My friends Dave & Jan Thompson

My friends who enrich me

Living in a different country than your homeland has its repercussions. That is what I write about in my memoir and  what I have told my daughter Emma Palova-Chavent when she was deciding about immigrating to the USA from France.

“You’re leaving old friends behind, and making new relationships,” I said. “That becomes binding.”

Immigration is not an experiment.

While living here for more than two decades, I have made a lot of friends that keep enriching my life. I know more people around here, than I knew in the village I grew up in back in Czechoslovakia.

Probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever received was from Lowell resident Barbara Schmaltz, who used to work for the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. I did a story on her for “Behind the Scenes.” The compliment is bigger than an award from the Associated Press.

“Emma, it’s been a privilege knowing you,” she said.

The same goes for my longtime friend, Dave Thompson.

As we approach Memorial Day, I write about Dave who has been the master of ceremonies for the event for the last six years. I met Dave while working for the Lowell Ledger in 2006. He came to my tiny cubicle office to tell me that he was organizing a clown parade to honor the 175th anniversary of Lowell.

“I am my own chairman,” he said.

Dave told me he wasn’t going to organize the parade unless he was solely in charge of it.

I’ve always liked that statement for its power.

“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” Dave said.

As a former teacher of chemistry and biology, and a coach, Dave always likes to put an educational component into the Memorial Day ceremonies.

One year Dave did a briefing on military uniforms to explain to the public the meaning behind the metals.

Post commander of the Lowell American Legion Dave Thompson with Boy Scouts on Memorial Day.
Post commander of the Lowell American Legion Dave Thompson with Boy Scouts on Memorial Day.

“Everything on the uniform has a meaning,” he said. “It is decorated based on the things you’ve accomplished.”

And truly while interviewing Dave in his den with the secret door and a miniature railroad track, I noticed what was on the walls and how it was placed. One wall was dedicated to civic honors, and the other to military. There was no more room left.

So, here is Dave’s story abbreviated version:

Dave Thompson was born in Grand Rapids during the depression on Nov. 23 1933. He grew up and attended public schools, and graduated from Central High School in 1952. He attended Olivet College and graduated in 1956. He was the winner of the coveted Olivet Oaks Cup Trophy as the Outstanding Graduating Senior.

After college, he flew in the navy, later he became a Naval Air Intelligence Officer, specializing in survival, escape and evasion tactics. He retired as commander with 21 years of service.

His work history includes teaching in the Detroit area for 10 years biology and chemistry, and coaching football and track.

Dave bargained three of the first five contracts in the Detroit area before the state bargaining law took effect in 1965.

“That made me a bargaining expert, something I still chuckle about,” he said.

Dave was the first executive director of Grand Rapids Teachers Association. He was also the general manager of the Grand Rapids Symphony for five years.

“What was your instrument, Mr. Thompson?” people quite often asked.

“The ukulele and the radio,” he said. “Neither one is a symphony instrument, but I put people in DeVos Hall.”

Dave with wife Jan moved to Lowell in 1996, and built a home on the Flat River complete with hidden moving panel doors and a white pine kitchen fireplace mantle. The mantle originates from the first Thompsons who arrived to Vergennes Township in 1833 as the first pioneer settlers.

Dave & Jan Thompson, avid volunteers, in their unique home.
Dave & Jan Thompson, avid volunteers, in their unique home.

He is proud of removing cars from Main Street during parades and organizing Dutch spaghetti dinners, as well as being Jan’s ticket out of Arizona. Currently, Dave is the post commander of Lowell American Legion, and on the board of Gilda’s Club.

Dave has three sons scattered around the country and five step children. Both Dave and Jan have lived by a motto:

“We all owe something to our community and we should be willing to give some time to those causes that affect others,” he said. “But when something ceases to be fun anymore, it’s time to move on to something else.”

Dave said the biggest claim to fame after all is said and done is being known as Jan Thompson’s husband. The couple received the title of 2010 Lowell Persons of the Year awarded by the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Copyright ©2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

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