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…”

Native Garden and Ecolandscaping Resources

Bee on Aster by Katheryn Laible

A few years ago now, I started reaching out to friends and collecting resources that we are pleased to share with you!

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Unity Fun Day 2024: Celebrate Community!

Save the Date: Huntington Unity Fun Day Parade & Fair, Saturday, April 14, 10am-3pm at Stimson Middle School

Since its beginning back in 2010, when it was held in a parking lot on Route 110 by The Station, Huntington Unity Parade and Fair has grown to become a regional event, raising awareness of the deep community that exists here, inspiring togetherness, and a celebration of diversity and solidarity throughout the entire Town of Huntington. Join them!

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Vision Update: Complete Streets Summit, LI Lobby Coalition, Smart Growth Awards

logo Vision Long Island

A report from Vision Long Island on the LI Lobby Coalition and a preview of the Complete Streets Summit. Save the date for the Smart Growth Awards now!

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Repair Café South Huntington!

Repair Café Flyer

The Repair Café is Coming to South Huntington

The Repair Cafe is about repairing broke items together. It’s a great place to get advice, learn a thing or two, and be inspired! There are no guarantees, but a promise to try. Many find the experience itself worth the effort. Folks involved are excited to announce that the next one will be held:

When: Saturday, March 16, 2024 from 1-4pm
Where: South Huntington Public Library, 145 Pidgeon Hill Rd, Huntington Station
Want to Help or Learn More? Email starflexp@aol.com
 

Want to Help?

Are you handy? With machines? Electronics? A needle and thread, perhaps?

Would you share this knowledge with others? Just want to keep folks from throwing good things into landfills, maybe help them save a few dollars?  Come with your kids and teach them? Just come to learn and make new friends?

Get involved in The Repair Café!

Learn More!

Check out The Repair Café Long Island on Facebook.

Just scroll through the images there and look at these folks helping each other and learning so much together.

Oh my goodness!

For years now, Laurie Farber of Starflower Experiences has made it part of her mission to help people fix things rather than just throw them out. First efforts in Wyandanch were successful. Then they built on the idea. The concept survived COVID. A natural partner, libraries, LOVE it when she brings her can-do TLC to their spaces. They’ve been to South Huntington before, as well as the Harborfields Library in Greenlawn, Comsewogue in Port Jefferson Station, Copaigue, Lindenhurst, more!
 

She’s got calls coming in for this program Island-wide. Anyone willing to help her answer them is greatly appreciated!

Laurie Explains

You don’t have to be super mechanical. Everybody can teach or help with something.

Said Laurie: “The more volunteers, the faster folks can get things repaired. People need to be able to bring their own tools. We get a lot of TVs and lamps and small electronics. We also could use people who are good with furniture, clothing/textiles (with sewing machine), more people for jewelry, anyone for watches and clocks, and other miscellaneous things (last time we had an ironing board, bicycle, a small statue that needed to be glued back together…).

We could also make space for a mental health person who would take time to listen to folks who just have a need to talk, or anyone who can do massage (sure, we can ‘fix’ people, too!).

Anyone who’d like to do some small DIY demos like how to sew on a button, darn a sock, rewire a lamp… Join us!

Get Involved!

We imagine The Repair Café  would be an EXCELLENT service project for Scouts, and really anyone who wants to promote the fine art of giving things a second chance at life, and to help make the world little thriftier and more self-reliant.

The best way to get in touch is through the Repair Cafe Long Island Facebook Page. You may also contact Laurie at starflexp@aol.com to learn more!!!

Photos of Repair Cafe’s across Long Island. Photo Credit: Laurie Farber.

Tell Your Tale at the Next Northport Story Slam

Story Tellers Wanted for a LIVE STORYTELLING EVENT Theme: coincidences Sunday, May 19 at 6pm at the outdoo stage on Union Place, Northport. For details and to sign up call or text Liz @ 631-375-4414 or email Northportvillagestorytelling@gmail.com

Story Tellers Wanted for the Next Northport Story Slam!

Inspired by The Moth radio hour, Elizabeth Alexander has been organizing storytelling events in Northport Village and the surrounding area. In crafting these “Northport Story Slams,” she is creating opportunities for the community to connect and to be inspired.

Moth-style storytelling is a genre of personal narrative stories about an experience that took place in the storyteller’s life. The stories are crafted, planned, and told (not read) before a live audience. It’s a wonderful art form that allows folks to connect at a very human level.

They’ve been a fantastic way to get to know our neighbors, and build community. We were thrilled to host the last one at The Firefly and are excited to hear of this next one!

Upcoming Northport Story Slam Details

Date: Sunday, May 19 at 6pm
Theme: “coincidences”
Where: Outdoor stage on Union Place, Northport
Got a Story to Tell?: Call or text Liz @ 631-375-4414 or email Northportvillagestorytelling@gmail.com. Please also check out the basic guidelines below.
Basic Guidelines for Storytelling: 1. Tell story in 5-10 minutes 2. Story to be told, not read 3. Base story on theme: coincidences 4. Craft your story 5. Story must be about a personal experience. 6. No stand-up comedy acts or rants

Basic Guidelines for Storytelling

1. Tell story in 5-10 minutes

2. Your story is to be told, not read

3. Base your story on the theme: coincidences

4. Craft your story

5. Story must be about a personal experience.

6. No stand-up comedy acts or rants

Coltrane Home Update – Grateful to Hear: This is Getting Real

Dignitaries gathered at the press conference where a $1.75M Suffolk County JumpSMART grant to Friends of the Coltrane Home was announced.

