When Larry Thomas (IAA Fac 69-72, NMC St 70-73) returned to the United States in 1969 after teaching in Uganda for eight years, he thought he might enjoy spending some time near relatives in northern Michigan. He bought a little house and unexpectedly stepped into a mid-year vacancy teaching English at Interlochen Arts Academy. What began as a short-term teaching job has grown into a lifelong connection that’s now helping a new generation of Interlochen students. This fall, thanks to Larry’s generous support, the first recipient of the Laurence W. Thomas Endowed Writing Scholarship began her studies at the Academy.
“I’ve always been interested in the arts and creativity,” Larry said, explaining why he remains committed to Interlochen’s mission. “Interlochen represents bringing out the best in young people.”
As Larry considered making a significant gift to Interlochen, he was drawn to the idea of endowing a scholarship because he knew he would be able to see his money at work in a concrete way. “I know how they work,” Larry said. “If they realize the orchestra needs a flute, they’ll go out and find a flute player, irrespective of the student’s ability to pay. They’ll find the money.” With Larry’s gift, he hopes to provide that same opportunity for a creative writer.
Although Larry’s time on the Interlochen faculty was short, the impact was great. “I think I learned more about teaching at Interlochen than I did in all of the education classes at the University of Michigan,” Larry said. Teaching at Interlochen required more than just lesson preparation. On each grade report, he was required to provide specific feedback for all of his students—what they were doing well, where they could improve. “I really had to know all the students and what they had undertaken and accomplished,” he said, describing the commitment Interlochen expected of its faculty members, both in and out of the classroom.
As a fellow writer and teacher of writing, Larry has enjoyed friendships with many of Interlochen’s creative writing faculty members over the years. In addition to endowing the creative writing scholarship, Larry also donated his substantial book collection to Interlochen, including many first editions and signed copies. Some of Larry’s hundreds of books will be placed in general circulation in the Bonisteel Library, others will be used by the creative writers as part of the Writing House book collection, while the most rare editions will be housed in a special collections area of the library.
After he left Interlochen, Larry continued his teaching career in Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia. In addition to his teaching, Larry has published ten books of poetry, fiction, humor and creative nonfiction; his writing has appeared in “Blue Unicorn,” “The Antioch Review,” “5 AM,” “The Bridge” and “The Wall Street Journal.” Most recently, his work has been included in an anthology of writings by war veterans as well as a publication in Israel. He edits “Third Wednesday,” a quarterly journal of poetry, prose, and art, based in his hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan, and continues to lecture and lead poetry workshops at the Lucidity Ozark Poetry Retreat in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Pointing out Interlochen’s important role in the world today, Larry said, “It just seems to me that Interlochen is doing something that is needed in a world that gets lost in the more basic needs. Interlochen is providing something that becomes tangible, even though at times it seems intangible. With the strong background that Interlochen gives them, our students go out into the world and provide something really special. They’re doing something for the world of the arts which is priceless. Any little thing that I can do toward that, I’m pleased to do it.”