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Local News

Kay Thomas always said ‘yes’

Crest Hill founder was ‘the first one standing in line to help out’

Kay Thomas greets with friends and family Oct. 11, as they greet her during her 100th birthday party at Rosewood Care Center in Joliet. Thompson was one of the founding members of Crest Hill's incorporation in January 1960.
Kay Thomas greets with friends and family Oct. 11, as they greet her during her 100th birthday party at Rosewood Care Center in Joliet. Thompson was one of the founding members of Crest Hill's incorporation in January 1960.

Tina Oberlin said she first met Kay Thomas when Tina was “a kid working with the Crest Hill Lassies.

The Crest Hill Lassies was a drill team that Kay, Crest Hill founder and last living charter member of the Crest Hill Women’s Civic League, ran with Jo Goran, Tina said.

Tina said she started to know Kay better in 2006 when Tina became a member of Crest Hill’s City Council.

“She was one of those selfless people who saw that something needed to be done and did it,” Tina said. “She never questioned why it needed to be done or why wasn’t someone else hadn’t done it. She just did it.”

Tina said the league, Kay among them, literally went door-to-door raising money to buy a piece of property to extend the city’s borders so Crest Hill could be incorporated.

That’s why, starting in December, the Crest Hill Women’s League will honor one deserving Crest Hill woman with the first Kay Thomas award. Nominations will open in the spring, Tina said.

Ray Soliman, mayor of Crest Hill, called Kay a pioneer, someone who was a giver and not a taker, a doer and not a complainer, and one who embodied the spirit of true volunteerism even into her 90s.

“She would give you the shirt off her back,” Soliman said. “If anyone asked her to volunteer for a project or if anyone needed help she was, without hesitation, the first one standing in line to help out.”

Ray said Kay also was a charter member of the Crest Hill veteran’s memorial committee and served as its treasurer for 20 years. But she also helped plant the memorial garden and clip the weeds.

“She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty,” Ray said.

Kay died Jan. 18 at 103.

A woman of action

According to Kay’s obituary, Kay also was a charter member of the police memorial committee and the Lidice memorial committee.

She also was an active member of the Parent Teacher Association and Band Parent Association at both Chaney Grade School and Lockport Township High School, according to Kay’s obituary.

In addition to helping form the Crest Hill Lassies drill team, Kay volunteered regularly at their practices and competitions. Kay also volunteered with the Lockport Township Park District Senior activities and Lockport Township Young Timers Club, according to her obituary.

Early years

Kay’s children, Randy Thomas of Chicago and Sue Bajt of Libertyville, said Kay had grown up on Broadway Street in Joliet as one of seven children. Kay moved to Crest Hill at the time of her marriage to the late Frank Thomas.

Randy said Frank’s family home was built on an apron that had several lots. After Frank and Kay married, Frank was allocated two of the lots to build his house.

To put Kay’s extensive service in perspective, Randy said Kay’s passion for incorporating Crest Hill came during a time when most women were housewives, Randy said.

Sue expressed admiration for these woman, Kay especially, who weren’t afraid to make things happen.

“She was very driven, very active,” Sue said. “She loved people and loved to be part of these organizations. She loved the interaction and was not afraid to get involved. She also took a leadership role. She was treasurer of some of these organizations. She was very goal-oriented.”

Sue said Crest Hill was a “wonderful place where everyone knew everybody.”

“My parents were very involved,” Sue said. “There were lots of children and the school was right in the neighborhood so everything was very accessible. There was lots of parental involvement in the schools.”

On the home front, Kay also was driven and organized, Sue said.

“She knew what needed to be done and had a calendar for every day of the week for what needed to be done on a certain day,” Sue said. “It sounds old-fashioned: Monday was wash day and Tuesday was ironing day. We were called into action when she needed help, but she wanted us to focus on our schoolwork.”

In addition to school, Kay and Frank backed any interest Randy or Sue wanted to pursue, such as music lessons, Randy said.

“They always found a way for us to do that,” Randy said.

Sue said, “She always said Randy and I were here greatest accomplishments. ‘I’m so proud of you kids.’ I heard that over and over.”

Mentor and friend

Jeanne Jurisic of Crest Hill, who met Kay through the Crest Hill Women’s Civic League, called Kay her mentor and friend, adding that Kay also was Crest Hill’s first historian.

Jeanne mentioned some of the projects the league accomplished partly because of Kay’s initiative. One of these was buying furniture from the furniture factory at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill for the community room of the Crest Hill Library’s former location.

“She was warm and friendly and caring and giving,” Jeanne said, echoing Ray’s sentiments that Kay as the first person people called for help. “She always said, ‘Yes.’ ”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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