By Sarah Meyer, PNT Staff Writer
Leroy and Gaynelle Thomas have contributed countless hours over the years to the Portales community, but they don’t think what they’ve done is anything out of the ordinary.
City officials disagree, and they’re recognizing the couple with a 6 p.m. reception Tuesday at the Memorial Building, followed by a proclamation and awards at the 7 p.m. City Council meeting.
Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. said he and the council developed the Excellence in Citizenship Award to recognize people who have made major contributions to the community.
“These people are very special to the community,” he said. “I work with these people day in and day out. In one way or another, they give to the community, above and beyond.”
The award is not given on a regular basis, Ortega said, but, “as we feel it’s needed.”
The Thomases moved to Portales from Kansas in 1960 and almost immediately jumped into community involvement. Leroy attended Eastern New Mexico University and served as a preacher at community churches during school.
“I think it was my calling, to minister to churches that couldn’t afford — and didn’t really need — a full-time preacher,” he said. He has served as minister for the Causey Church of Christ for more than 39 years, and doesn’t plan to stop until it stops being fun.
“We’re a real close family there,” he said of the congregation, which currently includes 15 members. “It would be an imposition on all of them to have to drive to (Portales) every Sunday.”
By 1963, Leroy was director of public relations for New Mexico Christian Children’s Home. He became a member of the board of directors in 1972 and still serves.
Gaynelle worked as bookkeeper at the children’s home and formed the Ladies Associates, a group of women who have worked to improve the quality of life for children at the home.
The children’s home honored the couple with the J.W. Terry Founders award in 2003.
Leroy opened The Print Shop in 1970. Now operated by his son, Don, Leroy still works there occasionally, and Gaynelle still does the bookkeeping.
Leroy has been a member of the Rotary Club since 1971, with more than 37 years of perfect attendance.
“I’m totally committed to Rotary,” he said, because of things like the club’s polio program, which has been able to eradicate polio 97 percent worldwide.
“I look to Leroy and Gaynelle for honest answers on how best to make a difference,” said Noelle Bartl, president of the Portales Rotary Club. “They exemplify true altruism in all that they think, say and do.”
The couple also supports Habitat for Humanity, with Gaynelle making sure the workers have lunch and Leroy helping build houses.
“They have given wholeheartedly of their time and their talent to better our town and communities and they have done so in the most unselfish of ways,” said Nancy Taylor, director of the food bank, who has known the Thomases for many years.
Despite all their efforts, they think the credit should go elsewhere.
“Other people are just as involved as we are,” said Gaynelle, a member of Altrusa International and the Portales Woman’s Club for more than 30 years.
“We feel like if we’re going to live in a community, we need to give back to it,” said Leroy. “Portales has been good to us.”
People who have worked with them, though, are impressed with what they’ve done.
“They are wonderful people,” said Sharon King, executive director of the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce. “They’re willing to help the community or individual in any way they can.”
They’ve even been known to open their home on holidays to individuals who otherwise would be alone, King said.
“They’re great examples of small town leaders,” said Don Thomas. “They taught me a great legacy of community service and believing in my hometown.”
The Thomases enjoy traveling in their motor home when they’re not doing anything else.
“We’d rather be active than retire,” said Gaynelle.