Dr. James George Thompson
September 29, 1933 –April 25, 2014
On Friday afternoon, April 25, 2014, Professor Emeritus Dr. James Thompson peacefully made his final journey to be welcomed into Heaven by Jesus and into the loving arms of his mother and father. He spent his final hours in the warm, comforting embrace of his family.
Jim was born in Warsaw, New York to Helen and George (Thomopoulos) Thompson. Jim’s lifelong love of sweets (especially ice cream) was nurtured at his father’s and mother’s side, along with his sister, Anne, in their candy store and diner, Thompson’s Candy Kitchen, in the town of Warsaw. Jim was an exceptional athlete whose accomplishments on the court, field and track were many. He loved to talk about how he ran a 10.1 second time in the 100-yard dash in a meet against kids from larger schools that used starting blocks and cleats –Jim just showed up and won in regular sneakers. His love and devotion to athletics and the recognition of how sport can impact one’s entire life would later become a touchstone for his life’s work.
While still in high school, Jim’s father passed away unexpectedly and he devoted all of his energy to caring for his mother and the family business. After graduating, he went into the Army during the Korean War and was stationed at Fort Dix, Alabama. It was during this time that he met, dated and later married the love of his life, Arlene Goodspeed. They were married for 51 years. For those who were fortunate enough to have been blessed by their friendship, Jim and Arlene were like one person. You never saw one without the other. They loved to travel out of the country and within the USA. They were truly each other’s best friend their entire lives. After his service to his country, Jim went back to school and graduated from the University of Buffalo with a B.A. in Physical Education. He went on to earn his Masters degree from Penn State University and taught briefly at Penn State McKeesport Campus where he also coached the men’s basketball team. After being convinced that teaching was his calling, he returned to University Park to complete his PhD in Sports History in 1971. His passion for teaching at Penn State spanned more than fifty years before “retiring”as Professor Emeritus. Retirement never seemed to be in Jim’s blood though as he continued practicing what he loved by teaching even up until this past December.
The focal point of his research and teaching was Ancient Sport History. He tied the archeological study of ancient Greece with the Classical Literature works of the greats such as Homer’s Odyssey and the Illiad. Specifically, his research focused on physical education as an important aspect of ancient Greek education. For all of his research and expertise, the classroom is where Jim truly shined the brightest. His knowledge and passion were readily apparent to anyone who took his class. However, more importantly, he was one of those all too rare professors who truly cared about his students even after they left his classroom. He felt as though he was a father, uncle or grandfather to every student that entered his classroom. His “old-school”nature was legendary and he believed that there was nothing wrong with high expectations. Dozing off, wearing a hat in class, a male student not holding a door for a female student were missteps that would be pointed out publicly and corrected. But he also firmly believed in rewarding true, sincere effort.
However, as much as he loved teaching, there is absolutely nothing that gave Jim more joy and sense of purpose than his family. His daughters Ellen and Christina were truly the reason for the glint in his eyes. To watch his face light up when he was with his family was something to behold. He lived in the moment and cherished every second that he spent with them. That joy only increased when his family expanded with sons-in-law Dana Garcia and Terry Mattioli and grandchildren Alexandra Garcia, James Garcia and Victoria Mattioli. Regardless of whether it was because of his life’s experiences, how he was raised, or it was just something innate to his being, Jim’s truest essence could be witnessed in the joy he felt when surrounded by his family. Birthdays, holidays, dance recitals, tennis matches, basketball games, school events, these all allowed him to he relive his most cherished times from raising his daughters by watching what phenomenal mothers they had become. These were the times when he would say how unbelievably blessed he was.
Jim’s warmth extended to his friends, colleagues and neighbors as well. If anyone needed a hand with something, needed someone to talk to lift their spirit, needed a third or fourth racquetball partner, Jim was the first person that everyone thought of. He was a man who took the life that God gave him and not only made the most of it, but had such a positive and profound impact on others that left the world and everyone he touched much better because of his presence.
In addition to his wife, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, Jim is survived by his sister Anne Giopulos of DeWitt, NY, brother-in-law Gary Miller of Tonawanda, NY and many nieces and nephews. While there is no way to ever replace our husband, father, Papou, brother, uncle, teacher, neighbor or friend, he will always be with us wherever we go because of the way he lived his life. Our purpose going forward is to honor his memory by doing our best to act as he would act, love as he would love, listen as he would listen and teach as he would teach.
Until we are together again, we all know that we have a very special angel looking over us and guiding us…and we are all the better for having known him.
A public viewing will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday April 29th at Koch Funeral Home, 2401 S. Atherton Ave, State College, PA 16801. Funeral services will be held starting at 10AM on Wednesday April 30th at Koch Funeral Home with a private burial service immediately following at Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery in State College. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made to the Penn State Chapter of Uplifting Athletes (www.upliftingathletes.org) , a national charity started by members of the Penn State Football team focused on funding research for cures to very rare diseases.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com.