Did you know? The Crafts Center was once part of NC State’s first Gymnasium. Known as “Thompson Gym,” the university’s basketball court and an indoor running track were located upstairs on the building’s main floor. Exercise rooms, a boxing room, showers, and even an indoor swimming pool were located on the lower floor that now houses the Crafts Center. Located in the glaze formulation room and custodial closet near the Center’s present pottery studio and kiln room, broad stairwells were regularly used by students traversing the two floors.
The stairwells were eventually sealed off and turned into closets serving “Thompson Theatre” upstairs and the Crafts Center down below. The Center stored custodial and crafts supplies in our closets. Bags of glaze materials and boxes of kiln brick were stacked along the slate stair treads worn by generations of passing students. Probably original to the building’s paint scheme, the pale green walls had never been painted since the Crafts Center took occupancy in 1965. And if you looked hard enough, the thoughts of students could be found scribbled on the walls. One bit of student graffiti from a day and time unknown read something like: “I don’t believe there ever was a Frank Thompson.”
There are lots of buildings on campus and all are named in honor of people who were once held in high esteem for their unique contributions. Many of us pass through buildings, never questioning their history or naming. But for those who see themselves as a living and breathing part of the WOLFPACK FAMILY, such questioning helps to reaffirm our spirit in knowing the story of those who came before.
In answer to the student’s remark scribbled years ago in a stairwell now buried behind sheetrock in our renovated building, there was most definitely a Frank Thompson. The entry and ticket box office located upstairs in the theatre was actually an exterior porch prior to the building’s 2007-2009 renovation. Located over the old front doors, a carved sand stone name plate reads “Frank Thompson Gymnasium.” And located nearby on a wall in the theatre’s entry, a prominent display now offers the following tribute to the name on the building:
Frank Thompson, 1909 Agromeck
Frank M. Thompson
Frank Martin Thompson was born in Raleigh on April 21, 1886. Throughout his childhood Thompson excelled in all sports. By the time he reached eighteen years of age, Thompson played many sports well, but he leaned particularly toward baseball and football.
Thompson attended Davidson College, near Charlotte, in 1904. His father, Judge John W. Thompson of Raleigh, helped found the Watauga Club, a group which lobbied in the state legislature for the right to a landgrant college. North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanics, as NCSU was then called, became this landgrant college. Judge Thompson wanted his son to attend A&M since he had been such an integral part of the school’s creation. One year later, the younger Thompson transferred from Davidson to North Carolina A&M.
Thompson enjoyed his years as a student here. He made the best of them by involving himself in sports. Not just one sport but, several. He played his best in football and baseball, as he had done earlier in his childhood. A great believer in teamwork, Thompson always took the heavy load. He played tackle for the football team and catcher for the baseball team—not the flamboyant positions he could have played but the thankless positions that a team cannot win without.
The 1909 AGROMECK dubbed Thompson “Guts” and though this was true in sports, his daily life consisted of a genteel and industrious nature. The AGROMECK described him this way:
“(He) has won the distinction of being best all around athlete of the ’09 Class by hard, consistent work and gritty determination. Rather bashful and consequently apparently indifferent to the wiles of women, but very much admired by the femininity, and we are sure that he would make just as much of a heart-smasher as he is a line-smasher if he tried.”
As a student in textiles, Thompson’s extra-curricular list also included such organizations as the German Club, First Tenor in the Textile Quartet, Kappa Sigma Fraternity, and the list goes on.
Soon after his years as a student came to an end, the athletic darling of State remained as coach of the baseball team. He took the team through winning seasons until 1911. After that time, he coached the team at Wake Forest. Some time after that, Thompson went to work for a real estate firm in Raleigh. Little more of Thompson’s life is known until the war broke out in 1917.
This genteel young man who had so much skill and courage on the athletic field did not shirk his patriotic duty. Even though he was well above the draft age, Thompson joined the Army and went off to prove that teamwork presides on the battlefield as well as the ball field.
By the fall of 1918, when Thompson was only thirty-two years old, he found himself a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Machine Gun Battalion. But Fate has an uncanny sense of timing when calling home brave young men in the prime of life. An enemy shell burst upon the field at Regnieville, France where Thompson’s battalion was fighting. On September 13, 1918, at the Battle of Saint Michiel, another hero answered Fate’s mournful call.
By Susan Hankins and Jonas McCoy
— April 1983
Frank Thompson (back row on far right)