ELKHART -- He held the title unofficially for more than 20 years. But now, lifelong resident Paul Thomas is officially the city's historian.
Mayor Dick Moore and the city council conferred the title on him earlier this year. Thomas, now 87, owned the former Paul Thomas Shoes, served on the city council and headed the Elkhart Urban Enterprise Association, along with many other civic groups and committees.
Upon retiring, he opened the Time Was Museum on Main Street -- its handful of rooms now filled with Elkhart artifacts, photographs and memorabilia. He shared some of his story in a Friday conversation with The Elkhart Truth.
Q: What got you into Elkhart history in the first place?
A: I retired in 1988 and had nothing else to do, so I just decided to open up the museum. I'm an 87-year resident, so Elkhart's my home. I was a city councilman and I was on many, many committees. I just couldn't quit, couldn't retire.
Q: People have always turned to you as the expert on Elkhart history. How much of that came from being here and how much has come from you learning it since you've focused on it?
A: Of course, I lived through the history. But also, yes, I've learned a lot. I still learn a lot. I still do a lot of reading everyday. There's always something to learn about the history of Elkhart. The old books, the old newspaper articles, periodicals, books that have been written that I've never seen before that someone brings up.
Q: Do you have a favorite item in your museum?
A: Probably the oldest item I've got. A matchbox given out by the Bucklen drug store in the 1850s. It's in A-1 condition.
Q: Is there an event in Elkhart history or a time period that stands out to you or still amazes you?
A: Well, everything. There's so many things that have happened ... just so many events. And many more coming -- we've got the (opening of the renovated) Lerner (Theatre) coming this year. History is not done yet. History is just as far in the future as it is in the past. Being 87 years old, I've seen a lot of history in Elkhart.
Q: When people contact you with a question, are you pretty much able to get an answer for them?
A: Oh, yeah. Nine times out of 10. The only thing I can't really help with is, everyone wants a picture of their house. And the only time you get a good picture of a house is if there's been a murder or something very spectacular there. Then I'll have a picture of it. It's got to be something special, but just a house on X Street, I don't have that picture.