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Dr. Mary Alice Howe Thomas

5th in our series of famous Bluffton High School alumni;

Served 37 years on medical staff of Huron Road Hospital, Cleveland

The word “versatility” printed under Mary Alice Howe’s senior photo in the 1940 Bluffton High School Buccaneer is no accident.

Dr. Mary Alice Howe Thomas Bluffton High School class of 1940 Bluffton College class of 1943

Born: April 23, 1922

Died: Jan. 1, 2018

The word “versatility” printed under Mary Alice Howe’s senior photo in the 1940 Bluffton High School Buccaneer is no accident. 

It describes this multi-talented young woman’s career, beginning as president of her seventh grade class, leading to her being one of the first Bluffton High School female graduates to become a physician.


Among her professional achievements:

 Distinguished Service Award from Huron Road Hospital, Cleveland, 1980

• Outstanding Woman Physician Award from Cleveland Women's Medical Society, 1987

• Special Honors Award from Cleveland Academy of Medicine, 1991

• Bluffton University Professional Achievement Award, 1995

• Executive Minister's Award of the Cleveland Baptist Association for Excellence in Christian Faith and Service, 2006


BHS senior yearbook photo

Here’s her story:

Born in Trenton, Ohio, her parents Wilbur and Elfrieda Howe, came to Bluffton both graduating from Bluffton College.


Mary Alice Howe’s leadership and talent blossomed at Bluffton High School. Joining nearly every school organization, as a senior she was president of the Girls’ Athletic Association, president of the Senior Honor Society, and editor of the high school yearbook. And, as a senior, singing alto in a mixed ensemble that group advanced from district to state competition. She was also first chair violin in the school orchestra.


As a junior, she was class secretary-treasurer, and was a junior editor of the school newspaper.


Following her Bluffton High School graduation, she enrolled at Bluffton College, graduating in three years in 1943. There, her abilities sharpened as she became student council president, member of the orchestra, cheerleader and the 1942 homecoming queen.

In the summer prior to her senior college year, she manage the Bluffton swimming pool. Immediately following graduation she married Royal Thomas, also a 1943 Bluffton College graduate.


Today, an endowed scholarship at Bluffton University exists established in the couple’s name.


As perhaps the first-ever couple accepted into the Hahnemann Medical College, Philadelphia, they both graduated in 1947. Mary Alice was one of only 10 women in her class of 350 medical students, and one of the very first women accepted into the school, the first being admitted in 1941.


When she and her husband finished the second semester of their junior year at Hahnemann they were accepted as junior interns at the Jeanes Hospital, a Quaker institution, in Philadelphia. Today it is a campus of Temple University Hospital­­­.


Mary Alice and Royal were accepted at Huron Road Hospital, Cleveland, for their residencies in Internal medicine and OB/GYN respectively, certainly another husband-wife first.


Following medical school, Dr. Mary Alice Thomas joined the staff at Huron Road Hospital, serving 37 years, from 1950 to 1987. She also served there as assistant director of internal medicine from 1975 to 1987. Huron eventually became part of the Cleveland Clinic System.


Two significant events occurred in June, 1950. That month she completed her residence and  gave birth to the couple’s first child.  Soon after, she continued medical practice in Cleveland while her husband was stationed in Great Falls, Montana, as an obstetrician in the Air Force during the Korean War.


From this point in her career as a physician, wife and mother, her Cleveland community interests and involvement expanded greatly. In addition to serving for eight years as a Girl Scout leader, she was active in the American Medical Woman’s Association. There she held many offices, including vice-president.


She also served as president, vice-president and treasurer, of the Women's Medical Society of Cleveland.


Serving 15 years on the board of trustees of Women's General Hospital and six years on the board of Judson Park Retirement Community, she was medical director of Mt. St. Joseph Nursing Home from 1976 to 1993. In addition, she was on the speakers’ bureau of the American Cancer Society from 1980 to 1993.


American Baptist Church involvement

Her community involvement expanded beyond her medical interests. She was active in American Baptist Women's Ministries, having served as president of the Lyndhurst ABW Ministries and the greater Cleveland ABW Ministries.


As a member of Lyndhurst American Baptist Church, she served on its board of trustees, stewardship committee, and as chair of the mission committee.


She held the office of church and community coordinator of the Ohio State American Baptist Women Ministries and served on the Metropolitan Ministries of the Cleveland Baptist Association.


In 1996 she became a guide member of the Youth Empowerment Project of Cleveland Baptist Association where she became a committed partner to two at-risk youths for over a year.

Bluffton College senior yearbook photo

Howe family presence in Bluffton

Although never living in Bluffton following her Bluffton College graduation, her family maintained a strong presence in the community.


Her father was elected to the Bluffton village council and later mayor from 1938 to 1948 and 1950 to 1956. He taught in the Bluffton schools for 29 years and at Bluffton College for 11 years. Her mother operated a private Kindergarten in their Spring Street home, prior to Bluffton schools offering Kindergarten in 1956. With the Howe family’s long participation in tennis, today the Bluffton school tennis court is named in recognition of Wilbur Howe.


Mary Alice’s siblings, Roger, James, and sister, Jane Howe Gratz, each graduated from Bluffton High School and are Bluffton College alumni.


1940 Bluffton HS yearbook photograph

1940 Bluffton High School yearbook editorial staff photo

1943 Bluffton College yearbook photo of Mary Alice Howe and her future husband, Royal Thomas

Mary Alice Howe, 1942 Bluffton College homecoming queen

Dr. Mary Alice Howe Thomas


Ivan "Ike" Geiger, class of 1927

R.L. Triplett, class of 1902



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