Remembering the “Man Behind the Register”

Tragedy   struck   SUNY   New   Paltz   on   Tuesday,   Aug.   22   when   alumnus   and   long-time Sodexo   employee,   Darold   Thompson,   passed   away   at   home.

Thompson,   49,   was   employed   at   the   college   for   the   past   17   years   and   became   a   fixture of  what   most   describe   as   the   embodiment   of   New   Paltz’s   spirit.   Having   graduated   from   the college   with   a   Bachelor   of   Arts   degree   in   Black   Studies   in   1999,   Thompson became   well-known   amongst   students   and   faculty   alike.

Many   students,   upon  hearing   the   news   of   the   New   Paltzian’s   passing,   were   struck   by   a   sense of   loss,   realizing   that   “The   Man   Behind   the   Register”   would   no   longer   be   around   to   greet   them when   they   went   to   eat   at   Hasbrouck   Dining   Hall.

To   many,   Thompson   was   much   more   than   a   face   in   the   crowd.   As   a   result,   students   began to   take   immediate action   as   the   masses  flooded  back   to   campus.   On   Monday,   Aug.   28, one   student, Joe Dowd  created   a   petition   on,   proposing   that,   with   a   specific   amount of   signatures,   the   dining   hall   be   renamed   to   honor   the   late   employee.

Met   with   immense   vigor   to   honor   Thompson’s   legacy,   students   were   eager   to   speak   out about   his   character.

Second   year   communication   disorders   major   Sarah   Gruber   recalled   a   memory   from   right after   the   2016   Presidential   Election.

“He   came  to   the   (student-held)   vigil   after   the   election   and   I  think   it   meant   a   lot   to students   to   see   someone   from   the   faculty   come   as   well   because   it   showed   that   there   was   support coming   from   a   lot   of   places,”   she   said.

But   Thompson’s   generosity   did   not   stop   there.

Third   year   communication   disorders   major   Liz   Dumblis   came   forward   to   share  Thompson’s   continued   efforts   to   help   out   students   like   herself.

“When   my   club   was   in   dire   need   of   something   for   our   club   meeting,   Darold   began recommending   places   for   us   to   look,   but   when   we   told   him   we   already   checked,   he   offered   to drive   to   Target   for   us   because   he   knew   we   didn’t   have   transportation   and   to pick   up   what   we needed,”   Dumblis   said.   “He   cared   about   the   students.”

Thompson’s   co   workers   were   also   quick   to   voice   their   affection   for   the   head   cashier.

Sodexo   Supervisor   and   coworker   of   Thompson’s   for   15   years,   Paola   Portuese,   spoke fondly   of   her   friend.

“He   had   a   good   soul;   he   was   so   intelligent   and   he   knew   everything   about   the   registers along   with   the   meal   plans,”   she   said.   “He   loved   the   students,   he   would   tell   them   like   it   was   and sometimes   he   even   made   chocolates   on   Valentine’s   Day   to   hand   out,   in   an   attempt   to   make   them smile.”

When   asked   about   the   petition,   Portuese   found   the   sentiment   touching   but   explained   that it   most   likely   would   not   happen.

“This   family   has   lost   members   before;   just   this   year   we   lost   another   one   of   our   staff,”   she said.   “If   we   did   it   for   one,   we   would   have   to   do it   for   it   all.”

Thompson’s   character   is   further   displayed   in   a   video   created   by   third-year   digital   media and   English   major   Shrien   Alshabasy   entitled,   “The   Man   Behind   the   Register.”

Thompson   is   seen   talking   to   the   camera,   explaining   his   origins   dating   back   to   Brooklyn where   he   was   very   involved   in   music   and   where   he   would   graduate   from   high   school   at   the   age of  16.

The   video   goes   on   further   to   Thompson   describing   his   experience   with   the   students. “I   find   that   sometimes   students   just   need   that   little   ‘extra,’”   he   said.   “So   many   times they’ll   complain   like   ‘oh   I   have   this   exam,’   but   I   would   always   ask   them,   ‘did   you   study   for   this exam,   if   so,   why   are   you   worrying   about   something   that   you   can’t   do   anything   for   other   than what   you’ve   already   done?’”

