Sandpoint aerial photo by Keith Boe.
The open sign is flashing, the front doors are unlocked and the music is on. The store doesn’t open for another two hours, yet Don Thomas is already sitting at his desk. He’s as reliable as they come, as genuine a person you’ll ever meet and loyal through and through.
When he first thought about coming to work at Selkirk Glass & Cabinets 10 years ago, he knew he wanted it to be his last job. He’s accomplished this feat and as of September 1, he’ll be retiring from the place he’s always been proud to say he worked.
His plans for retirement? He has six young grandkids that’ll be traveling and sleeping in Grandpa’s new travel trailer. He’s got a few fishing holes that need to be tested, and he’ll have more time now to dedicate to his artwork and painting talents. He won’t be completely absent from Selkirk though. He’ll still be the familiar voice we hear in the Selkirk radio ads, which has become a trademark for the company. He’ll also be the first person called when the store needs help in the glass shop. And more than likely, he’ll have to field a few phone calls when we’ll need to pick his brain for its wealth of knowledge; knowledge that can only come from 41 years of experience in the glass industry.
Don first got into the glass trade in 1974, but when the housing crunch hit Missoula, Montana, in 1979 is when he really began specializing in custom shower doors and mirror work. There isn’t much he doesn’t know. A customer walked into the store the other day holding an obsolete piece of “glass,” and Don took one glance and said “Easy Bake Oven huh?” He took it back to the glass shop, fabricated a new piece and that customer walked out with exactly what they needed (and the younger generation in the store got schooled on what the heck an Easy Bake Oven is).
This experience comes from not only working in glass shops and installing, but from owning his own business. When he moved to North Idaho in 1979, he found himself not only a business owner, but single-handedly raising three boys in diapers (2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old). He says that’s when divine intervention hit and he met his wife, Cindy.
Divine Intervention is right—with Don and Cindy together, good things happen. The selflessness they possess and their willingness to help others is remarkable. Any of us would be proud to say we’ve accomplished a single thing they’ve done over the years, but their list of contributions goes on and on.
You’d think that with work and raising three kids, Don and Cindy wouldn’t have been able to squeeze anything else in their busy schedules, but while the boys were still young, Don and Cindy were volunteer EMTs for six years in Spirit Lake. They worked full time, yet after work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6pm to 2am, Don volunteered his time and Cindy volunteered the off days that Don didn’t. Like two ships passing in the night, Don and Cindy did this as a service to the community in which they lived. Most of us would only do this if it meant extra income, so I’ll pause here for that to sink in on how much of a sacrifice that must have been for the two of them.
No matter which community they live, Don and Cindy are always happy to help those in need. Here in Sandpoint, Don worked tirelessly for 10 years raising money for Toys for Tots. He made it his mission to raise as much money as he possibly could each year. He wasn’t bashful about using his community ties, and no contractor was safe from being hit up for donations. Don would post those donations publicly, and it became a friendly competition among contractors to see who could donate the most. Receiving between $3,000 and $6,000 each year, the real winner was the Toys for Tots program, thanks to Don’s ingenuity.
It’s no surprise that Don has a soft spot for kids. Maybe it’s that trademark voice of his, but kids don’t see him as a stranger, and any kid that comes into the store always leaves a toy richer. Don has toys stashed away in the cabinets in his office, and whenever a customer comes in with a young child, Don can be seen putting his work on hold, and before you know it, that kid has a new toy to take home and play with while the parents shop.
Santa Claus must have recognized this warm demeanor within Don because he has trusted Don and Cindy with his believers and their children for the past 20 years. Not only are Don and Cindy in direct communication with Santa Claus each year figuring out which kids are naughty or nice, they shop for, organize and provide hand-wrapped gifts for each child while representing Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Don does not take this responsibility lightly. He reads directly from the letters mailed to Santa and somehow knows secrets of the children that are shared only through letters to the North Pole. Although I‘d love to share more about how truly special this is, Santa doesn’t want too much revealed about this magical connection with Don for those little ones reading this.
As you’ve read, both Don and Cindy have soft spots in their hearts for their community, but they also feel rewarded being a part of it. When Don was hired in the Spring of 2007 at Sandpoint Furniture/Carpet One, it was with the intention that he would help mold and shape the newest part of their complex, Selkirk Glass & Cabinets. He completed his commitment to his previous employer on a Friday, and he was scheduled to start this new job Monday. He never made it there on Monday. That weekend, Don broke his back, was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and was in a drug-induced coma for the next six weeks. The family oriented board members of Selkirk Glass & Cabinets/Sandpoint Furniture/Carpet One assured Cindy that Don’s job would be waiting for him whenever he was ready to work.
Finally, in May of 2007, with rods in his back, vertebrae fused and a new appreciation for life, Don was able to come to work and has been here ever since. He’s the first one in and sets the tone for each day—to say he will be missed is an understatement. We’re blessed to have worked with him the past 10 years and look forward to his occasional visits after his retirement in September. Between now and then, please stop in and say hi to Don and when you hear his voice on the radio, know that the man behind the mic is a pretty special guy.