"I think it's good for me personally and the institution to have new leadership," Thomas said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. "I wanted to plan my own retirement. I would like for my board and staff and friends to know I have planned for this and I am leaving near the top of my game," he said.
"I have tried to be true to the mission of the institution, to maintain and interpret the Shaker legacy, and not deviate from that objective."
He started as assistant to Cogar
Thomas first came to work at Shakertown in 1964 as assistant to the executive director, having been hired by Executive Director Jim Cogar. Later in Cogar's tenure, the board changed to an officer system of staff titles and Cogar became the first president.
"It was a great opportunity to work for Jim Cogar for 11 years while he was at Shakertown," Thomas said. "He became my mentor and best friend, and I learned so much from him. It was a great opportunity to learn from a pioneer in preservation. His mentoring prepared me for my ultimate leadership at Shaker Village."
Over Thomas' tenure, the village and farm have grown from a few hundred acres to almost 3,000 acres. Some of the land has been donated, but most was purchased by the board.
During his final year as Shakertown's top administrator, Thomas says he wants to complete the task that has occupied most of his time recently. "We've been working hard the last two years to put the site in first-class condition so it has the pristine appearance consistent with the historical accounts of the first half of the 19th century."
Members of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, labeled Shakers because of their dance during religious services, arrived to land above the Kentucky River in 1905 and established the village later in the century. However, the group's practice of celibacy and communal living became less and less popular and the village was closed by 1910.
Restoration pleases him most
When Thomas looks back at his 40 years at the village, it is the restoration of the buildings and grounds that pleases him most.
"I'm most proud of the fact that I've been able to oversee the entire restoration of basically every nail driven at Pleasant Hill," he said. "I've been fortunate to have my tenure during the entire restoration program. That's why I was hired: To oversee the restoration program."
"In the final year of my service to Pleasant Hill, I will be trying to complete various projects that I've been working on. In particular, I'll be working closely with Madge Adams to ensure a seamless succession. I'm very excited about Madge being my successor because we share the same vision for the institution and I think she will do an outstanding job because she has the intellect, experience and integrity to be an absolute first-rate president and CEO."
Thomas is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Susanna, and their two sons, Ian and Mason. "One of the reasons I want to retire is I have these two wonderful boys and I want to see them grow up," he said.
While Thomas has viewed the preservation of Shaker Village from the president's office, he will continue to watch it, but his new perspective will be from the back of a horse.
"My passion, besides preservation, is for horses," he said. The Thomases own seven horses, and his favorite is Jack, an eight-year-old Missouri fox trotter. "We ride as often as we can. We love the trails at Shakertown." "I want to spend more time seeing this beautiful country on horseback."