Even after he retired from New Mexico State University in 1984, former NMSU President Gerald Thomas was a steadfast supporter of the institution.
His concern for longtime support and nurturing of the university he loved so much actually started when he was still at the helm of the institution. One of his most rewarding projects during his 1970-1984 tenure as president was the establishment of the President's Associates Scholarship program, which has helped many students since it started.
NMSU Board of Regents Chair Mike Cheney shared a passion for the program with Thomas, who passed away this week at the age of 94.
"We are very sorry to learn about the passing of President Gerald Thomas," Cheney said. "His demeanor and his reputation will leave a lasting impression on our university. One great example of his legacy is his work with our community to make a difference for our students. He helped establish the President's Associates Scholarship program. This program is near and dear to my heart. My wife and I have been active in helping to support students with this scholarship, which is a great way for New Mexico high school students to further their education. Dr. Thomas will certainly be missed."
Thomas was involved in a variety of beneficial programs for the university, and was honored when he retired in 1984 by the creation of the first academic chair established at NMSU. The $1 million Gerald W. Thomas Chair in Agriculture, established by the College of Agriculture and Home Economics (now named the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences) is focused on food production and natural resources.
Four year's later, the college's main building was renamed in his honor.
In 1998, Thomas received NMSU's first Hiram Hadley Founder's Award of Excellence in recognition for "his key leadership in the development of a major comprehensive university in the spirit of NMSU's founding leader."
In 2000, he and his wife, Jean, were given the Branding Iron award, the highest honor presented by the New Mexico State University Foundation. It was given in recognition of their ongoing commitment to the university.
In 2006, they were awarded the Sam Steel Exemplar Award from the college's Sam Steel Society, which was given for the first time that year. It is for individuals or couples who have excelled in their chosen field and who have been active in the community and greatly involved with NMSU.
"Education is a continuing process," Gerald Thomas said at the time. "You get a degree, then you have something. But, you have to keep an open mind and have to be willing to learn from interactions and events and continue to study â€¦ there has to be excitement and joy in the process of gaining knowledge. More knowledge gained makes you feel more at home in the world, whether here or abroad."
Jean Thomas, too, was recognized by the university and community for the work she did for the institution. In 1984, she was honored by the NMSU Board of Regents with the "Regents Medal" for outstanding services in support of people and programs of the university.
"It's important to emphasize that although Gerald was president, his wife, Jean, had a distinguished career in her own right," College of ACES Dean Lowell Catlett said during a recognition event in 2006. "Together, the two have been positive influences. Not only NMSU role models, but for all walks of life. They are a couple that is a blessing to New Mexico."
Gerald and Jean Thomas have been instrumental in the establishment of several scholarships, as well, over the years. They include:
Jean Thomas Scholarship
The Jean Thomas Endowed Scholarship was established in 2003 to make annual awards for
educational expenses. The award recipients must be graduates of a New Mexico high school, and be interested in math education at the middle school level in the College of Education at New Mexico State University.
Gary A. Shipley Memorial Scholarship
The Gary A. Shipley Memorial Scholarship was established by Gerald and Jean Thomas in 2005 in honor of their son-in-law. The scholarship is intended to make an annual award to a freshman from New Mexico with an ACT score of at least 22 who is majoring in marketing.
Gerald and Jean Thomas Endowed Scholarship for Returning Veterans
The Gerald and Jean Thomas Endowed Scholarship for Returning Veterans was established in
2011 to make an award to one or more students in the College of ACES who are currently serving, or have served, in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Gifts can be made in his name to the New Mexico State University Foundation (contact Deborah Widger at 575-646-4034 or firstname.lastname@example.org).