Thompson   cited   this   little   “extra”   as   important.

“If   I   can   guide   them   some   place,   or   recommend   an   instructor   they   didn’t   already   know   of, it’s   important   because   we   didn’t   have   anybody   like   that   for   us,   or   I   guess   for   me,”   he   said.

Additionally,   Thompson   speaks   candidly   to   the   camera   about   his   experience   first   coming to   the   college.

“It   wasn’t   until   I   came   to   New   Paltz   that   I   fully   understood   the   definition   of   racism,”   he said,   referring   to   his   higher   education.

The   video   was   originally   created   for   Alshabasy’s   Digital   Storytelling   class   and   has gained   a   significant   amount   of   viewership   since   the   employee’s   death.

“I   featured   Darold   because   of   his   significance   on   campus   –   as   a   worker,   as   a   friend,   a colleague,   a   mentor   and   a   symbol   of   Black   struggle   and   perseverance,”   she   said.   “I   never   thought I   would   learn   so   much   about   his   life   and   that   he   would   open   up   to   us   in   the   way   that   he   did   but   I am   grateful   that   he   did   because   it   left   the   campus   with   memories   of   his   life.”

Thompson   revealed   a   lot   to   the   Alshabasy   during   the   interview.

“He   had   a   hard   life,   he   told   us   about   times   when   he   wouldn’t   have   an   extra   pair   of   socks during   childhood   and   gave   us   an   anecdote   about   a   disabled   student   he   would   help   out   on   campus. He   talked   about   things   bigger   than   himself   –   racial   politics,   New   Paltz   and   perception,   growing up   in   poverty   and   struggling   through   higher   education,”   she   said.   “He   truly   loved   the   students   at SUNY   New   Paltz   and   was   aware   that   some   of   them   treated   him   poorly,   objectifying   him   and making   cruel   jokes   but   he   also   acknowledged   that   college   students   are   in   a   constant   struggle   and he   was   graciously   forgiving.”

Alshabasy   explained   that   even   through   the   hurt,   Thompson   did   everything   with   a   smile.

The   petition,   having   had   time   to   circulate   via    Facebook  has   usurped   2,000   signatures   and caught   the   attention   of   President   Donald   P.   Christian,   for   whom   the   petition   was originally   intended.

On   Thursday,   Aug.   31,   Christian   called   for   community   dialogue   in   an   email   addressing the   petition.

In   the   email,   Christian   describes   himself   as   “moved   by   the   outpouring   support   for   a member   of   our   community,”   but   explains   that   he   is   “unable   to   honor   the   request”   due   to   it   being “inconsistent   with   longstanding   practice   and   current   Board   of   Trustees   policy.”

Christian   moved   on   to   admit   that,   during   a   time   when   our   nation’s   discourse   revolves around   the   removal   of   Confederate   statues   to   prevent  furthering the   preservation   of   the legacy   of   slavery,   it   is   time   to   foster   open   communication   regarding   the   possible   renaming   of   the Hasbrouck   complex   building.

The   buildings   Hasbrouck   Dining   Hall,   Bevier,   Crispell,   Deyo,   DuBois   and   Lefevre   are   all named   after   the   Huguenot   families,   the   original   settlers   of   New   Paltz.   Each   one   of   these   families are   recorded   to   have   owned   slaves,   which   leaves   what   Christian   described   as   a   “shameful legacy”   and   will   have   a   “very   different,   painful   impact   for   African-American   members   of   our campus   community   than   for   others.”

Looking   at   the   attention   Thompson’s   death   has   brought   to   community   dialogue, Alshabasy   stands   strongly   in   her   belief   that   the   regular   passerby   can   have   a   strong   and   lasting impression   on   many.

“Darold   is   proof   that   the   people   we   see   everyday   [whether   it   be]   cashiers,   waiters, teachers,   janitors,   students,   they   matter,”   she   said.