Coltrane Home Reaches Transformational Milestone: Things are Moving!!!

John Coltrane was an extraordinary musician – sometimes compared to the genius of Einstein, other times considered on a plane all his own. He wrote what most consider to be his masterwork, “A Love Supreme” in his Dix Hills home.  Musicians I have encountered since learning more about this local, international, perhaps even cosmic treasure, have gotten me to appreciate his wife, Alice even more deeply.

Transcending music alone, both sought to be forces for good and were deeply, deeply spiritual.

Saving the Dix Hills Home

About 20 years ago, now, a Coltrane fan named Steve Fulgoni realized where the Coltrane house was, just as it was being scheduled for demolition. He partnered with all who were willing – family, fellow musicians, fans, local historians and more – to save it from destruction.

Spared the bulldozer, this group of ardent volunteers realized they now had a much bigger job on their hands. In the decades since they have done tremendous work – both on the home and in building awareness and appreciation of these legends.

You can read about the home, the Coltrane legacy and more on the website dedicated to this project.

A Transformative Milestone

Now, it seems, the project has reached a transformational milestone. It was a delight to hear about a recent $1.75M “JumpSMART” GRANT from Suffolk County. This, together with a $1M grant from the Mellon Foundation and countless other gifts is making the restoration of this National Treasure a reality.

You may find daughter Michelle Coltrane’s heartfelt thanks and see some images of ongoing work in this recent newsletter.

Fulgoni’s speech at the press conference about the recent grant is here:

Press Coverage

I am grateful to a motley crew of dedicated volunteers, including Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills Board Members and Coltane COLTRANE family members who help each other stay apprised of news coverage. Here’s the latest:

•    You can learn a little bit about other milestones in getting this home formally recognized and revitalized, as well as about the Suffolk County JumpSMART program in the Long Island Times article “Coltrane Home gets $1.75M from Suffolk County”
•    News 12 had a piece on the grant that features video of the interior of the home: “Suffolk County expected to announce over $1.7 million in funding for John and Alice Coltrane Home in Dix Hills”
•    There’s more detail in this article by John Valenti for Newsday (subscription required – or visit your local library~!), “Jazz legacy: John & Alice Coltrane Home in Dix Hills to get $1.75M grant for upgrades”
•   More recently, also in Newsday, Robert Brodsky published this beautiful, in depth article, complete with video of the home: “John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane home on Long Island undergoes renovation in effort to preserve history”
•    This article from Clive Young for Mix Online tells more about the Coltranes and the significance of the home, as well as plans for its future, “John Coltrane House Awarded $1.75M to Renovate Home Studio, More”
•    Here’s a little more about the JumpSMART grant from in Long Island.com: “Suffolk County Executive Bellone To Announce Nearly $2 Million In Jumpsmart Funding To The John & Alice Coltrane Home”
Learn More About the Coltranes
–    Here’s a beautiful, recent article from Jeff MacGregor in The Smithsonian magazine, “How John Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’ Changed American Music”
–    Here’s a 2018 Synchronicity Article entitled, “Notes From Joe” with older clippings collected by Coltrane Volunteer Joe Natter that we published some years ago. Worth a re-read! “Notes from Joe”

Some Good Books

One book on John Coltrane that I think musicians, especially may appreciate is Ascension by Eric Nisenson,

“Nice choice!” said Noah, the salesman in a local bookstore, when I brought it to the counter. He then promptly recommended, . “Coltrane on Coltrane” by Chris DeVito and asked me if I knew that the Coltranes had lived around here.

I went home happily and shared my finds with some Coltrane Board Members.

“Chris DeVito’s book, Coltrane on Coltrane is a text version of every Coltrane interview out there,” said Steve, “There are some online audio versions of those interviews where you can hear John talking and really get a feel for who he is.”

A YouTube search reveals a fascinating set of interviews with and about Coltrane

Another board member offered a few of their favorite biographies: Ashley Kahn’s A Love Supreme and what they felt was the best scholarly biography, Lewis Porter’s John Coltrane: His Life and Music. We learned Lewis also has amazing lectures available online in his Deep Dives.

We also refer you to the Half Hollow Hills Library where Coltrane volunteer Ellen Druda, a wonderful, retired librarian has helped create a ‘Coltrane Computer’ with hundreds of images.

It’s all quite enlightening…Enjoy. <3

Shop Local! 2024 Northport Shopping Guide

Main St, Northport

We are incredibly grateful for our Northport neighbors, and warmly recommend the whole village experience. Pop in and support these folks who give so much to our communities. You’ll be glad you did. It’s easy to find wonderful gifts for not nearly as much as you might think, and a great way to keep all sorts of magic alive.

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