Lowcountry transplant, Water Festival commodore finds reward in volunteering

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJuly 17, 2013 

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Water Festival Commodore Dan Thompson, right, and wife Bonnie are shown here at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park on July 7 in Beaufort.

SARAH WELLIVER — Staff photo Buy Photo

Beaufort's 58th Annual Water Festival commodore wasn't born in the Lowcountry.

But like so many transplants, he's adopted it as his home.

"The good thing about it is Beaufort is a good representation of America," Don Thompson says. "... A lot of us weren't born here, but we love it and we stay. So you get involved to make your community better, and that's what it boiled down to for us."

Thompson is from Detroit and Water Fest first lady, Bonnie, is from Carlisle, Ohio. They met in the electronic school at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, got stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and married in 1985.

They moved to Beaufort in 1987 when they were stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Their daughter, Amanda, was born in 1989.

Between spending time on the water and the joy of not shoveling snow, the Thompsons knew they wanted to stay when they left the Marine Corps in 1991, both as sergeants.

For a decade, Bonnie alternated between being a Beaufort County 911 dispatcher and running a home day care for Amanda and classmates. For the last decade, she has been a massage therapist.

Dan kept the "real job" with the health insurance, the couple jokes. He has worked at Hargray since 1991 and is the central office manager. In 1999, he began volunteering as a reserve police officer.

In 2000, Dan was talked into volunteering a few hours and assisting with security during the Water Festival street dance.

"By the end of the night, we were all hot and sweaty, and it was a lot of work but a lot of fun," he said. "There were a lot of good people down here working at the festival."

For a dozen years, Dan assisted primarily with security, working his way up the ranks by spending long days in the hot sun on the asphalt.

Bonnie found a home in the headquarters trailer, fielding calls and assisting with various duties. The air conditioning -- and a certain level of chaos that makes her fondly recall working 911 dispatch -- kept her coming back. Five years ago, she took over the craft fair.

"You get sucked into that volunteer vortex," she said. "You either get sucked in or you don't. You either like it or you don't."

For several years now, the Thompsons, like many of the volunteers, have set aside two weeks of vacation every year for the festival.

"It's a lot of work, but at the end of the day, you look around and everybody from the city and surrounding area is in the park enjoying a concert, and it's something you helped put on," Dan said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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