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A lifetime of giving comes full circle

Acquanetta Thomas, Class of 1978, returns to IU Northwest to support alumni, scholarship effort

Friday Jun 27, 2014

We’ve all been supported in our lives by someone.

Favors and well wishes during a time of need. Patronizing a family business. An opportunity that opens a new life chapter. Even the smallest acts of giving can have immeasurable impact for the beneficiaries.

It’s different for each of us, but there comes a time when it’s our turn to return the favor.

That’s how Acquanetta Thomas views things. It’s how she’s lived her entire life, in fact.

“We all have a purpose,” Thomas says. “Some don’t even know what their purpose is. We have a purpose and a passion and we all need to examine ourselves and our background and see what it is that we like, or what we are good at, or what we can contribute. I have the gift of giving.”

Thomas, the current secretary for the Indiana University Northwest Alumni Association, and a 1978 graduate, returned to her hometown of Gary recently after spending many years in Memphis. After learning she had lupus, a debilitating autoimmune disease, she relocated there to join her husband, Roy, and she began what would become one of her most significant acts of philanthropy — a decades-long relationship with the Lupus Foundation, where she gave countless volunteer hours and was eventually appointed president and CEO of the Memphis chapter. Thomas made strides in advocating for more research dollars for lupus and counseled individuals affected by the disease.

Commencing a new chapter in their lives, the Thomases headed back to Gary in 2009. Thomas suddenly found herself in need of an additional philanthropic endeavor. She pondered that thought as she and her husband drove back home. Near the end of the journey, she spotted a billboard to IU Northwest, her alma mater.

“That is my school,” she remembered thinking. “I wonder if I could do something for IU.”

Thomas had already been giving annual contributions to the IU Foundation, designated for IU Northwest, and she remains a regular donor for IU Northwest scholarships. But she wanted to do more than strictly provide financial support.

Already a lifetime member of the IU Alumni Association (IUAA), Thomas decided to join the board. As secretary, she contributes to decision-making for the association and strives to encourage IU Northwest graduates in her age group to rekindle their connection with IU Northwest and join the IUAA.

Thomas says that any contribution to furthering educational opportunities, big or small, is a worthy place to put one’s time, treasure and talent, for the sake of helping others. 

“Education is the key to success,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is academic, vocational or life learning. All of those experiences, they all fit into the equation and they are helpful. You never stop learning.”

Knowing that her contribution to IU Northwest scholarships has the potential to help someone who is struggling is a good feeling, Thomas says.

“When young adults are awarded a scholarship, some of those dollars are mine,” she said. “That is a good feeling to know that a younger person, who is grounded and who is sincere about furthering their education, is getting my assistance. We have so many kids on the street and who are not doing anything . . . but I promise you that if a child wants to learn, there is a way.”

She expressed that even if you have to take just one class at a time, any educational endeavor is worth the effort.

“Even if you take one class at a time, do it,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter how old you are. If you have a passion and desire to do better, do it. I don’t like to hear people say things like, ‘I just have an associate’s degree. Or, I only have a bachelor’s degree.’ What did it take to get there? Sacrifice. Time. Money. Steadfastness. All of those virtues have to go into any education.”

Summing up Thomas’s lifetime of giving, which seems to have come full circle with her latest work on the IUAA board, Thomas has had a proclivity for helping others since graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1961. She earned her associate’s degree from IU Northwest in 1978 and was a part of the first graduating class of St. Joseph College as part of the degree completion program.

Discovering she had lupus at the height of her career at S & T Federal Credit Union, Thomas said, was a turning point that drove her desire to give to the Lupus Foundation, and give to others, period.

In addition to her role on the IUAA board, Thomas also volunteers with the Urban League of Northwest Indiana and the National Hook-Up of Black Women. She also hopes to eventually form an official Lupus Foundation Chapter in Northwest Indiana.

Thomas, who notes that she doesn’t do anything that she doesn’t wholeheartedly want to do, says that people often look confused when she says she is retired because she is busier than ever. They want to know if she gets paid for any of the work she is doing now.

“Yes, I get paid,” she smiles. “Not monetarily, but I am paid very well.”

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