When wards (congregations) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grow in numbers, they divide.

In the DeFuniak Springs Ward, this expansion happened and the Freeport branch was formed to accommodate this growth. Branch presidents and bishops of the Latter-day Saint Church are unpaid volunteers and as a result they are employed in full time occupations. They spend many hours in the work of administering the programs and supervising the volunteers in their congregations and thus they need manageable numbers to deal with.

The northern boundary between the newly formed branch and the DeFuniak Springs Ward is along Rock Hill Road. The Freeport members had to drive about 20 miles to reach their Sunday morning services until their own branch was formed. Until a chapel is built they will meet at 9 a.m. Sundays in the Hammock Bay Community Center.

Called to serve as the new branch president is Tarek Thomas, a long time resident of the area. After consulting with the Church Presidency in Salt Lake City, Stake President Dr. Mike Roberts, a specialist in internal medicine in Niceville, who supervises 10 congregations in the Panhandle area, called Thomas to preside over this new branch. This means Thomas is responsible for choosing two counselors and a host of other members to volunteer their time and talents to ensure that the needs of the new congregation are met.

Thomas was born and raised in DeFuniak Springs. He was named after his father, Dr. Richard Thomas, but was known by his middle name Tarek, a name his mother chose for its unique nature. When he turned 19, he was called to the Veracruz, Mexico, mission. He learned the Spanish language at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and served in Mexico for two years. He met his wife Nicole while in school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. She was the young single adult representative when they met and it became his goal to make sure she did not keep that calling for long. They now have three children, Dallin, Keely and Liam, whom they homeschool. Nicole serves as primary president and supervises the teachers and programs for the classes for the children of the branch. Thomas has always had a fascination with airplanes and now works as an aerospace engineer, supporting the Air Force Research Lab at Eglin AFB where he designs, builds and tests unmanned aircraft.

Thomas’ favorite scripture is Matthew 22:37-40: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Thomas chose his counselors, Dean Revelle and Rob Duncan, to assist him after prayerfully considering the candidates in his new branch.

Revelle was born in Albertville, Alabama, and attended Brigham Young University and served a two-year mission in Costa Rica where he became a district leader, a zone leader and a trainer. Because his wife, Madison, is from Portland, Oregon, they chose the Portland Temple for their wedding. In the new branch she serves as relief society president, directing the programs of the women’s group and compassionate needs of the branch. Revelle’s former callings in the church include deacon’s president, Elder’s Quorum counselor, ward executive secretary, assistant clerk and ward missionary. He received a work-study scholarship and attended Florida State University where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. He is now employed at Eglin AFB where he is a system’s engineer and designs and installs instruments for flight testing. When asked what he would like his branch congregation to know about him he replied, “I want them to know that I have a strong testimony and faith in the promises of the Savior and of the Restoration.”

Duncan was born in Santa Monica, California, and because his father was military was “raised all over the country.” He was called to serve a two-year mission in Nigeria, Africa, when he was 19. He then joined the military and after serving in Vietnam attended Arizona State University where he earned a bachelor of science degree in science, weather and mapmaking. He is retired from the military and the Red Cross.

The newly called presidency has been busy meeting and giving assignments to their new branch.