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 wrote a brief memorial of one of the most extraordinary individuals I have ever known: Ms. Dolores Thompson. Knowing it hardly scratched the surface, I promised I would write a longer version soon. Thank you to all who have sat with me, to share their experiences of her. If you scroll down, you can read a little bit of what’s come from that.

Months, and mounds of paper later, written by myself and others, none of which seemed right to fully cut and many of which only presented 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 seemed to like this idea. 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. I am grateful!

I came away knowing I still have a lot to learn. If you happened to know her, please tell me about it. You can send me an email sharing your story or set up an appointment to connect. What follows here now is something of an introduction. I look forward to sharing beginning chapters soon…

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…”

In Memoriam: Dolores Thompson, Kevin Thorbourne, Robert DeSimone

Photo of Dolores Thompson in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Photo of Dolores Thompson taken in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Three extraordinary souls that I happened to know passed on these last few months. I think part of why I’ve been slow to send a newsletter is because I’ve wanted to pay each one their proper respects. Unfortunately, I still haven’t processed enough to do that for Bill Bohn and another dear soul the world lost over a year ago. There’s so much to say about each of these folks. It’s going to take a while. I’ll tell you a little now and endeavor to properly memorialize each of these “Legends of LI” here soon.

Dolores Thompson

Dolores Thompson – What a force! She was introduced to me as “Queen Dee.” You didn’t have to squint too hard to see her crown. She was regal if she was anything. Tough as they come, she could bring you down with a look. Still, as one dear soul said, “If you didn’t love and respect her, you just didn’t know her that well.”

I’ve never had anyone so point-blank command that folks give a damn and love, breaking it all down as simply as possible for anyone who would listen.

Soon after Dee’s passing about a month ago, Cheryl Blum dug up roughly 30 years of news clippings charting Dee’s adventures as a committed advocate.  A true community Matriarch, Dee was a big reason why there’s a library in Huntington Station, and why the Dolan Family Health Center exists. I can’t even begin to fathom how many kids she impacted for the better as a champion of the Huntington Station Enrichment Center and the local Boys and Girl’s Club, as well as the local NAACP. Among the most ardent advocates Huntington Station has likely ever had, she was also a driving force and deep conscience for its BID (Business Improvement District). There was more…so much more…

Dee did things her own way, that’s for sure, even as she collaborated closely with any and everyone. Naming 2nd Avenue “Dee Thompson Way in her honor was simply putting a formal label on a street many had already long seen as hers. When the Huntington Awareness Day and its Unity in the Community parade were rained out, it felt like the heavens were joining the town in mourning, and knew folks weren’t quite ready to hold that event without her.

The last time I saw Dee, I got to give her a hug over a relatively simple yet deep request she’d had of the powers that be which seemed to take way too long to accomplish…a supermarket. She’d have loved to see it sooner, but was happy at least that it was finally done.

It was so good to see her. She was pure Dee that day, loaded with three more things she wanted accomplished: Improving a difficult corner, beautifying a major train station, and establishing a museum. She admonished me to go see the extraordinary collection of the Reverend Bernadette Watkins which was then on view at the Tri-CYA in Huntington Station for Black History Month. She hoped it would soon find a prominent home.

I am so glad to see this happening, and am sure there are others carrying a torch for the other two items. Grateful thanks and all the best to Melisa Rousseau and everyone involved now in establishing the Huntington African American Museum, and to all who collect and curate to preserve and better understand this important part of our heritage. I’m sure Dee’s watching over you.

Thank you, Ms Thompson, for all you did to serve your community. I’m sure I’m far from the only one who feels they’re a better person because of you. May those that follow make you proud.

Photo of Kevin W. Thorbourne helping spruce up the Coltrane Home.
Kevin in one of his fine hats helping to spruce up the Coltrane Home in 2021.

Kevin Thorbourne

Kevin Thorbourne passed suddenly last summer. It’s still hard to believe he’s really gone. He was not the kind of guy to toot his own horn. However, the first time I encountered him he did explain that he had recently written a tell-all about himself and invited me to read it if I would. Harlem Son is a beautiful, raw, thoughtful, incredibly honest story of life in the city and LI suburbs, starting in the 1950s. It includes observations on local and national events as an African American man, as well as reflections on his personal journey: Triumphs, challenges, missteps, love, appreciation and redemption. 

It’s an inspiring and thought provoking read.

Kevin was the first new friend I made when Ron Stein and others got me involved in the effort to save the Coltrane home in Dix Hills. He was passionate about his church, fine men’s clothing, the political scene, and his personal mission to honor and document Jazz musicians wherever he could find them, sometimes pulling them straight out of obscurity.

I was apparently not alone in finding Kevin to be the most Coltrane of all the Coltrane volunteers, even though I never heard him play an instrument. It was his open heart and mind that reminded us of that legend, his very human commitment to being a “force for good,” and his earnest desire to learn everything he could, especially regarding jazz musicians.

Kevin’s capacity for self-reflection and improvement was only outdone by his indefatigable care for things beyond himself. A professional mediator for many years, he was a natural at being “the oil in troubled water.”  As a Coltrane volunteer, Kevin was known for being the perfect person to consult with when things got stressful. Never dull, it was amazing to listen to him talk to others about whatever they happened to be an expert in. Kevin asked great questions and always seemed to have something profound, grounding, or just plain thoughtful to say.

