Remembering Stiles Thomas

Open the ≡ menu to get to an essay about Stiles Thomas and his many accomplishments and to an obituary written by his daughter.

A Remembrance gathered by members of the Fyke Nature Association and a few of Stiles' many friends

Stiles with Mike and Sue
Stiles with Mike and Sue Dougherty

It's been five days since I received the call from Jim, telling me of Stiles' passing, and I'm still numb. For all the times he kidded about himself dying and for all the times I prepared myself for it actually happening, I just can't begin to process it. From the first time we met in the Celery Farm parking lot, when I thought I was in big trouble, to our trips to Hook Mountain, Racoon Ridge, Mount Peter, Sunrise Mountain, and Belize, and all the work we did together at the Celery Farm, and the last time we saw him in Massachusetts, every single second of it was fun and happy. I was so honored when Stiles asked me if I would take over as Marsh Warden of the Celery Farm. I knew it wouldn't be easy but I didn't hesitate for a second to say yes. When Stiles asked me what bird I wanted him to carve, I picked the Barred Owl, a bird I lifed with him in his yard in Allendale. I will cherish it forever. Rest in peace my dear friend! I'm glad I ran into you down life's path.

Mike Limatola, President of Fyke Nature Association
Stiles Award
Stiles Award

I know I will not write as poignantly as others have, but I want to try to convey how important a man Stiles Thomas was. I only knew Stiles for the last 22 years or so. I actually met him through a birder we both knew from Arizona. That was rather round about, given that I live in New Jersey! Many of Stiles' major feats were carried out before I knew him, but on a personal level, thanks to Stiles and his wonderful gift of bringing people together through birding and nature I have made countless friends, and had amazing experiences. He shared his endless curiosity about the natural world with all of us who were interested. His sense of humor was epic. The trips he led to Belize often went late March into early April, and woe to the the person who failed to keep his or her guard up on April Fools day. It was all in fun though, and we always had a good laugh. Stiles, ever the diplomat, brought all of those varied personalities together on those trips and everyone got along, and went home believing they had just been on the best tour he ever led. I believe it was this diplomacy that helped him with his and Lillian’s greatest win of preserving the Celery Farm for generations to come. What a wonderful legacy! Imagine, his love of nature, and gift of wonder will continue on, sparking the same curiosity in people who have not yet even been born. Thank you Stiles! You will live on through your good works!

Janet Terchek
Stiles 1980 Award
Stiles 1980 Award

Forty five years ago, my main interest was botany. After "walking the plank" by the pump house, I explored the Celery Farm in search of spring wildflowers. Then I met Stiles, and my focus changed! He introduced me to birds and birding, by eye and ear, and my life was never the same.

He suggested a visit to Lorrimer Sanctuary to try out binoculars and I selected a pair of Swift Audubons. So followed many Big Days in May, many autumn evening of Dabbling Ducks at Dusk, and a fantastic trip to Belize. Many thanks to Stiles for his knowledge, humor, dedication to the natural world, hard work to establish the Celery Farm, and to his gracious ways.

Valerie Turer
Stiles Thomas Insurance Agency
Stiles Thomas Insurance Agency

In the early 70's, I remember finding a wounded bird in the woods behind Powell Rd and East Allendale.  A friend suggested talking it to the Bird Man so instead of walking the sidewalk we trekked through the woods to leave the wounded bird to the care of the Bird Man who I believe was Stiles Thomas... I was maybe 10 years old or so.  We thought he was so talented!

In the later 70's/early 80's I wanted to find out more about the old house I lived in.  I was told to ask for Stiles Thomas at the Insurance company, so I did.  Stopped in on my way home from school and not only did I learn about my house, the street I lived on but I viewed the photo album of so many other local spots.  He gave me a black and white photo of my house that I had enlarged and gifted to my parents.  It is still hanging on their wall!  It was such a great gift to see our home as it was seen in the early days.

Linda Thorsland Sweeney
Carol's Crossing
Carol's Crossing

This photo was taken in 2005 when Stiles showed me "Carol's Crossing". On a previous Celery Farm walk, I was unable to jump across the stream separating the path by Phair's Pond to the path that leads around Lake Appert. On the next Celery Farm walk he showed me the walkway that was built for me!

Carol Flanagan, past president of Fyke and a Celery Farm Butterfly Garden volunteer.

Stiles Thomas was a man of grace and excellence. Always, warm and charming. He was gracious, always. Singular by design to care for our earth. A gentle man and a gentleman.

