Charles Thompkins was never afraid of a little hard work, whether he was getting paid for it or volunteering. For more than 40 years, he’s been trying to make the Milo-Grogan neighborhood in North Columbus a better place to live.
“It’s just been a blessing, trying to help people,” said Thompkins, 55.
It all started when he was 13 years old. Thompkins was hired by the neighborhood Boys & Girls Club of Columbus on Cleveland Avenue as part of a work program for youth.
Thompkins said he started a basketball league, raised funds for new transportation vans and founded a Secret Santa gift giveaway, with the help of Edmond Smith and Hoss Jones. Columbus bodybuilder Curt Haywood, who worked at the nearby Timken Roller Bearing Co., where Thompkins would eventually get a job, also worked out at the Boys and Girls Club with Thompkins.
Some of Haywood’s co-workers bet they could beat Haywood and Thompkins in a 5-mile foot race. Little did they know, Thompkins, a 1983 Centennial High School graduate, ran track and played baseball and basketball. Ever the volunteer, Thompkins said he would accept the challenge, but only if they renovated the club’s workout facility.
Thompkins won the race.
“I thought it was funny,” he said, “because if they don’t know you they think they can beat you.” The group at Timken also bought a van for the club, Thompkins said.
Fast forward several years later and Thompkins learned the club had canceled the Secret Santa program. Thompkins was having none of it. He revived it as “Adopt a Family at Christmas.”
“When the Boys & Girls Club stopped [the program], I saw the impact that had on families, so I kept it up,” he said. The holiday program now serves more than 150 families.
“That was due to the businesses in the community,” he said. “They donated $8,000 to the families we adopted at Christmas.”
Mandy Harless of ERA Real Solutions Realty met Thompkins when Columbus Realtors, the board of real estate agents and professionals in Central Ohio, asked her to serve as chairwoman of a Realtor Care Day committee. Her task was to organize a public-service project in a local community.
When Harless visited the Milo-Grogan Area Commission, of which Thompkins is chairman and has been a member for 21 years, she quickly learned he was the person to see.
Thompkins took her on a trip through the neighborhood. She met homeowners and residents and learned about the needs of the community.
Harless’ Realtor Care Day committee spent a day each in 2018 and ‘19 doing exterior painting, cleanups and landscaping at several houses in the area. She said the “absolute, selfless dedication” of Thompkins was evident by the warm reception he received everywhere he went.
“He can’t walk down the street without a handful of people there to greet him and hug him,” Harless said. “He’s just very quiet, very behind the scenes—but very purposeful in his intent to bring good things to Milo-Grogan.”
Among his long list of volunteer duties, Thompkins heads a fundraising committee for the Milo-Grogan Community Center, 862 E. Second Ave. Michael Stevens, recreation leader at the center, said Thompkins is “always smiling, always saying something nice to somebody and full of energy.”
“He’s an extraordinary person,” Stevens said. “He goes above and beyond with everything he does for the community and the center.”
Now a manager for a contractor for the Ohio Lottery, Thompkins still is proud to call Milo-Grogan home. It is where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and son, Charles Jr., a student at Columbus North International School.
“It’s an attractive, loving community,” he said of
The community has about 7,000 residents. “And I know, probably, 95 percent of them,” Thompkins said.