After staging an interview to discuss Kent redevelopment, Kent State University switched gears and surprised Ray's Place owner Charlie Thomas by naming him the grand marshal for the 2013 Homecoming Parade on Oct. 5.
"Ray's Place is an important part of the experience for many Kent State alumni and, given that it's Ray's 75th anniversary, we thought, 'What a great way to celebrate,'" said Lori Randorf, executive director of KSU alumni relations, when she broke the news to Thomas.
Thomas, a KSU graduate, worked at The Loft in downtown Kent throughout his college years. After graduating and a few more years of managing The Loft, Thomas bought Ray's Place in 1978 and has led the pub and eatery to hold its status as a place for students, alumni and the community to gather.
"I hope you know what you're doing," Thomas joked. "We'll have some fun with it."
Thomas said KSU alumni have played a big role at Ray's Place.
"It's just huge when then come back and it's not just Homecoming, it's all year long," he said, adding that the restaurant has never been about himself, but always about the business, customers and employees.
Will Underwood, director of Kent State University Press and Homecoming committee member, said he nominated Thomas in light of the forthcoming book detailing stories behind Ray's Place, due out near Homecoming, as well as his yearly contributions to KSU's Homecoming celebration.
Nancy Schiappa, associate director of Alumni Relations and another Homecoming committee member, said generations of students and alumni consider Ray's Place "a home away from home," and is an important stop for many people on Homecoming.
Homecoming is a big day in Kent, and a lot of students and alumni start the day here at Ray's Place," Schiappa said.
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