Sally Macdonald Teschon

Talk about the Greatest Generation. Stiles embodied it - and helped lay the foundation of the conservation ethic we all live by. And we are all the better for it.

Hugh Carola, past president of Fyke
Stiles releases red-shouldered hawk
Stiles releases red-shouldered hawk

All those he mentored, including me, not only had their lives enriched, but also had a lot of fun in the process. Whether it was counting hawks at his watch sites, saving the Celery Farm, raising money for conservation, saving Bluebirds or Barn Owls, Stiles always made it fun. He was a natural politician for Nature. And he was always right in the middle of every project, working alongside of all the volunteers he magically attracted.

Judy Cinquina, head of the Mount Peter Hawk Watch
Stiles and Lillian
Stiles and Lillian

I love Stiles, and though I am so sad that he is not with us in person, we have his stories. Stiles was a great storyteller - he told about the pranks he played, the shenanigans he concocted, his days as a paratrooper in WWII, and all kinds of nutty fun. He loved to tell about his life with Lillian and his daughters, Georgie, Betsy, and Judy. Sometimes they would roll their eyes, but we all enjoyed his stories. However, he didnt tell stories about all the kind and caring things he did for others. I know about some because I was the recipient of his kindness and was not surprised when friends and neighbors sent so many stories of how he helped and cared for them. I didn't know most of these stories because Stiles never told them. He was the kind of person who kept those stories to himself - he didn't need to be thanked. It has been wonderful to hear from friends, birders, and those who knew him in our town and elsewhere. Their stories of his kindness are a part of the man we will miss so much but who leaves us all wanting to be a little more Stiles-like ourselves - fun, caring, smart, loving, protector of nature, and most of all, kind.

Pat Finn

I remember being at the hour on the tower 20 years ago. It was springtime and many birds were courting. One person on the tower said “oh look !Look at the tree on the right — they are doing it!” As everyone looked to the mating pair, Suddenly, from the back of the crowded Tower came a voice saying, “avert your eyes.” And since that Sunday morning I always do!!

Brenda McIntyre
carved banana
carved banana

So many memories of this inspirational man, but here are two:

One side of Stiles that not everyone may be aware of was his love and devotion for his wife of more than 75 years, Lillian (not to mention their three terrific daughters).

Stiles used to leave a raw chicken egg in his driveway for a local Red Fox, and he invited me to watch one morning. As we sat in his kitchen, I noticed a banana on the table. He had carved a note into the skin: Happy Flier “Lillian + Stiles" complete with a heart with an arrow through it. Timeless love.

One time in Belize, Stiles was standing on a mountaintop, looking for a raptor called a kite that zipped around like a flying saucer and soared like an eagle. He announced he was so happy that he wanted to fly, and then flapped his arms and jumped into the air. Flying may have been the only thing that Stiles couldn’t do.

A true legend with a great legacy.

Jim Wright

I remember him as incredibly kind and warm and generous.

Michele Simone Byers

Stiles was such a nice person and did so much for the Borough of Allendale. I was sad to see him and Lillian move away. Stiles will forever live on in the hearts of many that knew him and all the things he did to help make and keep our town the wonderful place it is. R.I.P. my friend.

Keith Cauwenberghs

Somehow Stiles got wind of my son Malcolm’s love of raptors. The two had quite the conversation about how the snapping turtles were hatching in our yard and the hawks were snacking on them (insert vision of Mom waving hands in the air and singing "Circle of Life" in front of the window on the stair landing while watching this unfold). Stiles then invited my 11 year old son to write an article about the moment for the Celery Farm newsletter. You would have thought Malcolm had won a Pulitzer. He was thrilled. Such a kind thing to do to encourage a child to love nature. Malcolm is now almost 32 and still lives nature. That was one of Stiles’ gifts- motivating others.

Holly Wilson Norton

Sometimes he'd ring our bell to tell us he was going to walk on our property heading into Burning Hollow tracking a raptor of some kind.

Marie Caliendo

The world is a poorer place without him.

Kari Hackbarth Arienti

You were a great and wonderful person. You will be missed by everyone.

Bob Uhlinger
Stiles' Belize Patch
Stiles' Belize Patch

I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience Belize with him and his family. It was a trip of a lifetime! Sending love to everyone whose lives he touched and especially his daughters.

Nancy Ellen Haner
Stiles in Belize
Stiles in Belize

Great man indeed. Here in Belize we treasure him.

