We’re sure Diane heard the slapping of size 11 ½ flip-flops coming through the Pearly Gates on Saturday, January 21, when James “Kip” Thornton, our beloved father and grandfather, left our world for his reward in eternity.
For although we’re devastated and grief stricken, we won’t miss that sound in the hallway. Or the kitchen. Or basically anytime or place where walking is required.
Affectionately known as Kip to friends and family, Sarge to those he sometimes frightened, and Bap to his grandchildren, Kip was a force to be reckoned with. A tall, barrel-chested boisterous man’s man with a booming voice several notches above a normal inside voice. He would often remind us, “I’m not yelling. You’ll know when I’m yelling.”
Kip was born May 22, 1946 in Orange, Texas to the late Gloria Felty Blantz. Shortly after his birth, Gloria brought Kip to her hometown, Suedberg, Pennsylvania, where she raised him with the loving support of her parents, the late Edgar and Eva Felty, who adored their grandson, Kippy.
Kip’s childhood fostered a love for the outdoors. He enjoyed trapping, fishing and raising pigeons and beagles under the guidance of his grandfather. We also think these formative years were when he lassoed up his love for Westerns, especially those starring John Wayne, and especially McClintock! For we’re sure he could have won the Guinness World Record for most times watched, and by proximity of the television, his family, too. Please, no more McClintock!
After attending Pine Grove High School, Kip enlisted in the Army where he served proudly for over 34 years. As a member of the 82nd Airborne Division with over 650 jumps to his name, he always told people parachuting was the most fun a person could have with their clothes on. Although he never complained about aches and pains, it was only in his final days that his son Tim would see on X-rays and CT scans just how many metal pieces and patch jobs he’d had for broken bones.
Kip’s military career included deployment during Operation Power Pack in the Dominican Republic and multiple tours in Vietnam, both of which resulted in a chestful of medals and honors. Once stateside, he became an army recruiter who was known for his high expectations, stern voice and above all, fairness to his soldiers. Kip retired in 2002 at the rank of Master Sergeant.
They say opposites attract, and Kip found his soulmate in pageant queen Diane Phillippy, a sweet and feisty Liberal, known at the time as Miss Lebanon Valley 1967. They were married for 51 years, until Diane’s death in 2019, and produced two sons, Todd and Tim, and one daughter, Tiffany, who passed away at birth. Kip loved and enjoyed showing up for his sons, whether that meant attending their football games, wrestling matches and Boy Scout activities, or passing on his know-how for working wood. Anything they were interested in, he was interested in too.
Besides woodworking, Kip’s other hobbies include golfing, fishing and making a unique squirrel/cat sound that would send family dogs chasing imaginary prey. No one seems to be able to replicate that sound to this day.
Kip loved friends, had many, and enjoyed playing card games with them. Two things were guaranteed during a night of cards: he would instruct you to “...trump or follow suit!” because everyone seemed to forget that rule around him; and he would pound the table when he laid down his cards, causing a thunderous thud that would send drinks and plates jumping and tinging.
We covered the fun-loving, exuberant side of Kip, but his love for community and his soft spot for those in need shared just as much space in his heart. Kip was a 50+ year member of Pine Grove #409 Masonic Lodge as a 32° Freemason. For years he was a member of the Shriners Clown Unit, which visited hospitals to entertain children. Kip’s specialty was blowing balloons into animals or nearly anything else a child would ask him to create. He also was a member of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon where he regularly raised funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Once settled in North Carolina, he joined the Rotary Club of Southwest Cabarrus. A caring man who truly would give anyone the shirt off his own back, Kip never liked to see someone suffering or in need.
After retirement at the age of 55, Kip spent the next several years traveling across the country with Diane in their motorhome, visiting their grandchildren on both ends of the coast and making plenty of stops everywhere in between to experience the lives of perpetual tourists. All would cease temporarily, though, if a M*A*S*H marathon came on television, or if he met a fellow traveler who could converse fluently in Pennsylvania Dutch, as Kip could.
In addition to his wife, Diane, mother, Gloria, grandparents Edgar and Eva, and daughter, Tiffany, Kip is preceded in death by his brother, Roderick Percival and grandson, Tucker. Kip is survived by his sons Todd (Shannon) and Tim (Lisa); grandchildren Tanner (Keven), Abigail, Ava, Skylar, Summer and Tripp; great grandchild Troy; and a host of nieces and nephews, extended family members and friends.
Funeral services will be held Friday, March 17 at 1 p.m. in the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Annville, Pennsylvania. A celebration of Kip’s life will immediately follow at Fort Indiantown Gap. All who knew Kip are welcome to reminisce and wish him Mach’s Gut!
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, 2900 Rocky Point Drive, Tampa, Florida 33607, www.shrinerschildren.org, or the Army Emergency Relief Fund www.armyemergencyrelief.org/donate/.