The Wilkes community remembers Dr. Steven Thomas

The Wilkes community remembers Dr. Steven Thomas

“He made me feel as though I was a part of something bigger,” said Maddison Black, an alumna of Wilkes University, when speaking on the legacy of Dr. Steven Thomas.

Thomas, who served as professor of music and chair of the division of performing arts, died July 12, following complications from acute myeloblastic leukemia, ending a year-long battle with cancer.

Thomas joined the Wilkes community in 1999, and throughout his 21-year-career, brought enthusiasm and love to choral and chamber performances, as well as led various classes within the music department.

“He was armed with degrees from Harvard and Yale, was a fine choral conductor and arts administrator,” said Joseph Dawson, associate professor of theatre at the university. “Wilkes could not have asked for a better custodian of all the arts programs, but especially the music program.”

Those who knew Thomas were aware of his passion for music and how his dedication to the craft could fill a room. He served as a great example to faculty and students alike.

For Wilkes alumnus Derek Jolley, Thomas taught him proper singing and breathing techniques and was more than just a teacher and mentor, but also a friend.

“He was the reason why my time at Wilkes was enriched,” said Jolley. “He challenged me and had a way of getting through to students on an intellectual and emotional level. He was the music program.”

Thomas was a staple in the Wilkes community, as well as in localities beyond the university’s campus, serving as the music director of the Arcadia Chorale, a northeast Pennsylvania-based chamber choir. He also sang tenor in the Lyric Consort, as well as prepared performances with ensembles and artists, including the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, the Hartford Symphony, the Boston Camerata and Dave Brubeck.

Further, Thomas sought opportunities for Wilkes students to collaborate with members of other performing ensembles, including choirs from Marywood and Bloomsburg Universities, as well as the Choral Society of Northeast Pennsylvania. The performances most meaningful to him, however, were those collaborations between Wilkes’ choral ensembles and the Arcadia Chorale.

Alexander Booth, a senior musical theatre major, was one of several students who had a close relationship with Thomas. Booth had the pleasure of being involved in the university choir under Thomas’ direction and saw firsthand how he made a point to establish strong bonds with all of his students.

“I remember my freshman year, we went on a choir retreat and slept in a church to perform the next day,” said Booth. “It was fun to joke around with him and see him outside of a traditional academic setting.”

When students heard he was taking a medical leave this past school year, they gathered up cards and small gifts with the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center’s secretary, Mary Ellen Sloat, to send to him. Even then, he was well missed by his students and fellow professors, as they valued the importance of his presence at the university.

“Aside from music, he was a very trustworthy and supportive person,” explained Booth. “If you had a problem, he was the first person you could go-to to get help.”

With his passing, Thomas leaves those touched by his legacy at Wilkes, as well as those throughout his life, with a heavy heart.

Thomas is survived by members of his family, including his wife, Susan Minsavage; parents, Marian and Timothy Thomas; brother, Peter Thomas and sister, Julie Thomas.

Once it is safe to do so, a public celebration filled with music and singing will be held to honor Thomas’ life as a professor, friend and musician.

“He had the calmest demeanor and the best wardrobe of anyone on campus,” said Dawson, remembering Thomas. “We will miss him terribly and will try to absorb what he valued as essential to the arts and society.”