Thomas, OK (population 1,238), located in west-central OK, would be like a lot of towns that I’ve visited in the Great Plains. These towns are struggling with an out migration of residents and struggling to keep their schools, churches and downtown businesses viable primarily because they don’t have the job opportunities to keep people home.
Thomas instead has created almost 200 jobs since 2000 through the efforts of what Dennis Krueger, Manager of the Kiwash Electric Coop calls, “The Thomas Gang.” As he wrote in his coop newsletter, “Are you old enough to remember the ‘Thrilling Days of Yester’ Year? Those were the early days of TV when Marshall Dillon, The Long Ranger and Tonto, The Cisco Kid, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans patrolled the silver screen cleaning up the Wild West. The good guys always wore white hats and rode off into the sunset after bringing law and order into each town they visited.”
This modern day gang, The Thomas Gang, is a group of volunteers who decided in the 80’s to not let their town suffer the fate of so many other towns that they saw slowly declining. For the first ten years, they met with no success but didn’t give up. Their hard work and continuing efforts to lay the groundwork for what “might be” has paid off in the past couple of years.
Since 2000 they’ve brought in a number of diversified firms such as J&C Aviation (refurbishes crop dusters); Hamm & Phillips (oil well servicing); Danlin Industries (chemical production); W&W Livestock Systems (manufacturing of livestock pens and corrals); and Ventura Refining (reopened shuttered oil refinery and adding bio-diesel production).
Dennis told me, “They are probably the leader in west-central Oklahoma in creating jobs on a per-capita basis but few recognize their accomplishments.”
Who says it can’t be done? Not the Thomas Gang!