G. Rapids volunteer of year named

GRAND RAPIDS – Chuck Thomas was recently honored as the first Volunteer of the Year by the Grand Rapids
Arts Council.
The announcement was made during its fall fundraiser at Nazareth Hall which included a dinner,
entertainment and silent auction. (Photo: From left, Rita Foos, Grand Rapids representative for the Arts
Council, poses with Chuck Thomas, recipient of the 2009 Volunteer of the Year award, and Baker O’Brien,
the artist of the glass piece complimenting the award. 11/01/09 (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune))
Thomas’ nomination was made by Rita and George Foos, with support from First Presbyterian Church in town
and the Grand Rapids Historical Society.
Some of his volunteer work is connected to the church where he is a member. Thomas organized three summer
mission trips for the youth to go to Mississippi where they helped in the rebuilding efforts going on
after Hurricane Katrina hit. Locally he urged teens to help residents with home repairs, brush pickup
and post flood cleanup as a way to encourage their volunteerism without the expense of going to
In addition, Thomas, of rural Grand Rapids, co-chaired the Applebutter Fest with Steve Kryder. According
to the nomination, he "was responsible for the facilities aspect of the fest that included parking,
electric power and security, just to name a few." He also helped with planning the festival and
doing follow-up with merchants and residents in order to begin planning the 2010 event. Thomas is also a
member of, and participates in, the Ohio Beef Producers.
The Fooses wrote, "What a great example of living life to the fullest despite what happens along the
way to slow us down."
What happened "along the way" to Thomas is that he continued to work his volunteer magic while
fighting cancer. Diagnosed in January with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), he had extreme back pain
and "my blood was all messed up." Thomas began chemotherapy treatments within three days of
his diagnosis and is still taking them. Treatment has followed different stages, with the drug mix
changed every 28 days. (His story can be found at www.caringbridge.org. On the home page, under
"visit a Website," type his name.)
After the dinner, Thomas and his wife, Tina, talked about his cancer and the award. "It’s the most
complicated and most intensive," Tina Thomas said of the chemo. "He’s on a really, really hard
treatment. They’re amazed with (him)."
Thomas said he will continue the treatment for two years and right now is on a maintenance program. While
in remission, he has to continue the chemo protocol for two years in order for the cancer to be cured –
an outcome to which he is looking forward.
The Volunteer of the Year award was a surprise to him. "I’m very humbled by this," he said.
"I had no idea they were giving away this type of award when I came here."
While he acknowledge some of his work, "I can see so many other people doing the same thing in Grand
Rapids … Ohio … Wood County. It’s fairly easy to be a volunteer because there’s been so many in the
past. Thankfully, I’m one who … lives to help others."
"If you got to know Chuck, he’s the most amazing, incredible man you’d ever meet," praised his
wife. "He thinks about everyone else. He has the biggest heart in the world. I’m not surprised
(about the award). I’m thrilled for him. It’s quite an honor."
Chuck’s daughter, Megan, 20, is a server at Nazareth Hall, and worked at the banquet. She watched the
award presentation.
"My dad is a great person," Megan said afterwards. "He means a lot. He loves to do good
things for people, even though he’s sick. He doesn’t show people he’s down and out. He wants to show
people he cares, and wants people to care about each other."
Thomas said once doctors told him he could be cured, he’s never looked back, and he has appreciated the
prayers, cards and support of family, friends and the Grand Rapids community. But his sickness has also
changed his perspective on volunteerism. "I see what it takes to ask for help, to see what people
will go through before they ask for help. It was very eye-opening for me. I see the other side of it.
That’s going to help me. … I can look at it in a different light. I have more empathy with the people
asking for help."