Oliver Henry “Tommy” Thompson

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GRAND RAPIDS — Oliver Henry “Tommy” Thompson, 90, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, following an extended illness.

Tommy was born on Sept. 11, 1926, in Howard City, to Vera (Opper) and Oliver Thompson. Tommy grew up on the family farm, which has since attained Centennial Farm status. He attended Amble Country School, but was fond of explaining that he obtained his real-world education from the “School of Hard Knocks.”

The former Marian Ann Miller became Thompson’s bride on Sept. 22, 1945, and the two celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary earlier this fall. During their long marriage, the Thompsons lived in Amble, Lakeview, Big Rapids and Reed City — all within 50 miles of their birthplace. Their retirement years found them spending summers along Lake Michigan and winters in Florida.

Marian survives her husband, along with the couple’s three children, Shirley (Charlie) Cook, Jim (Sheri) and Deborah. The family includes seven grandchildren, Eric (Alicia), Bret (Rebecca), Tyler, Tisa (Adam), Trevan (Stefani), Travis (Laura) and Autumn (Alex); and six great-grandchildren, Olivia, Ethan, Kelsey, Emily, Paisley and Nikolas, with whom Tommy enjoyed spending time. He also is survived by a sister, Sonya (Jim) Marchbank.

Tommy was known for his lifelong work ethic. He began his career path at age 13, packing butter in the Amble Creamery, and at age 15, he purchased a canned milk route, even before obtaining his driver’s license. After their marriage, Tommy and Marian delivered raw milk from area farms to the creamery in Amble. In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, he also assembled airplanes in Grand Rapids and sold automobiles locally.

In 1956, Thompson purchased Liberty Dairy in Big Rapids. Tommy grew the business, which provided dairy products to local groceries and also served door-to-door customers at home. The dairy’s storefront ice cream parlor is fondly remembered for its enormous ice cream cones.

After outgrowing the Big Rapids facility, the dairy was moved to Evart in 1966. Partnering with Dean Foods in 1965, Tommy continued to manage the dairy until his retirement in 1986. He was instrumental in expanding the operation to become the major supplier of dairy products to Meijer, serving all Meijer locations statewide for many years.

An entrepreneur at heart, Tommy enjoyed other business endeavors along the way, often partnering with friends. Included in those partnerships were a sauna stove business, a fried chicken enterprise and a restaurant (the Charwood Inn/Brown Bungalow).

Several patented inventions were products fostered by Tommy’s creativity. One of these inventions, the “Bossy” system, revolutionized the handling of bottled milk and other dairy products from the dairy to the store. These wheeled carts eliminated extra handling of product through transportation and also served to display the milk in the grocers’ dairy cases. The Bossy system invention earned Thompson a position as finalist in a national award for “Invention of the Year.” These carts are still used nationwide today. He also devised electronic fishing pole “fish on” alerts and a utility wench/hoist for ATVs that garnered interest in the hunting industry and by the military.

Thompson was a member of several social organizations, including the Big Rapids Eagles. He was instrumental in providing the capital resources for the building that has served that organization for several decades and continues to serve the Eagles and the community today.

Tommy was a member of the Saladin Shrine Temple in Grand Rapids. He and Marian enjoyed many special Shriner friendships, spending many summer weekends traveling to parades as part of the Shrine’s Harley Motorcycle and Honda three-wheeler precision drill teams. The couple also enjoyed many years of motor home travel throughout the country, often touring with friends in their motor home association. Winters were for snowmobiling, and later, for enjoying the warmer temperatures of Florida.

Ever the adventurer, Thompson’s passion was for the outdoors and hunting and fishing. Many friendships were formed on hunting expeditions throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and England. He loved piloting his Cessna 182 on hunting adventures, as well as for business. His favorite summer pastime was captaining his Sea Ray on Lake Michigan, an activity he enjoyed until the last year of his life. In his later years, he was especially fond of wild pig hunting in Florida, and enjoyed taking family and friends in his “pig buggy” on land leased there. In March of his 89th year, Tommy shot two wild pigs with a single shot, and proceeded to field dress and butcher them without assistance.

Tommy will be missed by his family and friends, with whom he shared his life’s adventures.

It is his request that memorial contributions be made to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children (shrinershospitalsforchildren.org). There will be a gathering to celebrate Tommy’s life at a later date.

Heckman Funeral Home in Howard City has been entrusted with arrangements. Online condolences, memories and memorial contributions may be shared at heckmanfuneralhomeinc.com.