives from throughout the West and from as far away as New York gathered in Lusk Saturday for the Sam Thomas funeral.
Among those attending were Mr. and Mrs. Donald Thomas and Larry Thomas af Monrovia, Calif.; Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Thomas, Lafayette. Colo; Mrs. John C. Lambert, Riverside, Calif; Mr. and Mrs. Harold Johns and Angela of Bassett, Neb.; Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Roberts, Page, Ariz.; Mr. and Mrs Harold Hood, Gordon, Neb.; Mrs. Jerry Hood, Alliance, Neb.; Steve Roberts and Mr. and Mrs. Philip Roberts of Laramie.
Also attending were David Roberts, Medicine Bow; Michele Ratliff, New York; Tim Johns, Austin, Tex.; Pamela Johns, Lincoln, Neb.; Mrs. Nellie Johns, Harrison; Mrs. Walter Montgomery of Torrington; Mrs. Bill Lyman of Gerin, Neb.; Mr. and Mrs. Ray Noah, Casper; Mr. and Mrs. Loren Walker of Harrison; Irene Conrad, Edgement, S.D.; Bill Dryer of Denver; Wendell Banning, Monrovia, Calif.; Mr. and Mrs. Ollie Seaman of Harrison, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Lamb, Torrington and Dorothy Curt of Edgemont.
A related article written by Ruth Thomas Manring, entitled Memories of the Blizzard of '49 in Niobrara County, Wyoming may be found on this website.