By Carl Corry
Dolores Thompson, recipient of the Larry Kushnick Memorial Award for Community Service, remembers a time when Huntington Station had a thriving business district, with a bank, a supermarket and other essential operations that locals depended on.
For more than three decades, the tough, seemingly ubiquitous community activist has been doing everything she can to bring life back into the area.
“I like to see things get done,” said Thompson, executive director of the Huntington Station Enrichment Center. “I was here when we had a Huntington Station that was alive and well. All we have now is a parking garage.”
Born in Brooklyn, Thompson, who goes by “Dee,” moved to Jamaica, Queens, and then to Woodbury before landing in Huntington Station. A graduate of what is now Huntington High School, she became an operator at New York Telephone, where she rose through the ranks to become a manager.
Thompson retired from AT&T, New York Telephone’s successor, in 1985, but before that, she already established the Silhouettes, a group that opened up activities to youths in the area by connecting with local schools. “There was never any community center for young people in Huntington Station,” Thompson said.
After retiring, she did a needs assessment for the Huntington Station area, and told Huntington officials that the Station was lacking facilities for young people. “That’s when I opened up the Huntington Station Enrichment Center,” she said. The center, which was first located at the current Station Branch of the Huntington Public Library, provides arts and crafts and music lessons and education assistance, among other services. The center now shares space with Renaissance Downtowns and the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center on New York Avenue. Thompson sits on HORC’s advisory board.
Thompson is the mother of Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. She also has a son, Kevin. An elder son, Royal II, died in automobile accident in 1975.
Edwards said the importance of community service was instilled in the children early. “You had to have a couple of things. You had to play two instruments and a you had to have a community service position. Those were the must-dos in the Thompson household,” said Edwards, whose late father, Royal, was a police officer.
A former 20-year president of the Huntington Chapter of the NAACP, Thompson said she is proud of helping to make the chapter one of the strongest in the Long Island region.
She also helped get the Dolan Family Health Center in Greenlawn up and running, which she considers one of her biggest accomplishments.
“It’s what we wanted. Not a storefront clinic,” Thompson said. “We do not call it a clinic, because it’s not. It’s a family center. And it’s for all people. It’s not just for the underserved.” She continues to serves on the center’s advisory board.
Joseph Volavka, senior administrative director of the Dolan Family Health Center, said he quickly realized the impact Thompson had on the community when he came to the center about two and a half years ago.
“Dee was always known to be something of a tremendous advocate,” he said. She has assisted me with vision and strategy, and where to go. She was very helpful in pulling off the 20th anniversary” celebration in October.
Thompson is known to be tough with people when they don’t deliver. Is that a fair assessment?
“It depends,” she said. “If they haven’t done something I expected them to do, yes. Because I feel like we’re a neglected group of people here in Huntington Station, and we’re like an afterthought.” It’s why she sits on the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce board, she said. “I have to let the chamber know that they’re the chamber not just for the village, but for the whole community. So I have to remind them periodically. With all of the stores and everything else that’s in the village, don’t forget to support the Station.”
Thompson is also vice president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District.
“We work very hard to support the local businesses here,” Thompson said. “So we do the cash mobs,” like a “Fairground Bazaar” in December, with vendors, food and crafts, to support a discount store. She wasn’t happy with the lack of news coverage of the event, saying the media is quick to point out crime in the area, but not the good things happening.
Keith Barrett, president of the Huntington Station BID, said Thompson was “well deserving” of the community-service award.
“She’s very determined. She doesn't take ‘no’ for an answer. And she cares,” said Barrett, who co-chairs the annual Unity in the Community -- Huntington Awareness Day Parade and Fair along with Thompson and Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone.
“Dee is trying to bring life back into Huntington Station, for no other reason than it should. That’s what she’s intent on doing,” Barrett said.
Thompson also ran a Boys and Girls Club.
“I was able to serve an awful lot of people in the Huntington Station area. A lot of these children come back to see me, they’re grown, I hardly recognize them, but the memories of them being here” are steadfast, she said. “We were able to help with their education and also with their leisure life. Fishing trips, the zoo.”
After all she’s accomplished, what does Thompson still want to do?
Oh, that’s simple.
“Bring back Huntington Station. That’s my goal. Bring back what we had here and make us the village that we were. Don’t forget: Huntington Station is the gateway to Huntington.”
To that end she plans to be meeting with MTA officials on helping to prop up mom-and-pop shops around the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station.
And she wants to see the New York State Armory on E. 5th Street turned into a community center, with a park and activities “so that young people have a place to go.”