The Rev. Charles Curtis “Curt” Thomas Jr. had a calling from God to help those in need.
His wife, Eileen, said perhaps it was the story Mr. Thomas’ father told him of begging for food in Akron after his mother died when he was a little boy that shaped the course of her husband’s life in serving the homeless.
Mr. Thomas, who worked at Akron’s Haven of Rest Ministries for 46 years and served as executive director from 1976 to 2003, died Sunday at Traditions of Bath in Cuyahoga Falls. He was 77.
Mr. Thomas had been in the rehabilitation center since suffering a stroke in September.
For nearly all his life, Mr. Thomas was linked to the Haven of Rest Ministries on East Market Street. His father, the Rev. Charles Curtis ‘‘C.C.’’ Thomas Sr., started the Christian mission for the homeless in 1943.
Mr. Thomas took over the mission upon his father’s death in 1976. He retired in 2003, after 46 years at the shelter, then continued to serve as executive director emeritus.
Throughout his life Mr. Thomas dealt with four different types of cancer, starting with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995.
“He never gave up,” said Eileen, who met her future husband when she was a student nurse at Akron General Medical Center and volunteered at Haven of Rest.
“I fell in love with the ministry first and him second,” she said Monday. They were married for 53 years.
Last September, for their “53rd honeymoon,” the two went to the Grand Canyon. She said they had a great time, but two days after returning, he woke up “making terrible sounds.” He could not talk.
Mr. Thomas had suffered a stroke and would remain in a hospital or rehab facility for the last four months of his life.
He recently developed pneumonia a second time, his wife said, and, “I think it was just too much for his heart.”
She said the Bible verse that strengthened the couple in recent weeks was Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
The Rev. Jeffrey “Jeff” Kaiser, current executive director of Haven of Rest, called Mr. Thomas “not only a great friend, but he was a leader. I consider him a patriarch. He was a servant, a father, a husband, a friend to many people.”
The Thomas family went through enormous sacrifice in starting the mission in the 1940s, Kaiser said. He spoke of Mr. Thomas’ “compassion to help those in need, the hurting men and women we are still serving today.”
Kaiser said the mission last year served 286,000 meals. About 64,000 men and women came through the shelter to sleep, including 1,800 people who had never visited the mission previously.
“The calling really needs to be branded on your heart, and I believe that is exactly what it was for Rev. Thomas,” Kaiser said. “His testimony really speaks for itself. He was a well-loved person, not only in the community, but in the political arena and among social service agencies and the clients.
“There was so much love for him.”
Eileen Thomas, who worked at the mission for 44 years as medical supervisor and director of Harvest Home, called it an honor to serve the homeless with her husband for so long.
“It was our privilege, really,” she said.
She said her husband learned from those in need who came through the doors at Haven of Rest.
“He learned from seeing the people and their needs and talking to them,” she said.
A 1953 graduate of Springfield High School and Bob Jones University in 1957, Mr. Thomas was often working at the mission with his parents when his friends were out partying, his wife said.
“It makes for a more purposeful life,” she said.
She and Mr. Thomas have two children, Curt Thomas III, who works as director of operations at the shelter, and daughter Valerie Schmidt, a nurse, who is a professional clinical counselor who works with homeless women at the shelter. The couple has four grandchildren.
Eileen Thomas said her husband’s motivation over the years was simple: “Compassion and a calling of God.”
Calling hours for Mr. Thomas will be 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Redmon Funeral Home, 3633 Darrow Road, Stow.
There will be calling hours from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Haven of Rest Ministries, 175 E. Market St., Akron, followed by the funeral service in the mission’s main chapel.
Donations can be made to the Compassion Fund of Haven of Rest Ministries Endowment Foundation, P.O. Box 547, Akron, OH 44307-0547.
For more information, call Redmon Funeral Home at 330-688-6631 or go to www.redmonfuneralhome.com/rev-charles-curtis-thomas-jr.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.