By Carson Moore
Dan and Bonnie Thompson, the Commodore and First Lady of the 2013 Water Festival, look completely at home standing under the pavilion in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, with sailboats full of beachgoers moving slowly along behind them. In fact, Dan Thompson explained that the superb scenery was one of the reasons they decided to settle here. “Just look out here at the Waterfront Park,” he chuckled, “It’s beautiful. You can’t get these views anywhere but here in Beaufort.”
The couple — both former Marines from the Midwest — has lived in Beaufort for nearly 24 years, and have been extremely active in the community that they have adopted as their own.
Dan Thompson’s sense of serving the community was strongly encouraged in his family growing up. Both his father and uncle served on the police force in Detroit, Michigan, and he was encouraged to join the Marines as well, where he met his wife of 28 years. “We discovered Beaufort because we were stationed on Parris Island,” he explained. “Then after we got out of the Marine Corps, my wife became a 911 dispatcher here, and I became a reserve police officer.” The Thompsons decided that Beaufort was an excellent place to settle down with their daughter, Amanda.
Dan Thompson, a Hargray telephone employee of 22 years, was not initially a Water Festival attendee. While his wife and daughter had visited some of the festival’s events before, Dan found himself beginning his volunteer work almost accidentally. In fact, it was Thompson’s time as a reserve police officer that initially introduced him to the Water Festival scene.
“Rick Chapman, a friend of ours, was in charge of security that year ,” said Thompson, “His son-in-law and I came down to be extra security for the Street Dance that year, and that was the first time I’d ever been to any part of the festival.”
Although his first festival experience consisted mainly of sweat and hard work, Thompson admitted that he had enjoyed himself, and decided to keep coming back for more.
Throughout the 13 years that they have volunteered with the Water Festival celebrations, Thompson and his wife have worked up through the volunteer ranks. Last year, Dan held his most difficult position to date — program coordinator. The program coordinator, as second in command of the festival, is charged with the task of overseeing the year-round planning and execution. These coordinators are essential to making the Water Festival Beaufort’s biggest and most memorable event, as they work to assemble all the volunteers, vendors, and entertainers necessary for the festival to operate flawlessly. “There are more physically difficult jobs,” explains Thompson, “but that was the most demanding position to do.”
The years of work seem to have paid off, although it seems that the Commodore will miss his hands-on role in the festival. “It’s kind of a bittersweet moment,” Thompson said, “From this point forward, I’ll be involved with the festival, but not the day-to-day activities. I’ll miss working with the people in the park, but my family will still be down here for the shows every night.”
For the Commodore, taking a step back from the festival planning will be a major turning point. For the first time in 13 years, he won’t be assisting the Water Festival group in planning the next Water Festival. The Water Festival group devotes the entire year not only to the planning of the next festival, but also to tourism in Beaufort as a whole. They participate in the Soft Shell Crab festival, the Tricentennial celebrations, Gullah Festival, and even Candice Glover’s homecoming concert on Bay Street. “We loan out our knowledge and people to other groups that are trying to get up and running,” explained Thompson, “We get involved with as much as we can to bring tourists to Beaufort.”
This summer, the Thompsons are particularly excited to be including Dragon Boat Beaufort in the Water Festival celebrations. The Dragon Boats will be racing Saturday, July 20, the day after opening ceremonies, from noon to 5 p.m.
As Commodore, Thompson enjoys being able to include activities and events in the festival the benefit not only the people involved, but the whole community. For him, the best part of being Commodore isn’t the title, the perks, or the time in the spotlight. It’s the ability to give back to the community in a way that every Beaufortonian can enjoy. As he explained it: “When it’s all said and done, knowing you put on a good event for the community is really the best thing about it.” Luckily, putting on a good show for the town is a skill that both Thompson and the First Lady possess.