Uldrick Thompson, Sr was orphaned at the age of 4 – his father, Ambrose Thompson, died of tuberculosis when he was 3 years old. While caring for her husband, his mother contracted the same disease, and died a year later.
His maternal uncle, Uldrick Reynolds and his wife Sarah Myners-Reynolds took him in as one of their own according to the wishes of Thompson’s mother. They farmed halfway between Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs in New York.
Thompson was raised in a Methodist community and in the Methodist church. Uncle Uldrick attended Church regularly, revival meetings occasionally and Camp meetings not at all. The family kept the Sabbath day by attending church, avoiding unnecessary work and reading the Bible and good literature.
But Uncle Uldrick’s personal conduct was more influential; he didn’t swear, drink or gamble and paid his debts, his word being as good as a bond. Thompson sought to do likewise throughout his life.
Thompson was encouraged to become a professional teacher and enrolled at Oswego Normal School. There he met Alice Haviland of Brooklyn, New York; they were married at her parents’ home on July 5, 1882.
On November 4, 1887, the Kamehameha School for Boys opened with 37 students and four teachers. A year later the Preparatory Department, for boys 6 to 12 years of age, opened in adjacent facilities. (Organization of the Kamehameha School for Girls was delayed until 1894.)
Then, Thompson received a letter from General Samuel C Armstrong, the founder of Hampton Institute and son of Hawaiʻi missionary Reverend Richard Armstrong. He was recommended to teach in Hawaiʻi. He met with Charles Reed Bishop and agreed to teach at the new Kamehameha School for Boys.
On August 23, 1889, Rev William Brewster Oleson, principal of the Kamehameha School for Boys (popularly called the Manual School or Department) and Mr Harry Townsend, the vice-principal, met the Thompsons on the dock; they stayed at the Oleson home for a few days.
Thompson (1849-1942) was a teacher at Kamehameha School for Boys (1889-1898 and 1901-1922) and served as the school principal (1898-1901.)
“You who come to Kamehameha and find it as it now is, cannot conceive the degree of barrenness that greeted us that day. No rain for two years! Not a blade of green grass or even a weed in sight!”
“The few algaroba trees scattered about were not taller than a man, and seemed as stunted and discouraged as the mesquite of Arizona. And rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere, with cracks in the clay between large enough to put your foot in.” (Thompson; KSBE)
“One and one half hours work, before breakfast was required of every boy, from the first day of organization. The rising bell sounded at 5:30 am; the Morning Work began at 5:45 and continued till 7 o’clock. Then breakfast.”
“This work consisted of care of the buildings, grounds; helping about the kitchen and dining room; cutting wood for the school fires and for the teachers; and in clearing the Campus of rocks and weeds.”
The core classes were arithmetic, algebra, geometry, English, geography, penmanship, business, health, book-keeping and mechanical drawing. “The curriculum emphasized industrial training considered necessary for a Hawaiian to achieve personal and social success.”
For the girls, along with the standard curriculum, there were sewing, cooking, laundering, nursing and hospital practice classes. Girls 13 and older learned how to be homemakers and mothers. (Ruidas)
“Mrs. Thompson and I and the children, had an ideal life on The Kamehameha Campus. We would not have exchanged our experiences there for anything that might have been offered on the mainland.”
A lasting legacy of Thompson is a clock he made when he was 80; in 1928 he donated it to Oswego Normal School, where Thompson first received his teacher training. (Charles King and Sam Keliinoi of the first graduating class at Kamehameha (1891) came to the Oswego Normal School.)
It took Thompson a year to complete the towering grandfather clock made of koa; “His friend, DH McConnell, donated the Oxford-Whittington-Westminster chimes and works.” Thompson “requested it be placed in Sheldon Hall when built.”