Hundreds came out on a cold, snowy morning Saturday to pay tribute to the Rev. Charles Curtis Thomas Jr., a man who gave warmth and comfort to thousands.
They called it a “homecoming service.”
Mr. Thomas, who worked at Akron’s Haven of Rest Ministries for 46 years as executive director from 1976 to 2003, died Jan. 20 at the age of 77.
Saturday’s service was in the Haven of Rest chapel where thousands of people in need of a meal and a warm place to sleep have learned of the ministry’s Christian mission. It was a chance for people who knew and loved Mr. Thomas to tell stories and pay tribute. A private graveside service followed.
The. Rev. Jeffrey Kaiser, executive director of the ministry, praised Mr. Thomas for “46 years of ministry showing compassion and love not only to the men, women and children who were served here at the mission but also to us the staff, the board of trustees and so many friends who are here with us today.”
Among those who paid tribute was Kathy Walker, his former secretary and friend.
“He was a servant leader,” she said, “a mentor. He was kind and caring. He was a man of integrity. He had a gentle spirit and a soft heart.”
She also said he was a man who could get his way.
“He was very observant, which was sometimes not too good.... He could spot a dust bunny 30 feet away.”
Mr. Thomas took over the mission after his father’s death in 1976 and, although he formally retired in 2003, he was involved in the operation to varying degrees until about four months ago.
His dedication to detail was legend among his staff.
Walker explained: “Just to give an example of how particular he was and how the mission always looked so good, his orders for setting up chairs in this chapel went something like this: there would be 10 rows, 10 chairs in a row. Each row vertically should be two feet apart. Each row horizontally should be 12 feet long with one and three-quarter inch between each chair and three squares for the center aisle.”
But he could be forgiving. Walker said he would say “Don’t worry about mistakes, mistakes can be fixed.”
His daughter, Valerie Schmidt, said her father will be hard to forget. “There are many reminders and influences from him that will remain and keep my love alive. My dad was kind and patient, protective, strict, creative, friendly, calm, generous, funny and godly. He was easy to love and hard to be upset with for very long.”
The Rev. Rex Whiteman, president of Union Mission Ministries in Charleston, W.Va., was asked by Mr. Thomas years ago to give the main message at his funeral.
He told the group that Haven of Rest has a national reputation, thanks in large part to his friend whom many called Curt.
“How they did things here was excellent,” Whiteman said. He said he would tell others that “if you want to check out an awesome rescue mission or excellent ministry, go to Akron, Ohio, and check out a ministry that is doing it right to the glory of God.”
Whiteman said the emphasis on faith was Mr. Thomas’ strength.
“Curt’s ministry was well done to the glory of God because he wanted to magnify the Lord. He wanted to exalt his name. He was also a faithful servant. We’ve heard today that he was faithful to his wife, faithful to his children and family, brother, faithful to his mom and dad. He served well along beside them as they served in his ministry.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.