Thomas is living proof that opportunities can be created. A Julius E. Sprauve School graduate and 1970 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School, Thomas joined the NPS in 1971 after a short stint working for himself as an auto mechanic. He started off as a lifeguard at the urging of a friend, back when there were less lifeguards on staff and more beaches to patrol.
“Back then, we had one to two lifeguards, and we were stationed at Trunk, Cinnamon and Hawksnest,” said Thomas. “The lifeguard at Cinnamon would post the ‘No Lifeguard on Duty’ sign and go to Trunk to relieve that lifeguard for lunch, and then the lifeguard at Trunk would relieve the Cinnamon lifeguard for lunch. When we were fortunate enough to have three lifeguards, one would be stationed at Hawksnest, especially on Sundays.”
From Lifeguard to Boat Patrol Ranger
For Thomas, who loved to swim and snorkel, working as a lifeguard was an ideal job. He also enjoyed meeting people on the beaches and teaching them about the island’s marine life and resources. Being a lifeguard was not all fun and games, however.
“It was hard work because of the stress of not wanting anyone to drown,” said Thomas, who did experience a few unfortunate incidences while on duty.
After two years of keeping Love City beach-goers safe, Thomas took to the water as a boat patrol ranger, where he continued to enjoy talking with people and sharing his knowledge of local wildlife and resources. He also worked to ensure boaters followed the rules within VINP waters, and helped with search and rescue when necessary.
In 1974, Thomas attended the Consolidated Law Enforcement Training Center, giving him the authority to arrest people if necessary while out on the water. Three years later, the VINP’s chief of interpretation decided to pursue a formal education.
“I went to West Virginia University and found out it wasn’t the place for me, so I transferred to the University of Maryland,” said Thomas. “I reapplied to the park and started working at the George Washington Memorial Parkway. I worked full time and attended school full time.”
Meeting Congressmen, Senators
Thomas dropped down to a part-time student halfway through his third year and continued to work full time at the George Washington Memorial Parkway in interpretation and search and rescue, graduating in 1985 with a bachelor of science degree in psychology and a minor in biology. Soon after, he returned to his home island, where he began working as a support ranger for VINP management.
“I worked directly under the superintendent,” said Thomas. “I would do things like rewrite the Land Protection Plan, and I went to the regional office’s public information office, where I learned how to deal with the media. I also had the opportunity to take people like congressmen and senators on tours, and with some of them, we became friends.”
Thomas still works under the VINP superintendent today, and as the head of the park’s educational division, he continues to enjoy the one aspect of working for the park that he’s loved since day one — teaching residents and visitors alike about St. John and its natural resources.
“I love relating history and the value of resources to visitors and the community,” said Thomas. “I hope they embrace and appreciate the resources and become stewards themselves. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it, especially relating folklore, telling people stories about the resources and how to deal with them to make sure they are not depleted.”
Resources Will Take Care of You
Thomas’ typical day at work consists of fielding numerous phone calls from publications featuring the VINP seeking to verify information, maintaining the park’s Web site and performing supervisory duties. He enjoys working for an organization whose mission is to preserve cultural and natural resources, which he now realizes are important to the island’s economy, the VINP chief of interpretation explained.
“It’s become even more meaningful as you tie it in to economic survival,” said Thomas. “The issues of resource preservation and economics are intertwined.”
Thomas encourages residents and visitors alike to take an interest in protecting the island’s natural resources.
“Learn as much as you can about the resources, spread the value of the resources and take care of them, because they will take care of you,” he said.