When Turlock resident Don Thompson was born in 1914, a gallon of milk cost roughly 12 cents, baseball legend Babe Ruth made his major league debut and audiences throughout the country were enjoying silent films. Thompson has witnessed plenty of change since then as he prepares to celebrate his 105th birthday on Sunday, and the beloved elder whom those close to him affectionately call “Grandpa Don” doesn’t show signs of slowing down any time soon.
Thompson was born on a Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma just over a century ago as one of 10 children, and moved to Turlock in 1974 when he married his wife Nancy. Since then, he has enjoyed a life full of hard work, meaningful relationships and plenty of beef tacos from El Asadero Taco Shop paired with a Dr. Pepper — the latter of which Thompson gives credit for his fruitful life.
With the momentous occasion of turning 105 just around the corner on May 19, Thompson reflected on the big day with gratitude.
“It’s just another day,” he said. “When you’re as old as I am, you just hope you wake up tomorrow and can get out of bed.”
The most important thing Thompson has learned about life throughout his nearly 105 years, he said, is to make the most of it.
“Don’t complain, tell the truth and life is what you make of it,” he said. “If you’re good to yourself and those around you, you’ll have a good life.”
Putting his best foot forward has been Thompson’s mantra since he was just 13 years old. The teen put his work ethic to the test, talking himself into a job washing skyscraper windows in Chicago, though he had never even seen one before. He learned the ins and outs of the profession on the fly, and never stopped moving forward.
In the early 1960s, Thompson founded Thompson Maintenance in Los Angeles and ran janitorial service and maintenance contracts for major defense manufacturers before ultimately moving to Turlock. Since his arrival to town he has never stopped working, running all of the maintenance for his apartment complex and rentals by himself to this day.
“It’s not a choice,” he said. “Who else is going to do the work? If you don’t keep moving at my age, the alternative doesn’t look so good.”
Thompson still tends to the yards at his rentals and also looks after their tenants, whether it be helping them with their laundry, cooking meals or completing different jobs inside of their homes. This dedication to hard work, coupled with caring for the people around him, has helped Thompson make it to 105 years old, he said.
“The people are the very best part,” Thompson said. “No matter how old I get, I still make new, young friends and their energy keeps me going.”
The apartment complex Thompson works so hard to maintain is right next to eCademy Charter at Crane, giving him the chance to create lasting friendships with both the students and staff at the campus. They can often find him on the roof blowing leaves, in the yard mowing or keeping a watchful, protective eye over the school, and his visible presence has made its mark on the eCademy community. On his 104th birthday, students and administrators surprised him with a birthday cake.
When asked if he had any advice for tomorrow’s generation, Thompson provided some words of wisdom.
“I’ve seen world wars, automobiles, manufacturing and presidents come and go. You get used to change but it’s all happening so fast these days, I hope people remember change is part of life. Don’t get too caught up in it,” Thompson said. “Work hard and take care of the people that need you. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you have, take pride in how you treat people, pets and your home.”