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A career well remembered: Friends gather to bestow honor on educator

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image This photograph, taken in the early 1990s, hangs in the front office at East Bay High School.

People behind petition to name school after Vince Thompson say he’s earned it

By PENNY FLETCHER

SUNDANCE — Vince Thompson, now 72, didn’t have his education served to him on a silver platter. Maybe that’s one of the reasons he’s done so much to help others get theirs.

Before talking about the numerous positions in education in Hillsborough County and the many other things he’s done, a little background is warranted. The events surrounding his past were given to me by Vince himself, and his wife of 52 years, Judy, in an interview in their home in the Sundance woodlands (near Wimauma) Aug. 1, during which he was modest, but more than willing to talk.

Born and raised in Tarpon Springs where his dad was the fire chief and his mom ran “the” mercantile store, Vince was the third generation of his family to live in Hillsborough County, his grandfather having moved to Tarpon Springs from Wimauma — which at that time, had a bustling timber industry, complete with a large sawmill that employed many people in the South County area.

Vince earned a football scholarship to Florida State University but after the first semester said that neither his grades nor his football skills were good enough to renew it.

“I had to face it. I just wasn’t as good as I’d thought I was,” he said with a smile. So he went home and made a deal with his parents. He could stay at home but he had to put $15 a week on his mother’s dresser to live there.

Immediately, he got a job at the local aluminum foundry owned by Ed Hunike. “ I didn’t know they held you a week behind,” Vince said. “At the end of the first week when I didn’t get paid, I told him (Mr. Hunike) ‘But you just don’t know my Mama. I have to give her $15 today. I promised her I would.’ ”

Vince said Hunike loaned him the $15 but never would take it back out of his pay.

“That was a really good man,” Vince said.

He never forgot what it meant to get a helping hand when he needed it, and said that throughout his life “There were always people who reached down and pulled me up.”

Unwilling to resign himself to a life at the foundry, Vince applied for- and got two jobs. He also registered for school. His parents wondered how he could keep up a schedule that would only permit him to be “off” from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. but somehow, he managed it.

“I’d get up at 5 and deliver papers before going to school for six hours,” he said. “That was back when there were two daily editions, so after school, I would load up my route and deliver the afternoon edition before reporting to my second job, which was at the Tampa Shipyards.” The shipyard shift ended around 1 a.m.

Judy’s dad, Buster Allen, ran the shipyards. The two met and married young- in 1960 -and have since had three children, one son and two daughters, two of whom live in Florida and the other in Las Vegas. They also have two grandchildren.

Finally, Vince had enough education from University of Tampa where he also got his Bachelors of Science); the University of South Florida, where he completed his requirements to teach; and Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. (where he obtained his Masters in Education).

Then he had to save up enough money to get him through his internship as a full time teacher and coach at Robinson High School in Tampa. Internships are not paid jobs and are taken for experience only.

He worked his way through teaching; coaching; three vice principal jobs; and then as principal of East Bay High School which has since named its stadium after him. Then, when Riverview High School was built, he was asked by the Board of Education to be the first principal. In that way, he could help shape its future goals.

During all these years he has had way too many awards and honors to list in a news story. Some of the highlights are: being named Principal of the Year by the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association for two consecutive years; being inducted into the Riverview and East Bay Hall(s) of Fame; developing and adapting a physical education program curriculum guide for the Florida Department of Education; and now- since retirement from being an on-site principal, he works in a position training other principals and helping schools with parent/teacher issues.

“He has hired and personally groomed nine teachers into the administration side of education,” said Sharon Morris, who followed Vince as principal at EBHS. “He knew how to hire the right people. Mr.(Bob) Heilman (principal at Riverview) was another of his picks.”

Stacy White, now a member of Hillsborough County’s School Board, studied under Vince at EBHS.

“He was my high school principal, and what I remember best was how he walked up and down the halls and talked with the students. He kept them excited and proud of their school. This attitude extended across the board from principal to teacher to students. He was knowledgeable about everything. His reputation always precedes him.”

Judy agrees, recalling how his students loved him. “He was always there for them but he held them to a high standard,” she said.

All through Vince’s years of education, Judy worked, beginning her career as a radiological technologist in 1960. She then worked for an orthopedic surgeon and since her retirement has gotten involved in many volunteer services in the community.
“Without her support I could not have gone back to school,” Vince said.

In 1998, Vince stopped working as a principal at Riverview. Riverview held a grand party for him, and everyone assumed he would then retire.

Jennifer (Jankowski) Connolly, who graduated in 1984 from EBHS and now works in the office there, said “My Thompson is very caring and knowledgeable. He is very special to me. I am not surprised he is not retired.”

Both Vince and Sharon Morris work with other principals in the Tampa School Board offices. Vince works part-time.

But he was not only known in the community for his work-related positions.

Vince is also active in his church, St. John the Divine, has served on various boards and committees and helped with students at Vacation Bible School.

Two boys whose fathers were good friends of Vince, Scott Buzbee, who graduated in 1993, and Mike Council, from the Class of 1990, talked about the fun the group would have when they went hunting. They also remember him as a family friend.

“He was always fun. It was good to know him as more than just the principal,” Scott said.

One of Vince’s best friends, Ron Budd of Ruskin, got the two boys interested in a petition drive to get a new school named after Vince.

“I can’t think of anybody who deserves it (to have a school named after him) more,” Ron Budd said in a telephone interview Aug. 2. “Vince is the real deal.”

To become involved or find out how to sign the petition, email Marita Johnson, administrative assistant to Hillsborough County Schools Area Director Chris Farkas, at marita.johnson@sdhc.k12.fl.us or call Farkas office at (813) 658-1970, Council said.

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