Let It Shine: Dee Thompson, 21st Century Icon, Beloved King-Mother of Huntington Station

Photo of Dolores Thompson in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Photo of Dolores Thompson taken in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Prelude: Please Help Me Tell This Story

Last October, I was able to write a brief memorial of one of the most extraordinary individuals I have ever known: Ms. Dolores Thompson. Knowing it barely scratched the surface, and profoundly grateful to have been touched by her myself, I promised I would write a longer version soon. 

I am incredibly grateful for the folks who have offered to sit down with me, and share their experiences of her.

Months, and mounds of paper later, written by myself and others, none of which seemed right to fully cut and many of which only present more questions, I realized Dee simply didn’t fit into a long form article, unless maybe you want to just focus on one narrow aspect, which would be great for exploring that topic but not nearly sufficient to begin to tell her story.

Dee mentored children, and she mentored adults. She was a fierce advocate for the community. She served on the hospital board, and was instrumental to there being a Dolan Family Health Center, which she insisted would be more than a clinic. She helped found the BID and a proper home for a library. She was a force for community policing, and a leader in both her church and the local NAACP. On beyond all of this was a heart, mind and spitfire personality that are worthy of chapters all unto themselves, and generations of community she had a huge role in nurturing who will give their best to keep that flame. There’s more…

When I told the folks I’d been consulting with that I thought maybe I could start with one chapter and see where it goes, I was deeply humbled and honored to be invited to share it at the upcoming Unity Day in Huntington Station. At that moment, it hit me hard that I’m not sure I have any business whatsoever going into the Station and telling folks who Dee Thompson was; that I’d much rather go there and listen a whole lot longer, write some more, and then ask them if they think I got it right.

I am even more deeply honored that they seem to like this idea. As such, I will at Unity Day all day tomorrow, 4/5/24, collecting any testaments folks would like to offer. Special thanks to Fireflies Steve Caputo, John Lazzaro, and Drigo Morin for helping me figure out how to rigs a bare-bones story telling booth, and to the entire Unity Day Community for welcoming me with such open arms. Folks from the community will help make the booth a fitting tribute to this most extraordinary human being. I am grateful!

If you happened to know her, please stop by and tell me about it. You can also send me an email sharing your story or setting up an appointment to connect. If you weren’t so blessed, we invite you to come and learn.

I’ll also be sharing this introduction…

LET IT SHINE - Dee Thompson: 21st Century Icon, Beloved King-Mother of Huntington Station

Introduction: Where to Start?

“A Beautiful Woman Warrior King has gained her wings and her Legacy is second to none! Her Legacy is what books are made of. Her activism mirrored the people in the struggle. Her energy was made up of something that would not be contained in this space or time. Called by many names, some of adoration and some a force to be reckoned with. We speak your name. Never to be forgotten, always Celebrated”

– Michelle Foulke-Edwards

It is hard to overstate what Dolores Thompson sowed and brought to the table.

Rhonda Gooden, who owns Chez Lãa Reine Boutique on NY Avenue in Huntington Station will tell that she takes her job in the Town, and as the Chair of Unity Day and other things very seriously in significant part because she lives to carry forward the spirit of Dee Thompson; that best she could, for so long as Ms. Thompson was able, she gave it her best to carry her into the room if that was what it took to assist in her good work and to learn from her example.

As dedicated as Rhonda is, she’s just one of many. It’s awe inspiring and it’s beautiful.

Gail Lamberta, Associate Dean of St. Joseph’s University served on the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce Board with Dee. It strikes Gail as fascinating, the range of folks who each have their own thing to say about her; the things they would struggle to put words to, the volumes they would say with a look, and words she surmised would come from them all:

“Mentor. Leader. Always for the person less fortunate. Wisewoman.”

Yes, she nodded, “You’re going to find there’s a theme.”

Indeed! …and those words are just the start of it. Dee Thompson was a living legend.

All she touched seem better for it…

 

Gail Lamberta, Associate Dean of St. Joseph’s University served on the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce Board with Dee. It strikes Gail as fascinating, the range of folks who each have their own thing to say about her; the things they would struggle to put words to, the volumes they would say with a look, and words she surmised would come from them all:

“Mentor. Leader. Always for the person less fortunate. Wisewoman.”

A Deeply Local Dent in the Universe

Dee mattered. Immensely. Soon after her passing, Cheryl Blum, a politically active, community oriented Jewish grandmother of Huntington dug up roughly 30 years of news clippings charting Dee’s adventures. Those are just a sampling, but a good one, as they include quite a few you can’t otherwise find online. More that you can are being collected and will be shared.

If you go to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church of Huntington website, you can find Dolores “Dee” Thompson’s Celebration of Life as one of few things prominently posted. It’s right up on the main menu bar. At that service, the Reverend Larry B. Jennings offered a most moving sermon, taking abundant care to make sure all knew it was GOD who created, guided and used Dolores Thompson as His instrument.

 

Dolores Rose

The Reverend said that every good and inspirational story has three things: A beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning, he insisted, was in God’s work way before Dolores Rose was born on January 14, 1929 in Brooklyn, NY. Take heed, he admonished, for she is a shining example of what happens when one walks with Him and has faith in His Plan.

Heaven knows, she was a force!

Dee was adopted by a black couple, Aaron and Ruth Jarvis, after being given up by her birth parents; a White and Jewish Father and a Puerto Rican Mother. Aaron and Ruth, said Rev. Jennings, made for “a loving God-fearing family who believed in faith, who believed in family and who believed in community.” They moved to Woodbury, where Dee graduated from Huntington High School. There she met her husband, Royal L. Thompson, Jr.

In 1949, they moved to Huntington Station. That was back when it had a thriving business district. She loved it.

