In Memory

Robert Thomas

            "Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself." -- Herman Hesse.  That statement was the favorite quote of Robert J. Thomas, 18, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert O. Thomas, Humboldt. 

           Services for Robert J. Thomas, 18, were held at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday February 5, 1974, in the Congregational Church, with burial in Union Cemetery.  Mr. Thomas died in the intensive care unit at Iowa Methodist Hospital, Des Moines, Saturday morning, February 2, 1974.  Lindhart Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.

            Surviving are the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert O. Thomas, Humboldt; brothers, Tom, Indianola; John, a junior at Lawrenceville Prep School in New Jersey; Jamie at home; sister, Mrs. Steve (Susan) Yetter, a junior at the University of Iowa, Iowa City; grandmothers, Mrs. Minnie Thomas and Mrs. Mildred McCarty, both of Spencer; and great-grandmother, Mrs. Anna Pauline Engstrom, Spencer.

            Rob was born June 22, 1955, in Fort Dodge, attended Humboldt elementary school, St. Andrews School in Deleware, and Peddie Prep School in New Jersey, graduating from there in June 1973.  In scholastics, he achieved excellence in Latin and received the highest award in that field from his school.  He was seriously injured in a swimming accident at Bear Mountain State Park, Peekskill, N.Y., July 24, 1973.  A broken 5th vertebra in his neck caused major paralysis.  He was hospitalized first in New York, and later flown to Des Moines for treatment in Younkers Rehabilitation Center at Iowa Methodist Hospital. 

          At age 14 Rob won a scholarship to St. Andrews School in Middletown, Deleware, where he lettered in football, basketball, and baseball.  In 1971, he won the coveted Hutton Batting Award from that school with a batting average of 361.  In the spring of 1972, he changed to The Peddie School at Hightstown, New Jersey.  At the Peddie School he took five major subjects, two minor subjects, and attended night school two nights a week at Mercer College where he was learning computer math and violin. 

         Although paralyzed from his chest down he had made great strides at Younkers, teaching himself to turn pages of a book, a tremendous feat for one in his condition.  It took him 15 minutes to turn his first page and two weeks later, he was reading a book a day and learning to type with special braces.  At the time of his death he had graduated to a wheel chair without a neck brace, after a neck fusioin in October, and was able to get around the hospital.  His determination and hope were that someday he would be better and able to accomplish the goals he had set for himself, above all to write. 

          His curiosity of languages led him to teach himself Russian at Younkers and he was eagerly awaiting a special IBM typewriter which the Congregational Church and friends in Humboldt were buying for him.  The typewriter was to be fitted with Russian symbols as well as Arabic and Hebrew symbols, languages which he also wanted to learn after he'd mastered the Russian language.  A Russian language instructor from Drake University had come to Younkers the day before Rob died to give him is first lesson.

          On February 2, 1974, Rob succombed to a massive infection of the kidneys which litterally destroyed the kidneys before the doctors even suspected that anything was wrong.  He fought for life up to the very last moment, unable to believe that he would never have the opportunity to win this battle he had fought so hard or to complete the mountainous task he had set before himself.

          The Thomas family received many letters from Rob's fellow classmates expressing not only sympathy for their loss but gratitude to Rob for hours he devoted to tutoring or just instilling in them a quest for knowledge similar to his own.  Many times in the last weeks he lived, Rob expressed a deep regret for not having applied himself more to the task of learning and expressed the hope that he would have time to make up that loss.  He was a remarkable young man, knowledgeable beyond his 18 years, and his family established a memorial award in his memory.  The Rob Thomas Memorial Award for Excellence in Latin was first awarded in May of 1974.