The UMass Amherst Springfield Center will soon be named for former UMass Trustee and Springfield Urban League President Henry M. Thomas III, a leading advocate for establishing the center in his hometown, and the first person of color to lead the UMass Board of Trustees.
“Henry’s belief in the ability of young people to change the world for the better has inspired us all,” said UMass President Marty Meehan, who announced the naming at a recent gathering of friends and family celebrating Thomas’s retirement. “His dedication to the UMass mission fit perfectly with his lifelong avocation of creating upward economic mobility for young people. Naming the Center in honor of Henry recognizes his lifelong devotion to Springfield and the distinguished service and leadership he has provided to the University of Massachusetts.”
UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said, “Chairman Thomas was a transformational leader at the University of Massachusetts, a son of Springfield and the first person of color to lead the UMass Board of Trustees. The center will be a shining example of the shared commitment of the UMass Amherst campus and Mr. Thomas in equity, opportunity, education and the economic vitality of the city of Springfield and all of western Massachusetts.”
“UMass prides itself on being an institution for opportunity, empowering their students to pursue their educational and career aspirations. This is a mission that Henry Thomas has championed throughout his life, and I could not think of a more fitting tribute than to name the UMass Amherst Springfield Center in honor of my good friend, Henry Thomas,” said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “Through his leadership with the Urban League of Springfield and the UMass Board Trustees, Henry has given back to the city that made him who he is today. His unwavering commitment to uplifting young people and promoting economic vitality is what makes Henry a beloved member of this community. This recognition is a testament to his dedication – dedication to the City of Springfield and dedication to fighting for our children.”
At the retirement event, Meehan recalled what Thomas said when he was named Trustee Chair in 2012 by then Governor Deval Patrick: “UMass is a beacon of opportunity for thousands and thousands of people in this state. It provides promise; it provides hope, and it provides opportunity. I want to make sure that it remains a beacon that shines as brightly as it possibly can.”
The 26,000 square foot Center, located at 1500 Main Street in Springfield, opened in 2014 and serves as a local portal to the university’s academic programs, cultural offerings, and economic development initiatives. Among the academic programs offered at the center is a teacher certification graduate program to help address a critical workforce need in the area.
Thomas was also an advocate of the UMass Chan Medical School establishing a Springfield campus in 2016 in collaboration with Baystate Health.
Regarding the naming of the center in his honor, Thomas said: "I am profoundly honored and humbled by the decision to name the UMass Amherst Springfield Center after me. This recognition transcends personal accolades; it symbolizes a shared commitment to education, community, and the pursuit of opportunities for the Springfield Community. Throughout my career, I have fervently championed the transformative power of education, firmly believing that the UMass mission harmonizes seamlessly with the overarching goal of equity for all. This Center, located in my hometown of Springfield, stands as a beacon of excellence and opportunity for many young individuals. Furthermore, it serves as a testament to the collaborative endeavors of the University of Massachusetts, and I am thankful for the privilege of being part of this journey. I eagerly anticipate witnessing the ongoing impact and success that the UMass Amherst Springfield Center will bring to our community and beyond."
Thomas served as a member of the five-campus University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees from 2012 to 2020, and as Chair of the Board from 2012 to 2015. He also served as Chair of the Board’s Committee on Academic and Student Affairs and Vice Chair of the UMass Building Authority, which oversees the university's multi-billion capital construction initiative.
At the age of 25, Thomas became the youngest President/CEO of a National Urban League Affiliate, and served in that capacity for 39 years. He served two years as National Urban League Vice President for Youth Development, focusing on program development to support inner city youth. He was instrumental in reviving Historic Camp Atwater in North Brookfield - the oldest African American overnight youth camp in the United States.
For two decades, Thomas produced and hosted “Urban League Community Focus,” a weekly radio program on WTCC (90.7 FM), and served on numerous local, state and national boards, including: Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, Massachusetts Board of Education, New Leadership Charter School, Step Up Springfield, Hamden County Regional Employment Board, Springfield Cable TV Endowment, Springfield Fire Commission, Springfield Police Commission, and the Western Massachusetts Sports Commission.
Thomas earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology; Masters of Arts degree in Human Resource Development from American International College, and a law degree from Western New England University School of Law.