Steve Thomas was born on October 11, 1950 in Ottawa, Illinois and grew up in Southern California with his three sisters: Carol, Gloria and Diana. He graduated from Rowland Heights High School in Diamond Bar in 1968, started college, but left after one year to enlist in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
After completing his enlistment, he began an apprenticeship as an electrician with Santa Fe Railways – a decision that turned into a 14-year career with supervisory responsibilities.
In 1978 he married Donna Chadwick who encouraged him to continue his college education. He did, attending Chaffey College while working full time for Santa Fe. At Chaffey College he found his avocation and creative vision: photography. Continuing his education at the University of California, Riverside, he completed a B.A. in Fine Arts in 1986 then moved with Donna to Oakland to complete his MFA at Mills College.
Returning to Ontario in 1988, he began teaching at Chaffey College as well as California State University in San Bernardino and Los Angeles. That led him to his next career as a curator, first at the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, then the Riverside Art Museum and finally the Ontario Museum of History & Art. Along the way he developed connections and friendships with artists throughout the region.
Steve retired on 11-12-13 (November 12, 2013) – a date he chose specifically for its humorous symmetry. But he didn’t retire to a rocking chair; in fact, one could argue that he traded full-time paid work for full-time unpaid work. Starting first as a volunteer, he quickly rose to leadership roles at CCMA and in Arts Connection, the San Bernardino County Arts Council.
Typical of Steve, his contribution to the success of anything he participated in was twofold: guiding and doing. At CCMA, he served on the board of directors, the steering committee and art installation team for A3 (the arts program at Ontario Airport), and the Ontario Festival of the Arts planning committee. In 2019, he initiated the West End Photo Open/West End Photo Invitational and in 2021, the popular First Artist online artist forum in 2021. CCMA named him its Artist of the Year in 2018, Steve had friends everywhere in the Inland Empire arts community. His easy smile, slightly off-kilter sense of humor, knowledge of art, deep love for photography and upbeat way of going through life touched us all. We will remember him always.
Steve’s wife Donna asks that those who wish may donate to the Chaffey Community Museum of Art in his memory.