Political leader Dr. Jerry Aroe Thomas served from 1999 to 2004 as State Senator for District 12 following his tenure in the Louisiana House of Representatives. This district was comprised of all of Washington Parish; that part of St. Tammany Parish north of Abita Springs and Pearl River; Tangipahoa Parish from Natalbany north to the state line; and also part of St. Helena Parish. Serving on the Senate Committees of Agriculture, Transportation, Insurance, and Highways and Public Works, Dr. Jerry brought home the bacon to our parish.
I personally remember Dr. Jerry securing funding for hospitals here at home as it was an era when budget cuts were the norm. My memory on the matter is vivid because my father was the long-time CEO of the Bogalusa Community Medical Center, back in its heyday. Years later, when Governor Charles Elson "Buddy" Roemer III wanted to close the other hospital in Bogalusa --- Washington St. Tammany Charity Hospital --- Dr. Jerry convinced him otherwise, impressing on him the value it provided to our parish, addressing the health care needs of our people. And the doors remained open. And when it became an issue once again, during Governor Murphy James "Mike" Foster Jr.'s administration, Dr. Jerry forged a public/private partnership of the two hospitals in Bogalusa, in effect saving both.
But his contribution to our community extends well beyond healthcare. A driving force behind the building of the Bogue Chitto State Park in Washington Parish, he secured the state park that his great-grandfather Simon Stephen Thomas envisioned generations ago. When in 1999 Dr. Jerry was sworn in, before a colossal crowd, as State Senator by 22nd Judicial District Judge William Burris on the Washington Parish Fair stage, Governor Foster inquired at the swearing-in ceremony, "Doc, what do you want?" Dr. Jerry posthaste made brave requests for capital outlay for Washington Parish - funds for a jailhouse in Bogalusa, which had been closed for years, and money for a state park. Both wishes were granted --- proof that it pays to ask for the moon.
After acquiring immense acreage for the project, with the assistance of well-known Bogalusa attorney the late Richard "Dick" Knight and the valuable support of then-State Representative Ben Nevers, Dr. Jerry advanced his case. Striking while the iron was hot, he went back to Governor Foster for the $17 million needed to build the state park. Several miles south of Franklinton on Highway 25, in the vicinity of what Washington Parish natives once knew as Fricke's Cave, sits the crown jewel created for our citizenry and for guests --- the Bogue Chitto State Park, comprised of 1,786 acres of natural beauty. It opened on August 28, 2010, and since its inception the park has drawn visitors who stimulate our local economy. All enjoy the biking, hiking, swimming, tubing, picnicking, and camping in cabins, lodges, or tents and recreational vehicles at the park - a nature lover's paradise.
But Dr. Jerry's contribution goes far beyond healthcare and recreation for our residents. A state legislator representing Washington Parish for sixteen years, Washington Parish Coroner for eight years, and a well-known physician for over four decades, he recognizes the value of a good education. And with his dedication, resources, and generosity, he is just getting started. Devoted to the Thomas/Pine community which he calls home, Dr. Jerry --- an architect of advancement, like his great-grandfather Simon Thomas --- is resolute in his goal to expand Early Childhood opportunities and programs. As a family man who raised children Jason Aroe, Juston Pitre "Pete," Jerry Lander, and Joanna Day Thomas with wife Lou Ann and also as a family medicine doctor who treats young patients, Dr. Jerry is interested in their development and education.
It didn't surprise me to discover some years ago that encouraging his young patients to read, he rewarded them with a snowball for checking out a book from the Thomas branch of the Washington Parish Library where his beloved mother Frances Nelline Thomas was the long-time librarian. She served as librarian for forty-six years at Thomas. For years the library was housed in a small room in Ms. Frances's local general store. It was there that Dr. Jerry first sat and read as a young boy. The library branch at Thomas remained unchanged until Washington Parish Librarian Juanita Barker made a site visit sometime around the year 2000, when Dr. Jerry was a State Senator. He recalled, "Ms. Barker said we can do better." Accordingly, Dr. Jerry generously donated the land for the present-day library at Thomas, solicited the Sullivan Vocational-Technical School to build it, and got a $50,000 grant in Baton Rouge to fund it. And today, it's still the place where children at Thomas go to read and learn.
In line with what the great religious leader, politician, and lawyer James Faust once said, Dr. Jerry Thomas is the sum total of his ancestors. His great-grandfather Simon Stephen Thomas, a prominent farmer, civic activist, and world traveler, set the course, making a difference in the community of Thomas. And his great-grandson Dr. Jerry has carried on, assuming this role with alacrity - making a difference not only in Thomas but in the whole of Washington Parish. The Thomas tradition.