I think maybe what I’ll miss most is that smile he had that instantly warmed the soul. 

It was a great honor and pleasure to work with Kevin, and to get to call him friend.  He is deeply missed and appreciated.

Photo of Robert DeSimone on an balcony in a tuxedo with a cigar.

Robert DeSimone

Robert DeSimone was my classmate in the Leadership Huntington Class of 2001. A lion of a man, we were never quite sure he got the whole “leading from behind” thing that was really the thrust of this community leadership organization. Still, he was an enthusiastic participant. He definitely made a deep contribution, reminding us that there are people in this world who are simply natural born leaders. Ones with good hearts and minds to match their powerful charismas at that.

Robert’s good-natured advocacy of this fact led him ultimately to be dressed in a toga with a makeshift wreath of laurel on his head as he took on the role of Julius Caesar in a series of skits that were part of the class. I hope to someday locate and transcribe the video of them. Until then, I’ll treasure the memory.

Last I spoke to Robert was maybe ten years ago. He was thinking about his girls, who’d been adopted from Ukraine. He was ardently searching the world for their sister, whom he eventually found. He was also excited about work he was doing to get major corporate leaders to understand their enlightened self-interest and thus adjust their business practices to help save us all.

Trudy and I wanted to get him to do something with Leadership…to talk about these and other things he was passionate about. He was enthusiastic, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. I always hoped I’d catch him around again sometime, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards, either. He is dearly missed.

 

To all out there who also knew and loved these folks, thank you for appreciating them. I’d love to hear your memories.

In Memoriam: Ken Christensen

From Left: Ken Christensen, Libby Hubbard, Craig Riger, Dianne Parker, Lou Giordano at a Leadership Huntignton Founders Dinner in 2014

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” ~Google tells me this quote is attributed to Nelson Henderson but to me it belongs to Ken Christensen, who spoke those words often and took them deeply to heart.

Continue reading

Never Forget: Costantino “Gus” Scutari

Photo of Gus with Eagle Scouts from Syosset Troop 205 by Katheryn Laible

Speaking of Veteran Testimonials…we remain eternally grateful for getting to document this one. Over and again we read it, realizing something new each time. We miss you, Gus.

There will be more about Gus when the website launches. We also look forward to being able to once again share a timeless and invaluable piece by another favorite veteran, Dave Vollmer, Lt Col USAF (ret,), PhD, on what it means to be a good leader.

A Park for Joy!!!

Here’s the story we wrote about Joy Squires, Huntington’s Environmental Sage in 2016. She’s been chair of the Huntington Conservation Board since 1979, and also long-led the NYS Conservation Commission, where she continually endeavors to help others better steward their own open spaces and to encourage new generations to be actively engaged in environmentalism.

If you know her, you have probably been informed about parks in your area and opportunities to serve as their steward. We are delighted to hear that Manor Plains Park will now be renamed in honor of her!

When: Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 12:30pm

Where: Manor Plains Nature Park, 91-93 Manor Road, Huntington

Syosset Road Renamed in Honor of Gus Scutari

Photo of Gus Scutari and Eagle Scouts of Syosset Troop 205

Gus Scutari with Eagle Scouts from Troop 205 in 2019. Photo by Katheryn Laible

Today, a portion of Underhill Boulevard in Syosset was renamed in honor of one of Long Island’s most ardent champions of Americanism and good citizenship, the passionate organizer of the Syosset Memorial Day Parade, Gus Scutari.

You can read about it on the Nassau County NY webpage.

You can find images from the event taken by Gus’ friend, whom he smartly recruited to join the Syosset American Legion, Terri Squires on the Legion’s Facebook Page.

Gus passed away early this spring at the age of 99. Here is the piece we got to write with him: Gus Scutari: Syosset’s Humble Champion of Americanism. He had a number of interesting things to say that we are still thinking about.

He is dearly missed and greatly appreciated. Thank you, Gus.

In Memoriam: Gus Scutari

Photo of Gus Scutari at 2019 Memorial Day Parade by Katheryn Laible

We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Costantino “Gus” Scutari, shortly after his 99th birthday.

Gus dedicated his life to promoting good, thoughtful citizenship, love for our country and properly honoring our nation’s fallen military service folk. The proud Americanism Chairman of Nassau County, Gus is perhaps best known in Syosset for his dedication to the Memorial Day Parade. Among our Scouts, he was also well known for faithfully attending every Eagle Ceremony, where he would honor all those who achieved that high rank with an American Flag pin.

It was an honor and a privilege to have this gentleman as a fundamental part of our community. Here are stories of his life, things that mattered to him, and bits of his wisdom that he shared with us a few years ago.

Here’s a little video from the 2019 Syosset Memorial Day Parade, which, with a little help from his friends, he organized from his room at the Cold Spring Hills Nursing Home last year. Here are some photos from that day.

Here is Gus, in his own words, telling the story of when his destroyer, the U.S.S. Haynsworth was hit by a Kamikaze during World War II. He always counted himself very lucky that he didn’t have to see the worst of that, and was ever mindful of so many – during that conflict and others – who did.

We feel we are better people for having known Gus. Our hearts are with all who love him. He will be dearly missed.

Thank you, Gus.