Family of ag engineering alumnus creates lasting legacy with naming opportunity


By Susan Bedsworth

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For generations, the Thomas family has placed a high value on education resulting in numerous degrees, a great majority of which were earned at Penn State. Now, to give back to the University that so positively impacted their lives, the wife and children of the late Lloyd E. Thomas, a 1961 University alumnus in agricultural engineering, have named the Lloyd E. Thomas Family Department Head Suite in the renovated Agricultural Engineering Building.

Naming opportunities for the building are a way to provide the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering with funding to support the state-of-the-art facility.

Lloyd, the youngest of four in a farm family in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, followed his brothers’ footsteps in attending Penn State and earning a degree in agricultural engineering. His children, Terri Thomas Ruch, class of 1987, agricultural engineering; and Christopher Thomas, class of 1994, agricultural systems management and technology, also pursued degrees from Penn State, inspired by their father’s and uncles’ careers. Lloyd retired in the mid-1990s after an engineering career with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service spanning more than 37 years, including two years of service in the U.S. Army.

In 1991, Lloyd was honored with the Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award. When his daughter, Terri, received the same award in 2019, and the Agricultural Engineering Building reopened after its renovation, Lloyd’s wife, Shirley, was inspired to make a gift.

“I thought it was the perfect time to honor Lloyd, Terri, Chris and the Thomas family,” said Shirley. “The building is awesome. I think Lloyd would be very pleased that the research and teaching facilities are state-of-the-art, and that education focusing on agriculture, land and water use, air quality, flood control and so much more is available to all.”

Thomas family members said they are glad that the department can utilize funds from their naming gift where the support is needed most, whether it’s improved infrastructure, upgrading teaching and laboratory equipment, or elsewhere.

“I am pleased to see the continued growth and development of the University, particularly in the agricultural engineering department, which is especially near and dear to my heart considering it produced the fine engineers that my late husband and my daughter became,” said Shirley. “Spending time visiting the newly renovated building brought back fond memories of the past and shows the promise of the future.”

Philanthropy has always held an important place for the Thomas family, particularly for Lloyd, and they said they are thankful to be able to make a difference for Penn State and the agricultural and biological engineering department through their giving.

“We’re sisters, we’re brothers, we’re caretakers of each other,” explained Shirley. “You give of what you have. It makes my heart feel good to be of service and help to others. This was the way Lloyd was too.”

“We are honored to have received this gift from Shirley on behalf of the Thomas family,” said Paul Heinemann, department head and professor of agricultural and biological engineering. “Lloyd, Terri and Chris all have contributed greatly to the profession, and it is great to have the family name permanently enshrined in the building. The gift provides significant support to our departmental programs, and we are very grateful for their generosity.”

This gift will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit


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Megan Lakatos

lloyd thomas headshot

Lloyd E. Thomas, 1961 Penn State alumnus in agricultural engineering. IMAGE: PROVIDED