GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Greg Thomas – who gained admirers nationwide for his restoration of a decaying country church – has died at the age of 64.
A 2012 KARE 11 story about Thomas and the 150-year-old church, located near Montgomery, Minnesota, was shared extensively online, bringing in thousands of dollars in donations from across the country – which Thomas used for further renovations.
Thomas began praying on the steps of the church while battling stage 4 head and neck cancer. Though weak from chemotherapy and getting nourishment from a feeding tube, Thomas shored up the crumbling foundation and repainted the peeling exterior of the church built by Catholic Czech settlers in 1868.
Buoyed by the generosity of donors, Thomas turned his attention to the church’s interior, restoring that as well, as his cancer entered remission. “This is my way of saying thank you,” Thomas said tearfully in 2012.
Three years later the cancer aggressively returned. "Whatever God's decision is, I'm okay with that," Thomas told KARE 11 in 2016. "If he takes me home, he takes me home. I'm a winner either way."
The story of the church took an unexpected turn that same year when Thomas was told by Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, the owner of the country church, to suspend his work there – and enter the church to pray, only with an escort.
Church leaders had objected to Thomas’ installation of a gas stove and electrical service, while also raising concerns about parking and insurance when Thomas began hosting gatherings at the church.
“It was a thing that brought the community together. Everyone enjoyed it. It was glory to God, which was my main focus, and now it just sits there,” a disappointed Thomas told KARE 11 in December of 2016.
Thomas was studying to become a minister, when the return of his cancer cut short his plans. He continued to share his story as a volunteer with Mn Adult & Teen Challenge, a program for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
A celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, July 21, with a visitation one hour prior at The House Church, 2024 Rhan Way, Eagan, MN 55122.