Helen Thompson

Archived Story

100 years and counting

Published 7:29pm Friday, September 23, 2011

“He’s cute, ain’t he?” Helen Thompson asks as she gazes at a black and white photo of herself and her husband, Elton, taken many years ago at the Fort St. Joseph marker.
“Wouldn’t you believe that I went and Married the guy and he couldn’t dance?” she says with a laugh.

Helen and her husband, Elton, next to the Fort St. Joseph marker

Thompson is planning for many more dances, including some to “good music” at her 100th birthday party Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Niles Elks with family and friends. The West Woods of Niles nursing home resident will become a centenarian Oct. 21.
She was born in Lisbon, N.D., the seventh of nine children.
“We first lived on a farm,” Thompson said. “My father lived in Indiana, and I was the first (of his children) born in North Dakota.
“Some of our family was out there and I came out with my brother,” she said of her trek to Michiana.
She didn’t graduate from school because she helped with her mother, who was sick, while in North Dakota.
Thompson met her husband, Elton, a printer at Tyler Refrigeration in Niles, and they married in 1940. He died in 1968.
Thompson worked at J.C. Penney in Niles for many years, and also at Michigan Gas. Co. before retiring from Simplicity Pattern Co.
“It was a nice place to work. They paid good, too,” she said.
Helen and Elton rode motorcycles, and Helen wore a leather jacket and hip boots.
She also was a longtime member of St. Mark’s Catholic Church and of its Christian Mothers group, and she volunteered at Pawating Hospital (now Lakeland) in Niles.
“When I was in North Dakota I was always in the choir,” Thompson said.
The Thompsons lived in a house on Oak Street before moving to a then-new subdivision near Niles High School. Helen lived for 25 years at the Four Flags Plaza.
Helen has three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, with a sixth great-grandchild on the way in October.
“She built her life around us and her grandchildren,” her daughter, Linda Zavitz of Niles, said. “She never missed my kids’ sporting events.”

The Thompsons wrote motorcycles as part of a local club.

Helen is active at West Woods, where she has lived for more than three years.
“She’s interested in all the activities here,” Zavitz said.
Helen also, of course, loves music and dancing, and particularly North Dakota native Lawrence Welk, host of the long-running TV program “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
“I saw him in person when I was in North Dakota. He came to the armory, and boy, we all went,” Thompson said.
Thompson is nicknamed “Ms. Notre Dame” at West Woods because she loves Irish football. She also likes the Chicago Cubs and never missed a game when Michael Jordan played in the NBA.
“There’s one lady who lives here who calls me ‘Ms. Notre Dame.’”
Thompson said she doesn’t know the secret to longevity, but said she has lived a “good life” and has been mostly in good health.
In fact, her good health and long life may be genetic — she has two sisters, ages 91 and 96, who both live independently.
“All three of them are very devoted to their religion, and they’ve been blessed with good health,” Zavitz said.
Her two sisters will join her in a limo ride to her 100th birthday party at the Elks, where her grandson will be the DJ.
Last year, when one of her sisters turned 90, she was also picked up by a limo.
“Everybody out here just went crazy,” Zavitz said.

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