Walter “Doc” Thomas became a friend of 4-H after completing his veterinary science studies at the University of Georgia and moving to central Florida in 1950. Right off the bat Thomas began working with county agents in Manatee, Desoto, Hendry, Lee Sarasota, and Sumter counties to help them with 4-H animal science projects.
He founded the Airport Animal Hospital, where he had a busy veterinary practice, and also bred Tallevast dachshunds. But he still had time for 4-H. His dedication to the 4-H program was remarkable. “For more than 20 years, with little or no charge to 4-H members, Thomas would accompany 4-H agents to club members’ homes to check on animals and give veterinary treatment,” said Diana Smith, Manatee County 4-H Coordinator. “All this was done after his office was closed and often went into the wee hours of the morning.”
Thomas had a strong commitment to see that all youth had the joy and experience of owning an animal and often assisted those who had limited parental or financial support. “Many 4-Hers would not have been able to raise and show their animal if it had not been for Doc Thomas’s generosity and support,” said Smith.
He donated thousands of dollars in free veterinary services to 4-H youth. But making veterinary house calls was not enough for Thomas. He and his wife Ida became 4-H club leaders. They established 4-H rabbit, poultry and dairy clubs that operated successfully for more than twenty years and impacted dozens of young people.
Thomas said he found great reward in working with 4-H young people. “Helping youth has been very rewarding to me,” said Thomas. “I have benefited as much personally as the 4-Hers and others have. It’s great.”
Thomas said he enjoyed watching the 4-H youth mature mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. And his time as a volunteer with the 4-H program saw many generations of 4-H’ers. “4-H does great things for these kids. There is a ‘4-H cycle’ out there,” said Thomas. “I am now donating services to the great grandchild of a 4-H’er I helped in the 1950’s.”
Thomas was an honorary member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a member of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association and a member of the Southwest Florida Veterinary Medical Association. He was involved with the Dachshund Club of America, Gulf Coast Dachshund Club, Manatee Kennel Club, Manatee County Cattlemen Association, and Beef Advisory Committee Member.
Thomas passed away on May 19, 2006 at the age of 80.