Letter: Thank you to the Cape Henlopen School Board for Frederick D. Thomas Middle School

My sincere thanks to the Cape Henlopen School Board for voting to name the new Lewes Middle School after Frederick D. Thomas, a long-time educator, teacher, principal, mentor, and leader just to name a few to so many from diverse and ethnic backgrounds in the Cape Henlopen School District.

Let me share some significant facts about Thomas. Former Lewes Mayor George H.P. Smith remembers Thomas as an extremely likeable gentleman who served him as a role model. Both men graduated from Delaware State College — now Delaware State University — and entered the state’s public-school systems, albeit a few years apart.

After graduating from college in 1946, he taught grades one through five in a one-room school in Williamsville, Sussex County. In 1951 he moved to Phillip C. Showell School in Selbyville, teaching grades four through six. Cape Henlopen School District records show that he began teaching grades seven and eight at the Dupont Avenue School, part of the Lewes Special School District, in 1953, rising to principal and sixth grade teacher in 1967. Following desegregation of Delaware schools, he served as principal at the Richard A. Shields Elementary School, and later, in 1976, he was appointed principal of the Lewes Junior High School. Thomas stepped down from that position shortly before his death from lung cancer in 1978.

This man was busy. He was a member of many organizations including the Delaware State Teachers Association, the State Pension Board, the Sussex County Community Mental Health Board, and the Sussex County Draft Board. He also served as the chairperson of the Lewes Planning and Zoning Commission in 1972. He was the first African American member of the Lewes Lions Club — George H.P. Smith was second.

Thomas has been described throughout his career and even today with words reserved for the most special of individuals: pioneer, trailblazer, legendary, mentor, friend. Many of his former students, parents, educators and community are beneficiaries of his extraordinary mentorship, and we know countless individuals have stories of his caring and support of all children, staff and parents he provided us all key moments in their future. He has been instrumental in strengthening diversity, quietly recruiting faculty, staff and students to school, and then welcoming them and making vital introductions to Lewes and the larger Cape Henlopen School District community. Thomas was devoted to his wife, family, school and the larger community.

A person types on a keyboard.
A person types on a keyboard.

In short, Thomas exemplifies the Cape Henlopen School District mission of educating leaders who made a difference in the world in every aspect of his personal and professional life. In addition to his extraordinary intellect and accomplishments, he was a man whose humility and genuine warmth made him beloved by all who knew him. Indeed, he once defined power and influence as “the ability to make things happen without people knowing that you are responsible.”  This was how he led and lived his life, and the honor of naming Frederick D. Thomas Middle School will carry on the great legacy he left behind in the Cape Henlopen School District.

I do believe it was only just and right for the Cape Henlopen School Board to honor Frederick D. Thomas with the naming of the new middle school.

Thank you for making the impossible possible.

— Diaz J. Bonville, West Side New Beginnings, Inc., Rehoboth Beach

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Lewes: Frederick D. Thomas Middle School is a great honor