News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 10, 2014

Leaving behind a firm foundation

Thomas has boosted education by building relationships, raising funds

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — After 14 years, Jennifer A. Thomas will step down at the end of this month as executive director of the Vigo County Education Foundation.

Jane Nichols will assume leadership starting July 1, it was announced last week. Nichols has served as the executive assistant for the foundation, located at 686 Wabash Ave., for the past three years.

Thomas has helped the foundation, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization formed in 1984, to grow from about $29,000 in donations/gifts in 2000 to more than $220,000 for 2013-2014.

The foundation in 2013 raised more than $329,000 and distributed more than $186,000 in grants and awards. The foundation’s operating expenses were more than $85,600. The foundation for 2013 reported endowment funds, savings, investment and cash of more than $990,500.

Thomas and her husband, Thomas W. Thomas, a member of the Vigo County School Board, came to Terre Haute in 1984 after he accepted a position at Templeton Coal Co. Thomas Thomas is secretary/treasurer of Templeton Coal Co. Inc.

Jennifer Thomas had been an elementary school teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. She left teaching to stay home with the couple’s two daughters. The move marked a return for Thomas, who grew up in Terre Haute.

She is a 1969 graduate of the former Garfield High School and is a 1973 graduate of DePauw University.

In 2000, she took on the job as executive director.

“I took it on because …I had been a volunteer in the schools and I had been a teacher and I saw how hard teachers worked,” Thomas said, “and how much extra support they could use and how much difference community involvement could make in the work of the schools.

“We have worked ever since to connect the business community with the school corporation, both in dollars and in access, and being able to let the business community see what is going on in the schools and visa versa,” Thomas said.

“The foundation is so not me; there are very committed board members and volunteers. But what I think I have done is provide a persona to the organization. I think before me there was turnover and the foundation didn’t really have a visibility,” she said.

“Our mission is enhancing opportunities for kids in classrooms, and it has never changed from that. We have been able to grow significantly … but we have not drifted from that mission,” Thomas said.

“I used to say that the foundation provided the niceties and now we provide the necessities,” Thomas said.

“I have loved the job. It is truly been a labor of love. I feel as if I grown the foundation from its infancy to maybe now where it is in its teen years and it is posed for more growth,” Thomas said. “We just need fresh leadership to do that,” she said of her decision to leave the position.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.