KETCHIKAN (AP) — With four children, 10 grandchildren, three successful fishing lodges and more than 40 years as Ketchikan locals under their belts, Kirk and Pam Thomas were more than ready to take up a new challenge and run with it.
On June 15, the couple will leave for a three-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in central Canada.
"We've always wanted to serve in our married life," Pam said.
Kirk was asked to serve as mission president at the Mormon center in Winnipeg. He said he and Pam will have two priorities.
First, inviting people to "come into Christ." He will oversee about 60 missionaries as president. The young ones, who usually are in their early 20s, proselytize door-to-door, talk to people on the streets and on public transportation.
The second priority, he said, will be providing weekly coaching to individuals or organizations looking for ways to help people and to provide community service.
The couple, sitting in a reception area of the Cedar's Lodge, one of their three businesses, often finished each other's sentences as they talked about their future plans.
"We're excited to go out and work with the young missionaries," Kirk said. Pam smiled and nodded as he talked.
They met in southern Idaho, an area that they said has a relatively high Mormon population.
Kirk said that more than 40 years ago, he came to Ketchikan to fish. What caught his imagination, however, were the floatplanes.
"It was the mystique of being able to land on the water," Kirk said.
Pam said he quickly learned to fly, while persuading her to leave Idaho for Ketchikan.
She laughed and said, "He said we would only be here one year."
The couple owned Tyee Air for about 15 years.
The couple also owns Clover Pass Resort, north of Ketchikan; and Silver King Lodge on Grant Island, 20 miles northwest of Ketchikan. Their sons, Russell and Rod, will run the businesses in their absence.
"It's the perfect break," Pam said. She added that they plan to retire when they return home.
Pam said her role as the mission president's wife in Winnipeg will be to motivate the young missionaries and to act as a surrogate mother when needed. She said she will make sure the youths are eating healthy, and have support if they are homesick or ill.
"They need some motherly guidance and encouragement" sometimes, Kirk said.
Pam said she feels confident she will find it difficult to leave after developing those close relationships over the two years many of the missionary will be under her care.
Kirk and Pam both will teach classes in English and area customs and culture. They said missionaries come from all over the globe, and it can take nearly the full first year of the two-year missions to acclimate.
There also will be six senior missionary couples under their care, Kirk said. The older missionaries do less proselytizing footwork and more office jobs and other tasks such as managing the mission's vehicle fleet.
The biggest challenge the couple agreed would face them would be the separation from their family. Kirk will not be allowed to leave the mission for the entire three years, and Pam only will be allowed to leave for critical family events such as births, weddings or funerals.
After so many years in Ketchikan, they said even the change in scenery and weather will be factors they will have to adapt to.
"It certainly will be a learning curve," Pam said, chuckling.
They said Kirk has been there several times, which might help with the adjustment.
Pam said there is one bit of technology that is giving her hope.
"The ability to Skype ... that will really be helpful," she said of the Internet-based voice and video calling program.
The LDS church appoints couples as mission presidents — volunteering is not accepted for the administration positions. Kirk explained that there are 380 missions world-wide, each with presidents and their wives to run them. Each year, about one-third of them are replaced.
Kirk will travel to other cities such as Regina and Saskatoon to have meetings with other church leaders in the geographical area he has been assigned. Pam will teach lessons for youth.
They said they feel comfortable with teaching and mentoring because their Ketchikan church is structured so that all members take turns speaking, teaching and leading groups. Even the younger members are asked to pitch in.
Besides the excitement of a new adventure, Pam said she really is looking forward to "leaving the temporal side" of life for awhile and focusing entirely on the spiritual, hopefully growing in that way significantly.
"Life kind of gets in the way" of spirituality sometimes, she said.