Distinguished Speaker Series Features Dr. Michael Thomas, Richard Small, Fred Bartlit

Just Two Speakers, But Two Of Thornton’s Very Best

Class year differences proved to be no barrier whatsoever to the great connection Richard Small made with Thornton students.

Class year differences proved to be no barrier whatsoever to the great connection Richard Small made with Thornton students.

Dr. Michael Thomas shares a photo with admiring students after his outstanding presentation.

Dr. Michael Thomas shares a photo with admiring students after his outstanding presentation.

Fred Bartlit encourages and applauds graduating seniors in his uplifting message.

Fred Bartlit encourages and applauds graduating seniors in his uplifting message.

Over the course of this school year, we had only two speakers in TALF’s Distinguished Speakers Series, but Thornton students were exceedingly fortunate in the two outstanding alumni who did take part in the program: Dr. Michael Thomas ’76 and Richard Small ’46.

Michael is the Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Early on in his presentation Michael emphasized how meaningful and how important his education at Thornton was, when he told the students that he and his family moved from Robbins to Harvey for the principal reason of making it possible for him to attend Thornton. He was nurtured at Thornton, Michael said. He participated in the band and took courses in radio and TV. In particular, his Advanced Placement and honors courses, Michael said, provided him with an excellent academic foundation that enabled him to keep up with the accelerated pace of study in medical school and, as a consequence, enabled him to succeed. Michael told the students that the halls looked the same, but that they looked much smarter than he was when he attended Thornton, and then he told them that their job, their responsibility in high school (and beyond) was “to continue to do what you’re doing so that you can achieve what you wish to achieve.”

Among the many Thornton graduates who have succeeded in the world of business, Richard Small is unquestionably one of our most illustrious alumni entrepreneurs and business pioneers. Richard founded Cheker Oil in Park Forest 1952 and when he sold the company to Marathon in 1983, there were 200 Cheker stations across 19 states. In 1984 Richard bought an aircraft hardware business that had sales of $9 million, and by 1996 Richard’s company had increased its sales to $150 million. And then at the “tender” age of 70 Richard bought 30,000 acres of oil leases in Texas. With all of this background of success Richard struck a surprising and responsive chord with the students when he asked, “Do any of you know what the word eviction means?” Richard went to describe the struggles of him and his family during the Depression years. The family later moved south in Richard’s junior year, and he said that his education at Thornton helped prepare him to get into and succeed in college. Making reference to his humble background (and by implication to the humble backgrounds of many of the students in attendance at his presentation) Richard told the students, “When you are fortunate enough to be born in the United States, no matter what your circumstances, you have great opportunities to achieve success.”

In addition to these two outstanding speakers, Fred Bartlit ’50, a Distinguished Speaker in 2009, gave the Keynote address at the Thornton Senior Luncheon on May 10, 2013. A nationally renowned attorney and a product of Harvey, Fred, in classic fashion, told the students that their Thornton education and their life experiences had already done much to prepare them to succeed in their future academic and professional careers. “In reaching this level as graduating seniors,” Fred told the students, “you’ve showed that you understand the importance of discipline; you’ve showed you have the ability to set goals and achieve them; you’ve showed your character and your ability to overcome personal obstacles and setbacks.” Fred assured the students that through their hard work and perseverance, they had now within themselves the necessary foundation and necessary tools to reach and even exceed their highest expectations.

These three alumni were indeed “Distinguished” in every sense of the word and shining examples of the heights of achievement possible for Thornton graduates—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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