We start this series with a man who is the epitome of Elkhart County’s Vibrant People. No one has loved life in Elkhart like Paul Thomas. At 95 years young, Paul is known for his energy, his enthusiasm and his love of all things having to do with the place he calls home. A cheerleader during his college days at IU in Bloomington, Paul has been out front shouting the praises of living and working in Elkhart County for years. MSNBC called him “Elkhart’s historian, cheerleader and ambassador-at-large.” He likes to brag about his hometown’s inventiveness, can-do spirit, vitality and ability to bounce back from tough times. Many regard Paul as the Mayor of Main Street in downtown Elkhart.
In a profile on Paul for the South Bend Tribune, Marshall King wrote, “Whether it’s in his museum or at coffee, ask him about Elkhart and listen. He’ll tell how the marching band baton, Alka Seltzer and the folding baby buggy were all invented here. That fluorescent lights were started on Baldwin Street before General Electric bought and finished the concept. Thomas will tell you, perhaps more than anything, how entrepreneurship has played and continues to play a role in what Elkhart is.”
Many around Elkhart County fondly remember his store. Paul Thomas Shoes was especially popular with families with children and not just because it had two doors – one normal sized and the other a special passageway for pint-size customers. Paul Thomas Shoes had Mr. Thomas himself as clerk, master of ceremonies and the star of the show.
Paul and his beloved wife, the late Betty, were married for 71 years. They had four children who produced 10 grandchildren. According to his son, Brian, Paul has “10 or so great grandchildren” (at this point, you start to estimate) and even a couple of great-great grandkids.
Paul Thomas is a brilliant example of someone from Elkhart County who loves where he lives. To some, he will be the gold standard for a Vibrant Person in Elkhart County. Most, however, will also say, “that’s just Paul being Paul.”