The new metal sculpture at South Haven Memorial Library shows a diminutive woman holding a large book with gold stars emanating from it toward the sky.
Daniel Thompson of South Haven commissioned the sculpture in honor of his mother, the late Florence Calkins Thompson, who died in 2006 at the age of 85.
“She was an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things,” Thompson said.
Family members gathered Friday, Nov. 11 at the library to formally dedicate the statue, named “Celebration of Knowledge.”
“She lived for books,” Thompson’s wife, Laurie said. “She was a lifetime seeker of truth and wisdom.”
Thompson thought Nov. 11, Veterans Day, was a good day to hold the ceremony.
“It’s appropriate on this Veterans Day we recognize her as a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ married to a World War II veteran,” he said. “She did her part supporting the war effort by serving as director of public affairs for the Selective Services Southwest Michigan region..”
Her stint with the Selective Services was just one small chapter in Thompson’s mother’s life.
Born in 1920 in South Haven, Calkins Thompson did not have it easy as a child.
“She was a child of the Depression, living a hard-scrabble life migrating from Florida to Michigan to Illinois until April of 1934 when my maternal grandmother brought a house on Avery Street in South Haven,” Thompson said.
Returning to South Haven apparently suited Calkins Thompson well. She graduated from South Haven High School in 1938, where she played on the tennis team, performed viola in the school orchestra and directed school plays. However, according to her son, “her greatest passion was writing for the school newspaper.”
Calkins Thompson earned a full scholarship to the University of Chicago, graduated with an associate degree and returned to her hometown to become a reporter for the South Haven Tribune. She then was hired by the Kalamazoo Gazette, managing its Paw Paw news bureau where she met her future husband, Frank Thompson.
While he was serving in the Air Force, Calkins Thompson was hired by the Selective Service, and after the war settled in Paw Paw and began raising a family with her husband, who ran Thompson Centennial Funeral Home (now Betzler & Thompson).
Her biggest test, however, would come in 1964 when her husband died.
“Faced with the loss of her husband, and four children to raise, and a nearly 100-year-old family business at risk, she went back to Wayne State to attain her mortuary science degree, passed the state and national boards to became a licensed funeral director and continued the business to support the family,” Thompson recalled.
“She put my two sisters through college and challenged me to apply for the Naval Academy at Annapolis, which I did apply to, won an appointment, and graduated in 1975.” Caulkins Thompson’s other son, Frank, later took over the family funeral home business.
It was his mother’s love of books and music, though that Thompson remembered most about his mom.
“She would not read a book or listen to a composition of music without knowing in detail who the author or composer was,” he said. “When I cleaned out her houses in Paw Paw and South Haven there were literally hundreds of books.”
And that’s what gave him the idea for the sculpture. Knowing the South Haven Center for the Arts and City of South Haven started a collaboration several years ago to begin installing outdoor sculptures throughout the downtown area, Thompson talked with Kerry Hagy, art center director, about possible locations for his sculpture.
“I told her about my mom and what she did throughout her life. (Hagy) connected the dots and suggested the library. It’s a wonderful location,” Thompson said.
He then commissioned South Haven sculpture artist Kathy Kreager to create the piece of art.
“She even chose a copper color for the sculpture because my mother had bright red hair,” Thompson said.
The sculpture is one the most unusual ones Kreager has created as part of South Haven’s outdoor sculpture program.
“It was an honor to be involved in this,” she said.