My mother passed away at 12:45 AM on May 21, 2007 after a brief illness. She had suffered a debilitating stroke almost three years prior, and was living in a wonderful place, The Cloisters, in DeLand, Florida. Karen and I had the opportunity to be with her during her last few moments of wakefulness, and she passed peacefully. Her family, friends, and all those who knew her will miss her. Click here for the obituary her daughter Nina thoughtfully wrote.Preparing Mom's Resting Place at the Thomas Family Cemetary
Grandma Day is my mother. She and my dad, Merle Thomas (who passed away in 1962) raised me and Merle and Nina in Uniontown, PA. She now lives in Florida, where she has a cable modem and a wicked online bridge game. She is the strongest, most capable woman I have ever known, and I am proud to have her as my Ma. She also has two legit golf holes-in-one.
Ma grew up as a McKetta, the sister of John and Charles (for whom I was named). Her family lived in Briar Hill, PA, and other surrounding places. Her father, my grandfather, John J. McKetta, came from what the Poles call East Galicia and the Ukranians call Halychyna, which is an area that is now a part of Poland, and then was a part of the Ukraine and earlier, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her father came here with his brothers in the early 1900’s to work the coal mines, and he went back home and brought back his bride, my grandmother. They spoke Ukrainian when then arrived. My grandfather self-educated himself, eventually becoming the mine electrician, then foreman.
Mom’s brother, my Uncle Johnny, is my favorite and a role model. He is an extraordinarily successful man, who has been a Chemical Engineering professor at the University of Texas, Department Chairman, Chancellor, and the President of the American Society of Chemical Engineers. The Chemical Engineering building of The University of Texas shares his name. He is an author, energy advisor to many US Presidents, and (most importantly) the most fun uncle anyone could have. As a kid, I used to wait all year for Uncle Johnny and Pinky, and their three sons, to come to town for his visit: it was my vacation. He made little local trips with my siblings and me, and we learned the local history, our family history, and how to have fun while respecting our history and other people. I think I remember every minute of those days. Uncle Johnny always made me laugh while I learned about how to be a human being. For his story in his words, you can click on the booklet cover below:
My father, Merle James Thomas, was the son of James Ross Thomas and Blanche Cornell. James Ross was the son
of Moses Ross Thomas, who lived in a town called Thomasdale, which is now under the Somerset Dam of the
Monongahela River, flooded as a part of the dam project. My father had one sister, Dorothy.
My father went to Pitt to study business, and played some basketball, I understand. He opened a "garage" in Uniontown, PA, which is a euphanism for a gas station, repair shop, and parking lot. He worked the garage until the early 1950s, and had an accident that hospitalized him for some time. During that time, he lost the garage, and since it happened simultaneously with the closing by US Steel of the coal and coke division, unemployment was rampage in the area, reaching 50% for some years. Dad had some hard years, but in the years just before his death, things began to look up again.
Dad was a good man in hard times, and I wish I had known him in his best times. He maintained a good sense of humor during good and bad times, and everyone who knew him liked him.
Mom had a stroke in Spring of 2004 that has left her less independent and capable as she had been during her entire life. This photo was taken a few weeks before her stroke, and her intelligence and vitality is how I will always remember her. She has slowly, but steadily, improved since her stroke, and we all hope for continued improvement.
The photo below is my sister Nina with Mom during Nina's March, 2007 visit. I think the photo reflects the happiness of both.