It was somehow fitting that June (Collins) Thompson passed away during the month of November, since part of her legacy is providing free Thanksgiving meals annually to the community.
June passed away Wednesday evening at the age of 89. Her son, Terry, said Friday that her example will live on through both family members as well as the complete strangers whose lives she touched.
For 14 years, through 2012, June spearheaded the Collins Family Thanksgiving Dinner, held at the Highland County Senior Citizens Center. The free Thanksgiving meal started out with 200 to 300 attendees, but eventually grew to welcome nearly 1,000 through the doors each year.
Collins recalled how the dinner began, noting that during one small family Thanksgiving, his mother remarked that it was a shame that more people weren’t on hand to eat all the food that had been prepared.
So, the next year, she invited two complete strangers she had met at a local grocery store to join her family, much to the surprise of other family members including Terry and his older brother, Bill.
“That was interesting,” Terry Collins recalls.
Eventually, she made a proposal on a larger scale, suggesting, “Let’s invite the whole town.”
So, with the senior center secured, the doors were opened to anyone who wanted to join the family for a dinner with all the trimmings. Collins said his mother used to make 60 pies each year for the event, with other family members and volunteers also providing food and other items.
Every year, starting at around 11:30 a.m., a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, rolls, and various other side dishes and baked goods were served, with anywhere from 900 to 1,000 guests forming long lines cafeteria-style.
In 2011, June suffered a broken hip, and the family assumed the dinners were at an end. June had other ideas. She announced she would heal just fine, and the dinner would go on. She did, and it did.
By 2013, new regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture made it nearly impossible for outside groups to make use of kitchens in facilities like the senior center. Collins acknowledged at the time that with his mom being 86, “it’s kind of a blessing in disguise,” because little would deter her from carrying on the annual event.
Collins said Friday that his mother’s Christian heart is what motivated her to care about others.
“In my entire life – 54 years – I can’t tell you anything she ever did to bring reproach to her Christian testimony,” said Collins. “She always thought about other people.”
Collins said his mother’s word was her bond, and she often shared her belief that “if you make a commitment, you keep it. You do or die.”
He said his mother lived that example throughout her life, including through a card ministry at her church, Hillsboro Free Will Baptist, where she bought and sent cards to anyone who missed church, often adding a personal note. He said the 120 or so cards she received during her recent hospital stay served as a testimony to everyone who saw them “in an age when most people don’t send cards anymore.”
June was preceded in death by her first husband, the Rev. Glen C. Collins, in 1986, and her second husband, Ora M. Thompson, in 2012.
For several years, June owned and operated Granny’s Glass & Gifts in Hillsboro, and she was involved with the design of the very first commemorative bell for the Hillsboro Festival of the Bells, a Fenton Bell she designed after being asked by Paulette Donley to come up with something.
“I confirmed that with Paulette today,” said Collins.
Collins said that in addition to sending cards, his mother prayed for each member of her church every week, as well as for others.
“America has lost a prayer warrior,” he said.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8 at the Hillsboro Free Will Baptist Church. Keith Perkins and Richard Burns will officiate. Burial will follow in the New Market Baptist Cemetery. Visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. Monday at the church. The Turner & Son Funeral Home in Hillsboro is serving the family.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.