Vladimir Rodriguez
Stiles Sis Betsy Pat Flyn
Stiles and Lillian Thomas in Belize with daughter Betsy and friend Patty Finn

When we told Stiles we were starting to plan a trip to Belize (our first of two trips there), and asked him for advice, he quickly said "Would you mind if I planned the trip for you?". That trip was great and included stays at Bird's Eye View in Crooked Tree and Program for Belize, and sights in between. Such generosity from a wonderful man.

Sara Seidel Buckley

Treasure to our town. Never to be forgotten.

Belinda Escalera Morriss

He was a wonderful person we loved him

He might be gone but never forgotten.

Joan Myer

Some years ago Stiles called on my mother's birthday and yodeled for her, which she loved. He was such a big part of my parents' lives.

He was an Allendale icon. My thoughts are with Betsy and the rest of the family.

Charlie Keppler
Stiles by Barbara Dilger
Stiles by Barbara Dilger

I think heaven just got a little sweeter with bird song.

Barbara Dilger.
At Sis Placque Dedication
At Sis' Plaque Dedication

I remember how Stiles would so generously (and genuinely) become absolutely delighted in so many people and animals, and he would wonder in admiration at the little feats we would pull off from time to time. Of course Lillian was every bit as kind, if a bit less effusive. What a great pleasure and gift in my life it has been, to be in the company of Stiles and Lillian.

Nancy Greene

Stiles was one of the most interesting human beings I have ever known. He will be missed but will always be in our hearts.

Jerry Barrack

A visionary with wit and charm, and a nice person.

Jo Bassett
Snakey, one of Stiles' many carved Celery Farm snakes

I have been living on Greenway for the past 41 years. I had the pleasure of knowing and working on the celery farm property with Stiles for a number of years. Although our relationship started off on a rocky start, we eventually became friends and shared the same interests regarding the celery farm and other matters of nature.

There was a time when Stiles wanted to introduce a pheasant population to reside in the celery farm. He released birds in the area with the hopes that they would self-propagate. However, the experiment did not end well. He brought outside birds to the property, and they quickly disappeared, except for one male bird that he named Eyebrow for reasons I do not know. Eyebrow lived on the property for several years and miraculously managed to avoid the attacks by red-tailed hawks.

At my suggestion, we decided to imprint young chicks that I provided in the area so that they would be inclined to stay within the confines of the celery farm. Unnamed The first experiment did not go well, as predators immediately decimated the young chicks. Consequently, we constructed a chain-link enclosure, the remains of which might still be there, and re-populated the enclosure with young chicks the very next day. Unfortunately, all the chicks disappeared, likely due to predation.

Undeterred, we then constructed a roof over the enclosure and lined the outside of the cage with wire lath to prevent predators from gaining access to the young birds. We decided to take these measures after discovering that predators were the reason why the chicks were disappearing—they were being feasted upon. One morning, Stiles contacted me and informed me that he had discovered the predator. It turned out to be a raccoon that was climbing over the enclosure and into the cage. He had witnessed this occurrence during the night. When I asked him how he managed to witness it during the night, he humorously replied that he had actually slept in the enclosure that night. That was just Stiles, always up for an adventure!

Ernie Vallorano

An Allendale legend for all the right reasons. My condolences.

Christine Scherr

He was a wonderful kind man and I will never forget him

Kathy Judson-Maxey
Stiles Carving Info
Stiles Carving Info

His name always popped up anytime my mother saw a bluebird house somewhere in Bergen County. Mom would say, Bet Stiles Thomas made that.

Jeffrey Hutchinson
Stiles Newspaper Clipping
Stiles Newspaper Clipping

I’m grateful for all the great memories. The Thomas’ were like my family. Escaping into the woods with you shooting buckshot, the unimaginable ghost prank in GLP, the hawk migrations and fabulous Belize adventure. Huge hugs to Sis, Georgie, Betsy and Judy (and Ben). He was his own man. I honor his life.

Greg Haner

He was such a gentleman and a gentle man. It was always such a pleasure to run into him around town. An Allendale icon. His legend will live on.

Maria Ade

The Polizzano girls from 520 Brookside (Linda and Nina) send their heartfelt condolences. What a wonderful présence Stiles was in our town. Our parents also held him in such high esteem.

Linda Parisi

A truly exceptional human being on all fronts! He will be missed by all that knew him!

Patrick Sparkman
Stiles and Maria Marino
Stiles and Maria Marino

There will never be another like him, we’ve lost a treasure!

Maria Marino
Stiles in Belize
Stiles in Belize

I missed him at the State Line Hawk Watch these past years. Now he, too, can soar with the angels.

Karl M. Soehnlein, Head of the State Line Hawk Watch