Over the course of his busy life, Ron Thompson has always made time for his biggest passion - history.
Growing up in Wing - Thompson noted his father's ancestors homesteaded there in 1910 - he always loved history.
"Ever since I was a kid, that was probably my best subject in school. It's always been part of my life," Thompson said. "I'm very interested in my ancestry and where I came from."
Dan Feldner/MDN •
Ron Thompson, a board member of the Ward County Historical Society, sits in a 1909 Ford Model T in the society’s storage building Oct. 28. Thompson helped get the 100-year-old car running this summer for several area parades, including the State Fair parade.
After graduating from Wing High School in 1975 and living in Bismarck and later Fargo, Thompson, who is married with two adult children, moved to Minot in 1993. He is currently the branch parts manager for General Equipment & Supplies Inc.
Thompson has been on the board of the Ward County Historical Society for the past year, but had wanted to get involved much earlier. Unfortunately, his plate was overflowing with his full-time job, duties for the National Guard and college classes.
"Ever since I've lived in Minot I've known about the (Pioneer) Village. I've been here, I've stopped here, and always said gosh, I should get involved in that," Thompson said. "But like I say, with pushing the National Guard, college, work, it was just so much."
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Thompson joined the Guard right out of high school in 1975 and spent over 30 years there before retiring in April of this year with the rank of Sgt. 1st Class.
"I've never seen any deployments overseas as far as the Middle East, but I have spent time in Central America - Honduras, Nicaragua and Salvador in 1989 - and then I spent some time in Germany, and then Okinawa, Japan," Thompson said. "So I've done three overseas tours, small tours for the National Guard, two- to three-month tours."
He really enjoyed his time in the Guard, and said the money for college he received in exchange for his service was invaluable.
Thompson started at Minot State University in 2001, and had to juggle his part-time Guard duty, part-time college classes and full-time responsibilities at work. With all that time already taken up in his schedule, he couldn't help at the Ward County Historical Society even though he wanted to.
After being able to take many of his general college classes at Minot Air Force Base during the evening, Thompson had to take more afternoon classes once he started getting into his major. With the help of his employer, he was able to sustain his student status every semester for all eight years.
"My company was real lenient and let me use my lunch hours and then some evening courses at MSU campus to finish it up, so I had slowed down a little bit the last few years," he said.
In May Thompson graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in history, a minor in humanities and a concentration in Native American studies.
"I've always been interested in history. If I'd have done it differently, I think I would have probably started out and gone to school right away to be a history teacher, and I did take quite a few education classes at MSU," he said. "But with the student teaching and my full-time job, it just didn't seem feasible. I would have had to quit my job to student teach, so I just kind of passed on the education portion of it."
Once Thompson retired from the Guard and graduated from MSU, he had a lot more time to devote to other pursuits, which is why he jumped at the chance to get involved with the historical society.
As the maintenance supervisor for the society, Thompson is in charge of things like the hiring of lawn maintenance personnel, and he also isn't afraid to get his own hands dirty when the need arises, which is often.
In fact, Thompson helped get one of the prized items in the society's collection - a 1909 Ford Model T - ready for parades this summer at the State Fair and Rugby Centennial.
"It clonked out at the very end of the parade, but we'll work on it again, fix it up," he said. "What do you expect for a 100-year-old car? Lucky we got it running at all."
His biggest task on that project was to tear the radiator off, get if fixed at a local shop, and put it back on.
That specific Model T is purported to be the first one sold in Minot by Westlie Motor Co., and was donated to the society from Westlie Motors in honor of the state centennial. The car has a serial number of 11875, meaning it was among the first 12,000 Model Ts to be manufactured that year.
Thompson has also used all his newfound free time to get involved with the state historical society.
"Right now I've been awarded to be on the board of the state preservation board, which they look at the preservation of buildings and historical land in North Dakota," he said.
In addition to his maintenance duties such as light bulb changing and general cleaning, Thompson also does tours of the society's buildings in Pioneer Village on the State Fairgrounds, and also takes on Military Day at he State Fair.
"I took an extra day off of work just to be here for the whole Military Day," he said.
He also loves giving tours so much that he's even done them on his lunch break. Anyone interested in getting a tour, knowing more about the society or getting involved can visit the society's Web site at (www.wchsnd.org).
"Every one of us board members are versed enough on the history of this place to do tours, but I kind of like it because I'm into it," he said. "I like the education part of it, and teaching people about the society. That's why I make the time for tours, I make the time. If I can make the time at all possible I'll do it for tours."
Even though he wasn't able to follow his dream of teaching, at least not right away, Thompson is still able to fulfill his educational aspirations every time he gives a tour during his lunch hour or talks to people during the State Fair about the rich history the society is trying to preserve. And that's what volunteering is really all about - making a difference.
"And that's what I like, to educate people about this," he said.