Thursday, March 20, 2003

Obituary: John E. Thomas, church deacon

WWII vet led development project

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mr. Thomas

SPRINGFIELD TWP. - The garden adjacent to Page Tower - a 10-story apartment building developed by Union Baptist Church, downtown - is dedicated to Deacon Emeritus John E. Thomas.

As the first president of the Union Baptist Pioneer Housing Corp., Mr. Thomas oversaw development of Page Tower. He also was a longtime deacon and treasurer of Union Baptist - Cincinnati's oldest African-American Baptist church.

Mr. Thomas, 87, who was awarded three Bronze Stars for his service during World War II, died Friday at home in Mercy Franciscan Terrace, Springfield Township.

He spent 33 years as an accountant for the Veterans Administration before retiring in 1978.

Mr. Thomas was born in Sayler Park. He was one of two black members of his newly integrated class of 437 at Hughes High School.

As a boy, Mr. Thomas met Rev. Wilbur A. Page, pastor of Union Baptist from 1919 to 1985, when Page appeared as a guest speaker at the Ninth Street YMCA. The minister's speech left a lasting impression on Mr. Thomas.

Baptized at 16 after joining First Baptist Church in Delhi Township, he was soon charged with teaching a boys Sunday school class. Later, Mr. Thomas was appointed vice president of Cincinnati District Baptist Sunday School Convention.

While working at the West End Community Center in 1939, he met Sue Mastin. The couple married in 1941.

Mr. Thomas enlisted in the Army in 1942, and served as a staff sergeant in Europe and North Africa. He once drove a jeep through a minefield as the enemy was shooting at his unit from atop a hill, according to his wife.

After his honorable discharge in 1945, Mr. Thomas began working for the Veterans Administration and later attended Salmon P. Chase College, earning an associate's degree in business in 1952.

In addition to his wife of 62 years, survivors include a son, Roger J. Thomas of Washington, D.C.; two grandsons; and two great-grandsons.

Visitation is 11-noon today, followed by the funeral at Union Baptist Church, 405 W. Seventh St., downtown. Burial will be in Spring Grove Cemetery.


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