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Sanibel volunteer a bundle of energy at 91

By Staff | Nov 12, 2014

Berdenna Maxine Thompson turned 91 in October. CRAIG GARRETT

Warren G. Harding was the 29th US president when Berdenna Maxine (White) Thompson arrived as a bundle, a few years before the Great Depression, what seems like a million years before the dismounting of personal computers and this mess of a world we seem to have gotten ourselves in to.

And yet the span of some nine decades made little impression on a handful of children gathered at Berdenna Thompson’s knees, listening intently as she read from “Ghosts and Floating Pumpkins,” her short story and poems for the Halloween celebration at the Sanibel Recreation Center. She reads monthly to the Recreation Center’s young children.

“Ghosts go through the windows,” the 91-year-old Sanibel volunteer and retired teacher read to the kids, “ghosts go through the doors/Ghosts go through the curtains/And even through the floors.

“We’ll blow behind his ears,” she continued, “and even up his nose/Pour water down his belly button/And tickle his funny toes.”

Which garnered immediate giggles of delight.

Berdenna Thompson reading to children of the After School Program at the Sanibel Recreation Center. PHOTO PROVIDED

At age 91, Berdenna Thompson continues to work, visiting with children, volunteering with the city’s Vegetation Committee, writing fiction and poems, spending time with her friends and aged survivors at the island’s senior center, harnessed only by her husband’s death in June and a diminished hearing that causes her to lean close to the speaker, watch their lips, hands folded in her small lap.

But age hasn’t blanched the spirit of a woman who rocks on with a pair of designer sunglasses resting on her head, walks like a bantam boxer and whose eyes smile almost slyly. On the issue of the Vegetation Committee’s consideration of limiting the use of leafblowers because of the noise, she winced during a luncheon at the island senior center.

On the clamor to outright ban or limit leafblowers, she said, “is the power of suggestion,” suggesting that a few loud voices are driving the issue. She doesn’t necessarily agreed with those voices.

“When one person yawns,” she said, “they all yawn.”

Thompson is the product of a small Midwest town, hiking miles alone to school as a child, miles back to lunch at home because she didn’t like carrying a lunchbox. Schoolkids in her time munched on 10 cent hamburgers, food she chose not to eat.

In the Depression years, she said, families were less reliant on handouts, more apt to grow food, to survive and thrive when many modern families would have collapsed in a puddle. Of course there were far more farms, she quickly adds.

“We could take care of ourselves,” she said.

Midwest character and values of her generation carried into her professional life as an elementary school teacher and, ultimately, to her time in Sanibel, where she celebrated birthday 91 on Oct. 17 with a meal of macaroni and cheese at a Fort Myers teahouse, an occasion with a daughter that made her “feel like a lady.”

Thompson races between appointments in her Mazda sedan, looking for inventive ways to keep busy. Her driver license is up for renewal in 2016.