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Kathleen M. Thomas

September 3, 1946 ~ April 25, 2019 (age 72)


 Kay Thomas went home on April 25, 2019. While cancer winnowed off her mortal coil, it did not define her life and through the crucible of suffering a beautiful soul was refined for perfect praise. She finished well, with heaven-bent heart and faith unshaken.

Kay was born on Sept. 3, 1946. at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, to Robert F. Gietzen, dec. and Bernadine A. (Bignell) Gietzen, dec. Since her parents were Catholic the only proper thing to do was surround her with 10 siblings, from oldest to youngest: Robert Gietzen, dec., Thomas Gietzen, dec., Nancy Clegg, Mary Jean “Jeannie” Deyling, Kay Thomas, Maureen Innis, Phillip “Bruce” Gietzen, Jim Gietzen, Terry Janke, Michael Gietzen, and Mary Hermann. The complex interaction of 11 siblings produced countless humorous stories from her youth, often culminating in something or someone being broken, stolen or in trouble. Reflecting on her youth, she later wrote a poem titled “My Shadow,” which concluded “at least I know I have something, my brother cannot kill.” The rigors of raising 11 kids led Kay’s mom to place her in charge of many aspects of raising her younger siblings. She mentored her siblings, showing them grace and trust.

Her childhood was spent in Lemon Grove, California, when lemons still grew there, and the key attraction was Miller’s dairy. Catholic school comprised her K-12 education, producing numerous anecdotes involving nuns of various temperaments and an all-girl band of co-conspirators known as the Banshees. Friendships formed persisted through her life. Post-secondary, she completed 2 years of college for dental assisting, and worked in her brother’s dental practice. Favorite activities of her early life: camping, the family cabin in Julian, beaches, Girl Scouts, and race car driving.

In Orange County she would train as a school bus driver in some of the most formidable traffic in the nation. She was quickly promoted to bus driver trainer and would compete in bus driver rodeos. Whilst no children were roped in said events, the rodeos showcased her bus-driving prowess. A brief period of living with her young nieces during their parents’ divorce left a lasting impression on their lives.

The California of her youth was changing. Concrete and congestion supplanted serenity and space. In 1972 she heard the call of the Flathead Valley, whose bucolic charm and majestic views seemed tabula rasa. In Montana she found peace for a soul worn by urbanity. Two seminal moments followed. She developed a saving knowledge and relationship with Christ. Her real, relevant and unpretentious faith was exemplar to everyone she contacted. Next, she met her husband, James L. Thomas. They were married on April 2, 1977, and recently celebrated their 42nd anniversary. Their faithfulness and persistence serve testimony that lasting marriage is often equal parts affection and grit. In 1980, Kay would give birth to her only child, John L. Thomas. She spent the rest of her life complaining about his ponderous birth weight and proudly sharing his accomplishments to any willing ear.

Kay had a sensitivity to tender and vulnerable things in the world. She was born to nurture and support others, particularly children. Many feel empathy for the helpless, but for Kay it compelled an irresistible sense of duty. She was a devoted mother, always generous with her time and energy. She had a special way of making mundane activities fun, and she had a patient heart for the misdemeanors of a rambunctious boy. She and John shared many adventures, notable among them bike rides. On one ride, a niece abruptly stopped in front of her. Faced with the choice of running over a hapless kid or falling down a sizable embankment, she swerved. Her ensuing cartwheel-fall ended with the utter destruction of a rotten stump part way down the slope and an entirely unscathed Kay.

Kay believed in the value of Christian education. To afford private education she took a bus-driving position with Stillwater Christian School. Mechanical woes, cold, dark winter mornings and cacophonic hordes of children could not temper her desire to “train up a child in the way he should go.” However, she did not simply endure, she made it fun. She got to know each kid, their story, their life; she cared. Decades later there are still many “kids” walking around who remember “bus driver Kay.” When her son went to college, she delivered pizzas to help cover the cost. The next opportunity for support came when three young nephews found themselves in painful circumstances. Kay faithfully answered the call, serving as nanny to bring stability, attention and love into the lives of the hurting children.

2008 ushered in a new chapter with the addition of her daughter-in-law, Christine L. Thomas. 2009 brought her life special joy and purpose with the arrival of her granddaughter, Noelle G. Thomas. Two grandsons followed: Jack L. Thomas in 2012 and Jacob L. Thomas in 2017. “Mimi” would spend many days with her grandkids sharing activities such as making forest meals, camping, teaching the Bible, picnics in the park, music, family stories, teaching random Spanish words, doctoring stuffed animals, and teaching Mimi-isms such as “duck lips.” She taught the grandkids to see joy in small, simple things. Noelle has a special belly laugh only Mimi gets out of her.

Following are random memories about Kay: loved Celtic music, toasted with Slainte, played a Taylor guitar, minor keys stirred her soul, a prayer warrior, loved bargain shopping, drug yummy stews through the kitchen, carried a water bottle everywhere, left notes, the sound of wind in the trees made her happy, stuck her thumb up like a hitchhiker to remember she wanted to say something, carried an enormous purse containing untold treasures, loved the Tolkien quote “Not all those who wander are lost”, served her church, family historian and loved genealogy, never let her gas tank go below half just in case, when answering in the affirmative said “is the pope a catholic,” played numerous instruments, Glacier NP was her favorite place, she loved to camp, and her favorite scripture was Psalm 91.

A celebration of life will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at Calvary Chapel Whitefish. Donations in her memory may be made to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

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