Merle James Thomas Jr., 85, of Berea, WV, fell asleep in death on Sunday, June 12, 2022, at his residence.
He was born April 5, 1937, in Uniontown, PA, a son of the late Merle J. and Anna Mae McKetta Thomas. His varied interests were evident early in life when after playing “Moonlight Sonata” in a piano recital, he donned his football uniform to play left tackle for Uniontown High School (Class of 1955). His love of the nearby Laurel Mountains was his passion. During high school, he worked with area forest firefighters and was an accomplished outdoorsman who enjoyed fly fishing and hunting throughout his life.
He earned an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Texas in 1961 and began a career in computer programming by building one of the first coronary care units. He formed a computer services company based in Washington, D.C., and directed a computer school for Spanish speakers. His work took him throughout South America, and he became fluent in Spanish.
After moving to West Virginia in 1982, Merle consulted with manufacturers in the automation of production and inventory processes. He helped organize the North Central WV chapter of APICS, an educational society for manufacturing professionals. He pursued a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at West Virginia University and focused on his lifelong passion for teaching. He taught at Marshall University, WVU and Glenville State, retiring from Fairmont State University in 2009 as professor of Mechanical Engineering. There he coordinated the Mini Baja program, where his students designed and built an off-road vehicle that won Best Rookie Team in competition.
Though he traveled the world, Merle’s favorite place was the farm he shared with his wife of 42 years, Elizabeth “Liz” (Watson) Thomas. There he enjoyed gardening, milking goats, walking his pigs and collecting maple sap with his pack goat. He brought energy, enthusiasm and humor to all his pursuits.
Surviving are his wife, Liz; daughter, Jennifer Beth Steeley of Queenstown, MD; granddaughter, Carolina El Azar (Ben Davis) of Rockwall, TX; twin great-granddaughters Everleigh and Dylan; a brother, Charles Thomas (Karen) of Phoenixville, PA; and a sister, Nina Taylor (Arthur) of Carpinteria, CA.
A funeral service will be held Friday, June 24, 7 p.m., at Raiguel Funeral Home, Harrisville, WV. Visitation begins at 5 p.m. Burial will take place at Markleysburg, PA.
Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.mcculloughraiguel.com