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Meet one of Westfield’s famous men

Dibbles Dabbles

May 2, 2012
By Billie Dibble - Westfield Historian, 1976-2006 ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

This article first published April 25, 1984:

Last week I received a letter from Clara Trump in which she reminisced about her high school days here in Westfield.

Among her fellow students was Harold Thompson who was a member of the Delphic Society which met weekly for study and practice of parliamentary rules and argumentation. The Delphic Society issued monthly a school magazine under the title "The Stylus." The publication of this paper offered the young men of the society valuable experience in journalism and business management.

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Dr. Harold W. Thompson, Westfield High School graduate, 1908, became famous as an educator, editor, author and musician.

The debating interests of the school were under the direction of the Delphic Society. During the year of 1906-7 the Westfield Debating Team, by an unbroken series of victories, won the trophy which was a beautiful silver cup presented by the president of the University of Rochester. Harold Thompson took part in each debate. The following year Westfield won the first two debates and failed by only a single vote of retaining the cup two years. Harold Thompson also participated in each debate that year.

He graduated from Westfield High School with honors in 1908. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1912 and after receiving his master's degree from Harvard in 1913 and doctorate in 1915 he joined the teaching staff of Albany College where he was professor of English until 1940 when he went to Cornell as professor of English. His degrees also include doctor of human letters from Union College in 1940.

Literature was not the only interest of Dr. Thompson. He was also a talented musician who was director of music from 1920 until 1940 at Albany College and had been choir master and organist while a student at Hamilton College 1908-12.

From 1950 until 1957 Dr. Thompson was one of a group of writers that included Alexander Woollcott, Carl Carmer and Johnny Weaver. He was one of the first 15 fellows of the Guggenheim Foundation and was given a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation. He was the first American to earn the advanced degree of doctor of letters from Edinburgh University.

Doctor Thompson has to his credit a great deal of writing. Perhaps his best known and best loved book is "Body, Boots, and Britches" which was published in 1939 and is still on the shelf at Patterson Library, delightful reading for anyone interested in the folklore of New York State. This book was written while Dr. Thompson was teaching at Albany State College where he had started a pioneer course in American Folk-Literature which was very popular. He had as many as 500 students a year in his classes and thousands of people listened to his monthly talks on folklore over the radio.

Dr. Thompson returned to Westfield on many occasions and spoke before various gatherings. He also shared his musical talent with Westfield folks. It was my privilege to hear him on at least one occasion tell some of the folk tales and read some of the ballads of Western New York and especially Chautauqua County.

Through the past years there have been a number of Westfield High School graduates who have made names for themselves in their chosen fields. High on the list of Famous Men of Westfield is the name of Dr. Harold W. Thompson. Dr. Thompson died 20 years ago this February. I am sure he will never be forgotten.

DIBS AND DABS In The Westfield Republican of April 23, 1884 I read this, "The ice in Lake Erie is on the move and a broad expanse of the 'Darkly, deeply, beautifully blue' water can now be seen." I guess Westfield folks have always watched for the ice to leave the lake so the weather can really warm up.



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