Thora (Vonnie) Thomas died surrounded in love November 15, 2022, at the age of 92. She joins her husband of 57 years, Hartley Thomas, at heaven’s card table. She is survived by her children: Karen (George) Auel, Paul (Katie) Thomas, and Kris (Paul) Anderson; eight grandchildren Sarah (Kyle), Joe, Samantha (Kai), Emma (Alex), Hannah, Isaiah (Amelia), Zachary and Kristen; and five great grandchildren Henry, Georgia, Beckham, Crosby, and Mason.
Vonnie’s life was replete with adventure and underscored by unwavering determination, fierce intellect, and a coy sense of humor. Born on March 6, 1930, to Julius and Laura Gilbertson in Montevideo, Minnesota, she was one of four children.
Leaving her family’s ranch in North Dakota, she made her way back to Minnesota in pursuit of higher education. Her nursing degree from Fairview Hospital School of Nursing was financed by industriousness – she did what she knew and sold beef cattle on the stock market. Soon thereafter she began her nursing practice in the Twin Cities where her lifetime of public service would bloom.
Her first mission, however, may have been a bit self-serving. She provided first aid at the Minnesota State Fair in exchange for an admission ticket. Her whole life she loved to see the horse competitions at the fairgrounds. But more than the horses, she fell in love with the organization providing the first aid, the American Red Cross. In the end she served the Red Cross mission for over 72 years, most notably as a Disaster Health Services volunteer. During her decades with the organization Vonnie held more than 40 positions, clocked thousands of hours and deployed on countless disaster relief operations. In 2015 she was bestowed the Florence Nightingale Medal, which is the highest international honor for nursing contributions and humanitarian action around the globe. In 2016, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed June 28 of that year Vonnie Thomas Day, in honor of her years of volunteer service.
When she wasn’t volunteering with the Red Cross you could find Vonnie in one of several places: on the water, on the mountain, or on the golf course.
Vonnie and Hartley maintained a slip at the St. Croix marina for well over 40 years. Her childhood sailboat, the Sea Squirt, instilled a love that turned into three houseboats and endless summers cruising up and down the river. Her last boat was perhaps the most aptly named. The Legacy did just that, instill a love for water that has been passed down through the generations.
In sharp contrast she spent the winter season in Winter Park, Colorado where she skied in the trees, played a mean game of Texas Hold’em, and lent her talents to the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Vonnie was a superpower in the adaptive world. She could watch someone, anyone, walk and know exactly how to set them up for success on skis or a snowboard. Vonnie was an expert guide for blind skiers, four track and bi skiers. She was tireless. After instructing all day, it was no problem for her to clean up and attend a NSCD fundraiser with Hal O’Leary the same evening.
While Hartley and Vonnie were partners on the water and in the snow, it was Chris who knew her golf game best. Partners on the green for 22 years Chris could attest she wasn’t long off the T, but she hit ‘em straight. In fact, one year she achieved every golfer’s dream - a hole in one at Kilkarney Golf Course.
The hardest thing about moving forward is leaving something behind – usually its part of ourselves. Vonnie has moved on to the next great adventure, but she leaves behind the biggest parts of herself, a fierce spirit of gamesmanship, unconditional love for her grandchildren and an indelible legacy of public service.
Memorials preferred to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief, Courage Kenny Adaptive Skiing, and the National Sports Center for the Disabled.