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Kenny Thomas

December 14, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Kenneth W. Thomas Jr., who died Nov. 28 at the age of 67. His obituary was published in the Nov. 29 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Kenny Thomas loved telling people that he aged a year when he got married.

The joke was that his birthday was the next day, according to Bonnie, his wife of 45 years.

"We eloped to Atlantic City," Bonnie said. A beloved picture of the two of them posing in front of a honeymoon cottage backdrop at the beach in June 1963 is a beloved memento of their wedding.

As children, Bonnie and Kenny first met at picnics for the Beachley Furniture Co., where both of their fathers were employed.

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"Then, I saw him at a South Hagerstown High School football game in 1962," Bonnie said. Out of school, Kenny was working at a Safeway in Rockville, Md.

Bonnie was at the game with a girlfriend who hooked up with a boy during the night, leaving Bonnie without a ride home.

"I got a ride with Kenny and his friend," she said.

A year later, they were married.

In 1964, Kenny started working at the Frederick Street Safeway in Hagerstown, staying there until 1972, when the store moved to the North End.

Kenny later was a produce manager, then a clerk at Safeways in Middletown, Md., and Frederick, Md., until he retired after 45 years with the company.

"I didn't work at first," Bonnie said, noting that she had two children - Diane and Ken III - and stayed home to raise them. When Diane was 11, Bonnie went to work for Lippincott Publishers.

Tragedy struck the family when Diane was diagnosed with cancer and died at the age of 29, leaving behind two small children.

It was that experience that Bonnie believes had a profound effect on Kenny when he learned he had cancer.

"In August, Kenny said he wanted no chemotherapy, no radiation and no medicine," Bonnie said. His lungs gave out in the end and he passed away Nov. 28 at the age of 67.

As a boy, then a teenager and grown man, Kenny always tried to live life to the fullest, his family agreed.

From his earliest days, Kenny was enthralled with anything that had wheels. His father had been an antique automobile enthusiast, passing his love of cars along to his son.

Now, son Ken, 44, is preserving that legacy.

"I saved up money to buy my first car, a 1967 Pontiac, which I still have," Ken said. Delivering The Herald-Mail newspapers was Ken's ticket to pay his father back.

Bonnie said Kenny once belonged to a group called The Flying Chariots. They were men who fixed up cars and enjoyed talking with others who did the same. They then drove them in shows and competitions.

Sometimes, Kenny drove his cars a little faster than the law allowed.

"Dad used to tell me stories about the speeding tickets he got as a youth," Ken said.

When Ken was a young boy, he recalled how he would look for his father to come home from his night job at Two Guys Department Store - still driving his vintage 1954 Oldsmobile.

If it was snowing, Ken and his mother would keep the driveway clear.

"I'd bring out the jack so dad could put the snow tires on when he got there," Ken said.

Kenny and Bonnie built their home in Pleasant View Heights in 1966. The landscaping recently was redone to make it maintenance-free, Ken said.

In June, the kitchen was remodeled with new cabinets and a new floor. But Kenny didn't get to see the new kitchen because he was bedridden elsewhere in the home.

"He hated not being able to do things around the house because he had worked so hard so many years," Bonnie said.

Still those were just "things," as were even his beloved wheels.

"Kenny said the highlights of his life were his children and his eight grandchildren," Bonnie said. He often would remark with pride on how Ken became an Eagle Scout and later a troop leader.

And there was his joy watching Diane go off to college, and later walking her down the aisle at her wedding.

Bonnie said their 45 years together all were special to her.

"We took some nice vacations over the years - to Florida, Canada and out west," she said.

And they always drove ... no planes or trains for Kenny.

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