Editor’s note: For this year’s Black History Month, Greater Union Life Center is sponsoring banners along Woodland Boulevard in DeLand honoring 16 individuals who have made a positive impact on the city of DeLand, and Volusia County.
As retired educators, community servants and DeLandites who wanted the best for their neighbors, William “Crane” Thomas and Ethel Thomas were partners and spouses for 48 years.
The two met while they were studying at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.
“We met in college on a blind date,” Ethel Thomas told The Beacon.
Before long, they were married, and the two moved to DeLand to start a family. They went on to have two sons — Tra and Eric — and now have five grandchildren.
The Thomases are well known for giving their all to their community. William Thomas, frequently seen riding around the city on his motorcycle — worked as a GED teacher at Daytona Beach Community College, and he was instrumental in planning and hosting community events at Eastside Park in DeLand. In 2019, the DeLand City Commission renamed the park Tra Thomas Park after their son.
Tra Thomas is probably most well known in the DeLand area; he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles football team in 1998, and played with the team through 2008.
Before retiring from the NFL in 2012, Tra Thomas also played short stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers. Recently, he was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.
Ethel Thomas worked for Volusia County Schools, first as a teacher at Spruce Creek High School and then for 19 years at DeLand High School. After she retired in 1999, she went on to work as an adjunct professor at Daytona State College, but she also had more time to serve her community.
From organizing food pantries and cookouts to petitioning the DeLand City Commission to add sidewalks to historically underserved parts of the city, Ethel and William Thomas have served their community in just about every way an involved citizen could.
Even though they’re both being recognized for their service, Ethel sees it as a memorial to her husband, who died in 2021.
“I cannot even explain my emotions and heartfelt appreciation to the committee who selected us,” she said. “I was just over-the-top surprised and thrilled that we were thought of enough to be one of the honorees. We live such a humble lifestyle. We enjoy sitting out here on our property, watching our cows in the pasture.”
Their son Tra felt similarly.
“I’m extremely proud of how my parents served and how my mom continues to serve the community,” he told The Beacon. “Thank you for recognizing them.”