“I’m a lifelong Huntington Station resident,” explains Gail Lamberta, “Dee was someone that I could connect with because we used to talk about the ‘Old Station.’ That’s where my family banked and shopped and everything. We didn’t go to Huntington Village. Once in a while we’d go down there, but we didn’t need to because we had everything here. We were in the Station.”

“We had everything, right by the railroad station.

“I’m a lifelong Huntington Station resident,” explains Gail Lamberta, “Dee was someone that I could connect with because we used to talk about the ‘Old Station.’ That’s where my family banked and shopped and everything. We didn’t go to Huntington Village. Once in a while we’d go down there, but we didn’t need to because we had everything here. We were in the Station.”

“We had everything, right by the railroad station.

Mother Dee

Royal was a police officer. Together, they had three children, Royal L. Thompson III (affectionately known as Chipper), Kevin and Tracey. In the 60’s, Dee got into business, becoming an operator for NY Telephone. Over the years, she rose through the ranks to become a manager for AT&T.

Family came first. Tracey will tell you that, while her mother loved her adopted family, and felt deeply blessed to have them, there was always a sadness that she didn’t get to know her own biological parents. She thinks that all of this may have been part of the reason why her mother was so deeply committed not only to her own offspring, but to anyone who seemed in need.

Expectations were high in the Thompson household. “You had to have a couple things,” Tracey recalled, “you had to play two instruments and you had to have a community service position. Those were the must-dos.”

A born community matriarch who herself served many organizations, Dee Thompson’s own first major foray into leadership was back in the 1950s. She partnered with friends and relatives to found “The Silhouettes.” Together, they would take young people on trips and local outings.

Whether she was encouraging her own children and their friends, mentoring youth struggling without healthy family, or endeavoring to provide opportunities to folks who never had them, enrichment was central to who she was. Everything was rooted in human development, and nurturing.

 

Family came first. Tracey will tell you that, while her mother loved her adopted family, and felt deeply blessed to have them, there was always a sadness that she didn’t get to know her own biological parents. She thinks that all of this may have been part of the reason why her mother was so deeply committed not only to her own offspring, but to anyone who seemed in need.

Things Fall Apart. Not Dee Thompson

It’s been said that faith, coupled with commitment to family and community is what guided the Thompsons through whatever fate had in store. Heaven knows there were great losses.

“The thing is,” says daughter Tracey, “Things didn’t fall apart. No matter what happened, my mother never fell apart.”

Although they remained great friends until his passing in 2001, Royal and Dee’s marriage did not last. By the mid-70’s, they were divorced. In 1975, tragedy struck when Royal III died in a truck accident.

“She was extremely sad,” emphasized Tracey, “but always strong. We pulled together as a unit and we continued.”

Not only was the family’s eldest son gone, so was their beloved village. In the early 60s an “Urban Renewal” project ran out of money, shortly after much of the Old Station was torn down. They had been promised a revitalization. What they got instead was their thriving business district reduced to mostly parking lots, and local gentrification that concentrated impoverished people into that freshly established blight.

The community was devastated.

Says Gail, “They took our place away from us. Some of our families had businesses there, and then they were all gone. It was hard…With Dee I could talk to her about that because she knew. There are very few people that still know about that…I was young! 8 or 9 years old, but I remember.”

Dee was older. Not only did she remember, she chose to keep the flame. For so long as she lived, and on beyond in all so moved by her, she kindled that flame; never ceasing to nurture, to rebuild and to champion her community.

Among the most ardent advocates Huntington Station has likely ever had, for nearly three quarters of a century Dolores Thompson persevered. serving as a mentor, a watchdog and a unifier. She was a mother, a counselor and a steward, both to her own children and countless others. A force to be reckoned with, she was tough, unforgettable, seemingly everywhere, and forever in the heart of Huntington Station.

Among the most ardent advocates Huntington Station has likely ever had, for nearly three quarters of a century Dolores Thompson persevered. serving as a mentor, a watchdog and a unifier. She was a mother, a counselor and a steward, both to her own children and countless others. A force to be reckoned with, she was tough, unforgettable, seemingly everywhere, and forever in the heart of Huntington Station.

Thank God for Queen Dee

Thanks be to God, Rev. Jennings rejoiced, “for allowing this 21st Century Icon, a Heavy Duty Staple in the Town of Huntington,” to be His vessel.

I smiled at those titles, “21st Century Icon.” “Heavy Duty Staple of the Town of Huntington.”

“Don’t forget ‘Warrior Queen,’ said Gail Lamberta later when I recalled them. Of course.

Some even went so far as to call her “Reverend Mother.” This was a title that irked some, particularly as – devoted as she was to her church – she was never clergy.

“Honestly,” says Tracey, “The whole thing seemed insensible to her. It made her laugh.”

Dee may not have been formally a “Reverend Mother,” but she was certainly a mother revered by many, who lived in faithful service to God and to her community.

Heaven knows the Reverend Jennings endeavored mightily to make sure we knew it was God who moved her. I don’t think he could fathom how such a soul could BE without being God’s handiwork. It certainly seemed clear that he felt that perhaps the closest he would ever come to communing with The Lord Himself was through his experience of this mortal laywoman; that the best he could do himself in this life was whatever he could to emulate her faith in action.

I don’t think he’s alone. He might be right…

Heaven knows the Reverend Jennings endeavored mightily to make sure we knew it was God who moved her. I don’t think he could fathom how such a soul could BE without being God’s handiwork. It certainly seemed clear that he felt that perhaps the closest he would ever come to communing with The Lord Himself was through his experience of this mortal laywoman; that the best he could do himself in this life was whatever he could to emulate her faith in action.

I don’t think he’s alone. He might be right…

Next Installment Coming Soon: “How She Was…”

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