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By Fred Swegles
You’ve probably heard of Bill Thomas, an extraordinary community volunteer—a former San Clemente Citizen of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and Wall of Recognition honoree. It turns out, he also is the founder of a San Clemente Gentlemen’s Literary Society, enriching lives.
A longtime member of the city’s parks commission, Thomas helped launch the Friends of San Clemente, a nonprofit foundation to support beach, park and recreation activities, and develop the city’s skatepark, Vista Hermosa Sports Park, Aquatics Center, a countywide acclaimed universal-access playground, the community’s yearly Carnival Colossal, free summer concerts on the beach, annual skateboard competitions, a golf tournament, a snow hill for children every December, and a Sports Wall of Fame, just to name a few.
Thomas also had a career in television and theater in America and Europe, as well as in academics at university in Los Angeles. He retired to live in San Clemente, where he started a city program to help seniors learn to use early generation computers. He also taught writing classes for local residents before expanding it to students at Saddleback College.
Capable of reading a book a day, Thomas in 2009 enlisted a handful of his tennis buddies to start the Literary Society. Members would pick a book to read and discuss it at a member’s home each month, socializing, too.
The group expanded to non-tennis players, sharing diverse backgrounds and reading interests. They’ve gone through some 140 books over 12 years, so far.
On Oct. 21, the group gathered at a member’s home to thank Thomas for a world of intellectual exchange he contributed to their lives. He was retiring from the club, his final meeting, at age 90.
“Our learning together and gaining more intelligence and knowledge, learning things, it’s like continuing your education (beyond) high school and college, providing us an interactive opportunity to know more,” Thomas told the group. “I appreciate all that you have given me, in my aging.”
Those who know Thomas shared a few thoughts about him this past week.
“Bill, thanks for all you do and have done in a life still being well-lived,” said Grant McPhail.
“You brought together a great group of guys to enjoy sharing personal experiences, heated discussions and lots of laughs,” Jim Offineer said.
“We didn’t know much about each other’s lives outside tennis. Bernd Ziesche discussed the experience of being bombed as a young child in Berlin, and the late John Libby acknowledged one of the bombers—until he was shot down,” said Jim Bingham. “I’ve read many, many, many books that I would never have read, and in many cases didn’t even know existed. It has been a pleasure and an honor to know Bill.”
“You broadened our horizons,” Stan Gianzero said. “Without realizing it, you provided us a course in early civilization and life here and now.”
“Bill’s love of literature, his love of students young and old, and his love of travel will always be a part of San Clemente.” said Lee Van Slyke