At 90, carousel volunteer still passionate about teaching, helping

Holly Viers • Jul 24, 2017 at 11:38 AM

KINGSPORT — At 90 years old, Kenneth Thomas has accomplished many things over the course of his life.

After a rewarding career teaching high school biology, Thomas now spends time every Thursday volunteering at the Kingsport Carousel, which he has been involved with since the beginning.

“I just like the people,” Thomas said. “I love the children, and I want them to have as good of a time as they can. And they do.”

Thomas was born and raised in Lee County, Virginia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 and is a veteran of World War II.

“I got to thinking, ‘If I go into the Army, I’ll have a mudhole to sleep in at night, and if I go in the Navy I might have a clean bed every night,’ ” Thomas said. “So I joined the Navy.”

Because he had studied biology, chemistry and physics in high school, Thomas was sent to hospital corps school in San Diego, where he was trained to be a medic. After his training, he was stationed at a hospital east of Oakland, California, where he spent most of his enlistment.

Though Thomas said he could have pursued a career in the Navy, he decided to take a different path and earn his college degree. While in college, Thomas met his future wife, to whom he has now been married for 67 years.

“It has been a good marriage, because we have two children that are well-qualified and well at work,” Thomas said. “I’m proud of my family.”

After graduating from college, Thomas began teaching at Lynn View High School. He was employed there from the time the school opened in the late 1940s until it closed in 1980.

Thomas said he was particularly passionate about helping students pursue their dreams, no matter how far-fetched they might have been. In 1970, Thomas was named the most outstanding biology teacher in the state, which he considers to be one of the highlights of his career.

“I loved that school, and I loved the students,” Thomas said. “Now I still have students come by and thank me for all that I did.”

Thomas first learned about the Kingsport Carousel when he discovered that volunteers were carving carousel animals in the Lynn View High School building where he once taught. Thomas said he often visited the school to check in on the carvers’ progress, and he began donating money to the cause.

As he was observing the carvers one day, Thomas noticed two of his former students that he had taught in the 1960s.

“(The school’s mascot) was the lynx, and they said if we’re carving here, we think a lynx ought to go on that carousel,” Thomas said. “If you look, we’ve got a lynx on there that they made.”

Thomas has volunteered at the carousel since it opened, manning the gate that leads into the ride and teaching people about the carousel’s history.

Though he isn’t able to do as much as he once did, Thomas said he credits his longevity to taking care of himself and doing what he loves.

“I tell my wife all the time, ‘If I die tomorrow, that’s all right, because look at my success and look at how I’ve been able to live,’ ” Thomas said. “When the Good Lord calls me, I’ll go, and I won’t object.”


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