Creston Golf Club.
Creston Valley Community Radio.
Creston and District Community Complex referendum.
Just mention any of those, and one name quickly comes to mind: Phil Thomas.
And while he may have been named Creston’s 2012 citizen of the year on May 18, Thomas is quick to place the credit directly where it’s due — with his wife, Barb.
“She holds the fort while I go out and do my thing,” said Thomas. “I never would have been anything close to it without her.”
She, too, has been an active volunteer in the 42 years that couple has been together, “from Brownie leader when Cathy (their daughter) was young to being queen of the library volunteers after she retired as chief librarian.”
They came to Canada from the U.K. over 40 years ago, intending to have a temporary adventure. But instead of returning home, they made a new one in Canada.
“We looked at Australia and looked at Canada, and made the right choice,” said Thomas, who was a medal bearer in last month’s Rick Hansen Relay.
After living in Sudbury, Ont., for one year, Thomas was hired over the phone by principal Fred Martello — Creston’s first citizen of the year, in 1969 — to teach at Prince Charles Secondary School.
With the Creston Golf Club, Thomas has served as club captain, coach for junior and beginner golfers, and co-founded the Rick Clark Memorial Tournament, which has provided scholarships to Creston youth for over 20 years. As the Creston course was expanding from nine to 18 holes, Thomas researched and wrote a book on the club’s history — then had it published at his own expense and donated the proceeds to the club.
His sports involvement didn’t end with golf. Thomas also promoted the local swim team and coached minor hockey.
“I was coaching hockey when I couldn’t skate. But I know how to run a practice.”
And when it came time for the 2006 referendum on the community complex upgrades and indoor pool, Thomas was a strong supporter, setting up a booth at the home and garden show to educate the public. He was elated when the referendum passed.
“It’s a great community and we have everything we want here now,” he said.
Having lost an uncle and nephew to cancer, getting involved with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life was an easy decision for Thomas. For the last 10 years, he’s taken on the selling of luminaries, arranged for participants to spell the word “hope” and have it photographed from the air, and organized choirs to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Local history is also important to Thomas, and as a self-proclaimed lover of interviewing and the art of conversation, he has collected written and oral histories of Creston Valley seniors, which have been run in the Advance and on CIDO 97.7 FM. Portions of his audio interview with Jack Wigen were played at Wigen’s funeral.
“So often we don’t record what our life is about,” he said.
And if that weren’t enough, he’s quietly made personal donations to the Creston and District Public Library, New Life Furniture, the Creston-Kootenay Foundation and the community complex.
“One of the biggest impacts Phil has had is on our local youth,” said the letter nominating him for citizen of the year. “He never misses an opportunity to involve and encourage them to become good citizens. He often puts the focus on the young members of his relay team, assisting them with fundraising, as well as getting them to think of the difference their efforts can make in the lives of others.”
Thomas hopes that they will be encouraged to carry on their elders’ legacy of volunteering; the “internalizing” that has come with the digital age and technology make it more difficult for them to reach out.
“They’re the future,” said Thomas, a father of two, with four grandchildren.
But anyone of any age who volunteers can feel the sense of accomplishment Thomas has enjoyed for many years.
“I heard an expression one time: ‘It’s like rent for living on the planet.’ It’s a selfless thing, and I always find the people I’m doing it with are people I like to spend time with. It’s very fulfilling.”