Jim Thomas, the man, was remembered on Wednesday.
No surprise, Jim Thomas, the street, is a fitting tribute to his legacy.
The dedication ceremony of Jim Thomas Street took months in the making and featured officials from the City of Manteca, San Joaquin County Office of Education, Manteca Unified School District, Sierra High, and family members in attendance on this cold and windy day-before-Thanksgiving afternoon.
"When (Thomas's son) Jim first contacted me, we thought about doing something small with just the family," recalled Sierra High Principal Steve Clark of the initial plans.
But there was nothing small about the Thomas family, especially with seven of the nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren of Jim and Neva Thomas being products of SHS.
During his lifetime, Jim Thomas Sr. served as superintendent of the MUSD, capping off a career in education that spanned four decades.
A son of a coal miner, he was born Dec. 12, 1924 in Panama, Okla.
“He worked hard as a young man to make a better life for himself,” said MUSD school board member Bob Wallace, who taught under Thomas at Lincoln Elementary School.
He did so by becoming the first in his family to attend college, graduating from Oklahoma State with a degree in Vocational Agriculture. Thomas earned his Master’s School Administration from Tulsa University.
He served his country in World War II, joining the U.S. Navy and becoming a naval officer. Thomas achieved the rank of Lieutenant and was a commanding officer of an amphibious ship in the Pacific Theater.
His road in education began in 1946 as a vocational ag teacher in Oklahoma. From there, he became principal at Owasso High and, shortly after, superintendent of schools in Owasso.
In 1959, Jim Thomas and his young family moved to Manteca.
He was a science and math teacher at Lincoln before becoming principal of the school in 1963. That was three years prior to unification.
In 1973, Thomas was appointed assistant superintendent of MUSD – he didn’t apply for the post.
By 1983, the school board appointed Jim Thomas as the district superintendent.
He distinguished himself with his “leadership, integrity and competence,” retiring as MUSD’s top administrator in 1986 while continuing other endeavors.
Thomas, in addition, served on the Doctors Hospital of Manteca board of directors.
He kept busy during retirement. Thomas, who was an avid fisherman – in 2002, he was inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame for his contribution to public education – was instrumental in obtaining funding for construction of McParland, Brock Elliott, Stella Brockman, Joshua Cowell and August Knodt elementary schools as well as SHS.
"Construction funding back then was exceedingly complicated. But my father understood how it worked," said the younger Jim Thomas, who served as Deputy Superintendent of Business Services for SJCOE.
MUSD Trustee Steve Schluer and others favor Sierra now being at 1700 Jim Thomas St.
"His legacy will be remembered always," Schluer said.