Hundreds gathered Monday to celebrate the life of Wharton junior Owen Thomas, to comfort Thomas’ family and to comfort each other.
Thomas’ funeral service was held Monday morning at the Union United Church of Christ in Neffs, Pa, where Thomas’ father, Rev. Thomas Thomas, is the senior pastor. The church was filled beyond capacity with friends, family and teammates.
Thomas, who was recently voted a co-captain of the football team, was found dead at his off-campus residence at 39th Street and Baltimore Avenue April 26. His mother, Rev. Katherine Brearley, confirmed the next day that “Owen hanged himself.”
The funeral service appropriately began with one of Owen's favorite songs — Led Zeppelin’s "Stairway to Heaven."
Rev. Alan Miller, conference minister for the United Church of Christ and a friend of the Thomas family, described Thomas as one of the most “fun-loving, profound, gentle people” he has ever met.
Rev. Kris Snyder-Samuelson, who delivered the sermon, spoke of how Thomas was “full of love,” calling him a “leader, captain, role model and friend.”
“He had big goals and big dreams,” she said, sharing a story of about how a very young, small and “scrawny” Thomas rolled under the pews down the entire length of the church during a practice for the children’s choir. She remarked that Thomas had grown too big to fit under the pews and that she hopes his memory and “love are also too big.”
Snyder-Samuelson also read a sermon written and delivered by Thomas when he was a senior in high school. Thomas’ sermon reflected on a service trip he had taken in 2003 and how, on the trip, he had helped others with the two gifts he was given by God — strength and faith.
Snyder-Samuelson told college and high school student in attendance that the best way to honor Thomas was to “do all you can to finish the semester and the year to the best of your abilities.”
Her sermon was followed by stories from Thomas' friends and family.
Thomas’ four housemates, all members of the Penn football team, remembered Thomas tearfully, calling him an “optimist” and a “rock star.”
One roommate remarked that “making people happy came natural to Owen.”
They each said that they would not trade their time with Thomas for anything in the world.
Head Penn football coach, Al Bagnoli, remembered Thomas as “not ordinary.”
“There was nothing ever routine about him,” he said, remembering how Thomas would prepare for each game “like it was the Superbowl.”
Bagnoli further expounded the sentiment that Thomas was well-like by everyone, sharing that Thomas was recently voted captain by 73 of the 84 players who voted.
Thomas’ high school friend and teammate on the football field at Parkland High School, Mike Fay, a junior at Kent State University, offered his memories of growing up and “chilling out with” Thomas.
Thomas’ mother closed the remarks by thanking everyone who attended the funeral and who had played a part in the “21 precious years” of Thomas’ life. She told those in attendance that though “our hearts hurt” now, “one day we will see Owen again.”
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