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Notes about people

August 11, 2010

The Rev. William H. Thomas, a tireless fighter for justice who marched in the Rev. Martin Luther King's funeral procession, spent a decade working for miners' rights in eastern Kentucky’s coal fields and then founded the Mon Valley Initiative and help the western Pennsylvania area cope with the collapse of the steel industry, died July 20 in his beloved Pittsburgh. He was 76.

A Pittsburgh native, Thomas graduated from Brentwood High School there, Grove City College, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Ordained in 1959, Thomas' first pastorate was in Stamford, Conn. A civil rights advocate and member of the city's human rights commission, he helped lead the fight to integrate Stamford’s schools, which his daughter was attending at the time.

In 1968, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo of King’s funeral procession, Thomas is the only white man walking with the cart carrying the slain civil rights leader’s body.

Thomas moved to eastern Kentucky in 1972 after hearing of injustice in the coalfields. "Maybe there's something I can do down there," friends recall him saying. Thomas served on the Christian Service Ministry and Kentucky Council of Churches organizing relief programs, Meals on Wheels, youth centers, a shelter for abused women. Perhaps most importantly was his founding of Chase-Options, an employment service for ex-miners and their families that built innovative passive solar houses, among other efforts.

In 1982, with the steel industry crashing, Thomas returned home to western Pennsylvania as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne and launched the Mon Valley Initiative, a nonprofit economic development group. He also served on the boards of several other non-profits that were addressing social and economic issues around the collapse of the steel industry in the region.

Thomas helped get Blue Cross/Blue Shield to launch a "Caring Program" to insure the children of unemployed workers, starting in 1989. The idea spread to other sites around the state, and the statewide Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) was signed into law in 1992.

Thomas received numerous awards during his long career. None was more important to him than the John Park Lee Award for lifelong justice advocacy, which he received in 2005 from the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA).

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Nancy Lenhart Thomas; daughters Laura Rae Thomas and Judith Dixon; sons Robert J. Thomas and John D. Thomas; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.  A memorial service was held July 25 at Boston-First Presbyterian Church in McKeesport, Penn.

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Paul H. Stropkay has been appointed chief investment officer (CIO) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation. Since 2008 he has served as senior vice-president and CIO of New Covenant Trust Company, N.A., a subsidiary of the Foundation.  He will continue to hold this position in addition to responsibilities with the Presbyterian Foundation.

Stropkay has more than 10 years of investment banking and buy-side equity research experience and is a community bank director. A graduate of Miami (Ohio) University, he also holds an MBA from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and is a chartered financial analyst.

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Headshot of Eric Wall, who is wearing black-frame glasses.

Eric Wall

Eric Wall, music director at First Presbyterian Church of Asheville, N.C., since 1998, has been named conference center musician at Montreat Conference Center. He will continue in his position at First Church.

"We have long needed a person on staff who is grounded musically, theologically, and liturgically to be integrally involved in the planning and coordinating of the music, artistic expression, and liturgy that is so much a part of our conferencing and worship," said Montreat President Pete Peery. "Eric Wall brings to Montreat his deep training as a church musician, a serious grasp of the vast realm of musical genres in the global Christian community, and a wondrous and imaginative gift for drawing people of all types into the worship of God."

Wall will plan, coordinate, and direct music for each Sunday worship service in Anderson Auditorium during the summer months.  He will serve as music and worship consultant for all conferences hosted by Montreat as well as being the lead musician in 2011 for the conference center’s two new flagship conferences for adults: "Being Spiritual in a CrazyBusy World" (May 29-June 1) and "Getting Unstuck" (October 23-27).

Wall has led and directed many of Montreat's annual worship and music conferences, one of which he directed in 2005.  He has also worked as conference musician for youth conferences and a number of diverse adult conferences. He holds a Bachelor’s degree and  a Master's degree in music from Florida State University.

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During the 40th anniversary of its devotional resource These Days, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) has named theologian and author the Rev. Donald McKim as the magazine's new editor. He succeeds Vince Patton, PPC’s executive director of church relations, who edited the magazine for 10 years. Patton will continue in his church relations role.

McKim currently serves as PPC's executive editor for theology and reference on the staff of PPC. He has been instrumental in the development of Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, the award-winning and best-selling commentary series edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor.

He is the author or editor of 33 books and is also serving as editor of the new PC(USA) curriculum for adults, Being Reformed, which is published by Congregational Ministries Publishing of the General Assembly Mission Council. McKim is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to joining PPC, he served as academic dean and professor of theology at Memphis Theological Seminary and as professor of theology at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Earlier in his career he served several pastorates in Pennsylvania.

PPC has also announced a special anniversary sale of subscriptions to These Days. Churches and individuals purchasing ten new subscriptions to These Days will receive one free copy each of Matthew: A Guide to the New Daily Study Bible by William Barclay and Mark: A Guide to the New Daily Study Bible by William Barclay. Churches and individuals ordering twenty new subscriptions will receive the two books free plus a $10.00 coupon to use on their next purchase from The Thoughtful Christian, PPC's online marketplace and resource center. This special offer will end on December 31, 2010. Churches and individuals can call (800) 624-2412 or visit the PPC website. Those ordering ten or more new subscriptions should reference promo code TD10 when placing their order.

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Lalla Iverson, MD, a Presbyterian medical missionary to China from 1943 until she was forced to leave the country at the time of the Chinese communist revolution in 1949, died June in Derwood, MD. She was 90.

Born in St. Matthews, S.C., Iverson graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1940 and from the university’s medical school in 1943. She entered mission service with the PC(USA) at age 29. During China’s revolutionary war she relocated the Cheeloo College pathology department to Foochow, after which she returned to the U.S. as senior pathologist at Armed Forces Institute of Pathology from 1950-1960. She took leave from 1952-1954 to rebuild University of Philippines' Department of Pathology.

She is survived by her sister, Vivian Isabel Iverson Gammon; her brother, the Rev. William T. Iverson: her niece and caregiver, Jennifer Lee Hoffman; and many other nephews and nieces. A funeral service was held Aug. 7 at First Presbyterian Church in Swannanoa, N.C.

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