Terminal cancer patient works to restore abandoned church
By NBC News
(KARE) -- At various times in our lives many of us find ourselves searching.
That time came three years ago for Greg Thomas.
"When I found out that I had cancer, they told my family to go ahead and start planning my funeral," he says.
Diagnosed with Stage 4 head and neck cancer at the age of 57, then let go from his propane delivery job, Thomas began passing the hours on long walks from his home alone with his dog and his thoughts.
"It's a nightmare you can't wake up out of," he recalls.
Then the daily walks down a gravel road led him to the wood-framed country church that would change his life.
Though Thomas would have loved to go inside, the doors on the old Catholic church were locked tight.
Thomas wanted desperately to go inside. "I tried it more than once," he says. But the church was always locked.
Built in 1868 by Czech settlers who later moved to a bigger parish in Montgomery, the Budejovice Church had not been home to a congregation in more than a century.
The foundation was crumbling, the paint peeling, but it was there on the church steps, a man crumbling himself came to pray.
Then one day the stranger on the steps walked next door.
"He went to the neighbor and said he wanted to paint the church, and who does he talk to, so the neighbor sent him to talk to me," is the way Don Rynda recollects his first meeting with Thomas.
As treasurer of the foundation that keeps up the church cemetery, Rynda could barely believe it.
Before Thomas climbed a ladder and went to work, Rynda had feared the church's days might be numbered. "It was a godsend, yes," says Rynda.
One hundred and forty years worth of paint - 15 layers thick in places - came peeling off as Thomas worked through the lingering effects of radiation and chemotherapy that robbed him of his energy, his saliva glands and his teeth.