The Way We Were – Corky and Kit Thomas

The Way We Were – Corky and Kit Thomas
Corky and Kit Thomas with daughters Betsy Zahn, Katie Zahn, Maggie Thomas, Jennifer Thomas Medure with baby Charlie

It’s amazing Kit and Corky Thomas of San Marco didn’t meet a whole lot earlier than 1982 when the couple – both single parents of daughters – went on their first date to a Florida-Georgia football game.

Kit, whose maiden name was Bunch, grew up in San Marco, while Corky lived his childhood years across the river in Murray Hill. Both, unknowingly, shared long-time acquaintances, and both, unknowingly, had shared experiences by being in the same place at the same time.

On their first date, Corky showed up with a large pompom corsage sporting a little plastic football. “I thought ‘Oh, my gosh, way over the top,” said Kit. But, because both were longtime Georgia Bulldog fans, the two couldn’t have come up with a better first date. “Georgia won!” Corky said, and so did he when they married July 23, 1983, with their young daughters, Jennifer, Katie, and Betsy serving as bridesmaids.

Corky and Kit Thomas, Wedding Day, 1983

The couple’s gridiron connection, one of many, goes back to high school when one of the biggest school rivalries in Jacksonville in the 1970s was Lee-Wolfson. While Corky, Class of 1967, was marching in the Lee High School band as drum major his senior year, Kit, Class of 1968, attended football games and cheered for her alma mater, Wolfson High.

Kit attended Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, where she earned degrees in elementary education and sociology with a concentration in criminology. Meanwhile, Corky studied a few miles away at Emory University in Atlanta, receiving his Doctor of Dental Science in 1975. Because both schools did not have football teams, they each cheered for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, and today continue to do so together.

The San Marco couple didn’t meet, however, until mutual friends at Southside Methodist Church encouraged the single parents to get know each other better 35 years ago.

“My girls and his daughter sang together in the choir. All the kids loved him,” said Kit. “We hung around with the same group of church friends. Our faith was an important part of the attraction, and we were always together anyway.”

A year after their wedding, daughter Maggie turned the family into “yours, mine and ours,” but the couple just refers to all their daughters as “ours.”

Reminiscing about some of their teachers, and the strict rules high school students had to follow in the late ‘60s, Kit recalled, “Mrs. Wilson at Wolfson made girls kneel down to see if their skirts were long enough to touch the floor. And you couldn’t wear pants, only dresses or skirts.”

“What about those gym outfits the girls wore?” Corky interjected. “Oh, my goodness, those white things with your name embroidered on it, and your shoes had to have your name across the front in marker – Bunch, K.,” laughed Kit.

Corky recalled Virgie Cone at Lee enforced the same short-skirt rule and mentioned seeing boys come back from the dean’s office red in the face from getting swats with a paddle for misbehavior. Kit said the paddle at Wolfson had holes in it.

Corky’s favorite teacher at Lee High School was Myra Schwerdt, who happened to be best friends with Kit’s favorite teacher at Wolfson, Charlotte Ray, although neither were aware of it when they were in high school. 

Growing up in Murray Hill, Corky attended Ruth N. Upson Elementary, then went to middle school at John Gorrie. As a teenager, he rocked out with his band, The Coronados, at Southside Woman’s Club, The Beach Pavilion, Woodstock, Cedar Hills and other teen clubs all over Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Kit would sometimes go to the teen clubs, but more often just hung out in the parking lots. “My parents didn’t want me going to dances,” she joked. “But there was a great teen club in San Marco – near where the library is on Hendricks. There used to be a community swimming pool there, but they filled it in.”

Corky Thomas, sixth-grade patrol at Ruth N. Upson

While at Wolfson, Kit ventured across the river to the Dreamette in Murray Hill and to Pop Berrier’s for malts on Cassatt Avenue, a favorite hangout for Lee students.

Both took dance classes; Corky took class at Buddy Campbell’s Dance School, which was across from the Dreamette on Post Street, and Kit took class with Earl Bagaley of Bagaley Juvenile Theatre on Stockton Street in Riverside. Kit attended Cotillion, and they laughed when Corky recalled going to the Patrol Boy dance in 6th grade wearing a red jacket and black bow tie with a girl about a foot and half taller than he was. “Our daughters and Kit had a lot of fun with that picture!” he laughed.

After graduating from Mercer, Kit taught Special Education at Wesconnett Elementary for one year from 1973-1974, then worked as a Probation and After Care Counselor with the Juvenile Justice from 1974-1976. Ironically, the judge she most often had to deal with was Judge Marion Gooding, who just happened to be Corky’s uncle. 

Kit returned to her teaching career at Fort Caroline Elementary, where she found the principal was the same woman who had been principal at Hendricks Avenue Elementary when Kit attended as a child. Since those teaching days, Kit has been director of Southside United Methodist Preschool, executive director of Girls, Inc. Jacksonville, and vice president of major gifts for United Way of Northeast Florida, from which she retired in 2013. But her best job ever? Stay-at-Home mom from 1979-1996.

Besides cooking with daughters Jennifer Thomas Medure, Katie Zahn, Betsy Zahn and their families (daughter Maggie lives in California), socializing and traveling with their 12 or 15 friends of 30-plus years – the Thomases have been to Alaska, Spain and are soon off to Italy. Kit and her group of girlfriends, called The Dreamers, have gone off together every Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend for 25 years. “We lounge around, eat, play games, talk and laugh,” said Kit.

Kit and Corky have hosted a Christmas Eve party for family and friends every year since they married. “Once you are invited you are always invited,” said Corky. One year they were sick and didn’t have the party, but their pastor and his wife didn’t get the message and showed up anyway.

Music has always been an important part of their lives. They are active in Southside United Methodist Church, singing in the choir; Corky leads a small group and was youth choir director for 15 years, while Kit co-directs the children’s choir. They also sing in One Accord, a community choir. “Our kids grew up around the piano,” said Kit.

Kit Thomas still has the teddy bear she loved as a toddler

The list of boards and community involvements they have served would fill a page or two. Presently Kit serves on the board of Theatre Jacksonville, Arc Jacksonville, Kairos Outside Council – a prison ministry for women with incarcerated loved ones, and is the Continuing Ministry Chair at Southside Methodist.   

Kit is also presently capital campaign manager for the North Florida School of Special Education, which she said is “a little piece of heaven,” while Corky maintains his dental practice on Hendricks Avenue. “It has been very rewarding to see families come through. I’ve treated three and sometimes four generations in the same family as well as many of my former teachers from Lee High School and Kit’s former teachers from Wolfson,” he said.

Having a child with learning disabilities inspired the Thomases to help in the vision for the Arc Village, where one of their daughters now lives. “Parents of adult children would ask, ‘What’s going to happen to our kids when we are gone?’” said Kit. “United Way opened doors for me – I met community leaders and philanthropists and used those relationships to connect folks to their passion.” 

Community involvement is simply a reflection of living their faith, said the couple. “We like to have fun – include anyone and everyone, and serve others,” they said. “We have been through a lot together, but when you have a God-centered marriage and hard times come in life you can pull out of it,” added Kit.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” quoted Corky. “That’s my favorite quote!” Kit exclaimed.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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