50 years later, friends stick to Thanksgiving reunion tradition

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 19, 2012 

  • Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Wendy McCormick of Evansville, Ind., for sharing the story of a special gathering this week on Hilton Head Island.


Lifelong friends and Air Force buddies, Rich Thompson and Bill McCormick, both 79, are celebrating Thanksgiving together this year for the 50th time, with a combined clan of 30 vacationing all week on Hilton Head Island. Participants in this annual event will travel to Hilton Head from New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Colorado and California.

The two men and their wives -- both named Judy -- became friends in 1957 at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. Thompson was a pilot, and McCormick a navigator, flying Cold War missions over the Atlantic and the Arctic Circle.

After the Air Force, the Thompsons settled in New Jersey and the McCormicks in Ohio. In 1963, the Thompsons and their young children drove to Ohio to visit the McCormicks for Thanksgiving. Since then, the two families have never missed a Thanksgiving together. When the children were young, the families alternated the holiday between the two family homes -- even years in New Jersey, odd years in Ohio.

As the children started heading to college in the 1980s, the parents feared their beloved tradition would soon end, so they planned a grand finale at a friend's home on Hilton Head in 1983. Hilton Head obliged with summerlike weather, and they had a glorious week for what they thought would be their last Thanksgiving together -- except nobody wanted it to stop.

Encouraged by the children, the two families continued their annual gathering. They celebrated a few more Ohio and New Jersey holidays, alternating with Hilton Head until the size of the group became unwieldy for any single home, and the reunion moved permanently to Hilton Head.

Since 1996, the now-adult children have taken the lead in planning and organizing the Hilton Head Thanksgiving reunion -- renting three houses, as well as tables and chairs for a Thanksgiving dinner together, and shopping for the food and drink for a large crowd, many of whom stay all week.

Judy and Rich Thompson, who still live in Princeton, N.J., have three sons and four grandchildren. Judy and Bill McCormick still live in Dayton and have four daughters and nine grandchildren. McCormick and Thompson are now retired, and the oldest grandchild is in college.

A slideshow and some special photographs will commemorate this 50th Thanksgiving celebration, but nobody is saying it's the last.

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