By Tom Rohrer
The ultimate compliment for the late great Kay Thomas, a pillar of the North Thurston High School community for over a half a century, may have come from his former student and longtime friend Jim Slossan.
“There really won’t ever be another Kay Thomas,” said Slossan in an interview with ThurstonTalk.com. “He was one of those individuals that worked towards something with all his effort, and didn’t stop till it was fixed.”
The two first met when Slossan was a sophomore at NTHS and Thomas was a 30 year old teacher and coach of the Rams football and track teams.
“At that time, he was just an interesting guy,” Slossan said. “He had a low key sense of humor, sarcastic to an extent. You could just tell he was a complete guy and a person you could look up to.”
Slossan would later go on to serve as a teacher while Thomas was an Assistant Principal at the school, and from there, the former student teacher duo would see their relationship develop even more.
“He could be shy at times, but he really valued the relationships in his life, and he worked on that every day,” Slossan said. “He understood how to work with what was there, and what was good, whether it was a person or a project.”
“Most people are now into their career,” Slossan continued. “He was into his school and the relationships there.”
Ronna Reed also would start her teaching career under Thomas’s watch. She took a job at the school immediately following her graduation from Montana State University in the mid-1980s. Before her first day on staff, she saw how caring a person Thomas was.
“I was from Montana, I knew nothing of Washington. I had to start work in a week here and he found out I couldn’t get an apartment because I didn’t have any credit,” Reed said. “He signed for me to get an apartment and then learned that I didn’t have any furniture. So (Thomas) and a custodian, gathered up some stuff for me. I was amazed. He wasn’t just your boss, he took care of you.”
Thirty years later, Reed still teaches in the same North Thurston High School classroom and focuses on the care of her institution and the surrounding community. Those qualities were passed down in part from Thomas’s guidance and presence.
“He just took a lot of pride in the school and the people he worked with,” Reed said. “He was easy to go to for advice and how to manage a classroom. I don’t think I would be the teacher I am without that guidance he gave me and his ability to help build the classrooms.”
Thomas was born in Forks, Washington in 1931. He grew up during a time of turmoil and change that was spread across the country. What would be considered simple amenities in today’s world were not always available in high supply for anyone. That appreciation for anything positive was carried by Thomas his entire life.
“That piece of the depression, it was there with him, and he didn’t take anything for granted,” Slossan said.
Thomas certainly never lost track of North Thurston High School. He served as a volunteer track coach following his retirement from Principal.
“He never stopped caring about the school or past students, or anyone involved with it,” Slossan said
“I would see him around the community from time to time, and he always was friendly, always ready to say a kind word,” Reed said.
Certainly, North Thurston has never forgotten about Thomas’s legacy, and likely never will.
“If you walk into North Thurston, there is a half wall of sandstone with a plaque in the middle. When they tore down the first North Thurston High School, Kay and I convinced them to salvage that sandstone and he oversaw the construction of that wall of the original building,” Slossan said. “It was pretty special deal for everyone back in those days. Everyone who worked in those times, they felt fortunate to work with him.”
“School’s take on a personality that are hard to shake, and I don’t think (North Thurston) ever did,” Slossan said.
That impact was evident at Thomas’s memorial ceremony.
“I was impressed that people who hadn’t worked with him for 25 or 30 years, they drove clear across the state to be there,” Slossan said. “He meant that much to a lot of people.”
“His impact is still felt by those who knew him, worked with him,” Reed said.