Local businessman and civic leader, Paul D. Thomas, 99, of Elkhart, died at home on Saturday, April 15, 2023.
Paul was born October 13, 1923, in Goshen to the late Paul D. and Gertrude S. (Davidson) Thomas. He was also preceded in death by his sister, Betty Higgins.
On January 25, 1945, Paul eloped with Betty Ritchie while both were students at Indiana University in Bloomington. Betty died on January 2, 2018.
Paul and Betty had four children: Brian Thomas (Susan Arneaud) of Elkhart, Bruce (Connie) Thomas of Owensboro, KY, Jenny (Bryan) Williams of Central City, PA and Amy Thomas of Bloomington, IN. They are also survived by eight grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and five great great grandchildren, with two more on the way.
Paul graduated from Elkhart High School in 1941 where he served as the school yell leader as well as being in the band. He then went on to Indiana University where he was the president of Kappa Sigma Fraternity Pledge Class. He also served as the President of the Skull and Crescent. Paul was the only cheerleader to receive a letter “I”.
He began his career in retail while in West Palm Beach, FL at National Shirt Shops in the summer of 1946 and then J & J Slater in Palm Beach. He then went on to Charles S. Drakes in Elkhart until 1948. In 1948, he became manager of Drakes Department Store (Brummel Shoes, Inc.) from 1948 until March of 1955. In March of 1955, he founded Paul Thomas Shoes at 119 W. Lexington Ave. before moving his store to 125-127 N. Main St. in downtown Elkhart. He was in business here until his retirement in 1988. He then founded the Time Was Museum, which he operated until 2022. It was here that he was able to share the history of the city that he loved with others, often giving programs to local service clubs, at the library or anywhere else people asked him to speak. After the death of his wife Betty, Paul began working at Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home. He truly enjoyed his time at the funeral home as it afforded him the opportunity to talk with and see so many people that he knew.
Paul was a lifelong supporter of Elkhart, especially downtown. He was one of the founders of the Elkhart Jazz Festival, an event he supported continually since its inception. Affectionately known as “The Mayor of Main Street”, Paul served Elkhart in any way he could. He served two terms as a city councilman from 1964-1972 and was a 62-year member and past president of the Elkhart Lions Club, receiving the Citizen of the Year of Elkhart. He also received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award from then Governor Frank O’Bannon in 1996.
Visitation for Paul will be held from 4 pm until 8 pm on Wednesday, May 3rd at the Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home. Private family services will take place. Paul’s request was to be cremated.
In memory of Paul, memorial contributions may be made to the Elkhart Lions P.O. Box 81 Elkhart, IN 46515.
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