TORRINGTON – On a dreary Wednesday, Michael Thompson and Holly Hatley were having lunch and remembering Michael’s wife, Candy, who passed away last year after a battle with cancer.
“Candy was a hugger,” Thompson said. “It didn’t matter. She would say ‘I’m a hugger’ and she would give you a hug.”
Almost at that exact moment, a waitress approached the table and picked up a pamphlet sitting on the table. The pamphlet had Candy’s picture on the front, and it’s to help raise awareness and funds to build the Candy Thompson Memorial Dog Park, which the pair believes would be a perfect memorial for Michael’s wife and Hatley’s close friend.
“Are they doing this? That’s so cool,” the waitress, Shalina Riley, said.
As it turned out, Riley had been the recipient of a few of Candy’s hugs.
“It made me feel good,” she said.
“That’s what I miss the most,” Hatley said when Riley left. “You could probably strike up a conversation with every other person walking down the street and they would have a story to tell you.”
“People would recognize that, that she would hug everybody,” Thompson said. “If she was here now, before we left, she’d hug everybody.”
“She was your friend”
The most important thing to know about Candy Thompson is that she was someone who made an impact on the people she met.
“She just had this way of leaving an imprint on people,” Hatley said. “If you knew her, she was your friend. She was that type of person. She was just so vibrant and loud. People just gravitated towards her. If they don’t remember her name, they’ll see a picture and realize they remember her from here or there.”
Candy spent the better part of 30 years working for the railroad. That’s where she met Michael, whom she married in 2007. She also worked at a local greenhouse, and in doing her jobs and just being herself, people came to know her – and feel the energy that radiated from her welcoming personality.
“She’d fill up the room with smiles when people would see her,” Michael said.
“A lot of the community will remember her from the greenhouse, and a lot of the railroad community will remember her from work. She was the kind of person that always looked out for the little fellow and the underdogs. She’d take everybody under her wing, like new kids on the job and stuff. She’d mother them around and protect them.
“These guys, she’d be the railroad mom to hundreds of guys and gals. She was just that way.”
She was that way with dogs too, which Hatley said were one of her great passions in life.
According to Michael, Candy’s favorite dogs were golden retrievers – but that didn’t stop her from owning cocker spaniels, Irish setters and even a wiener dog, which she and Michael took to wiener dog races.
She even cared for a mutt they picked up in a Burger King parking lot.
“We got another little dog that was supposed to be a wiener dog, but it wound up being an expensive mutt rescue,’ Michael said. “We met some folks in the parking lot at Burger King and they had this little dog. It was born in a barn, so it smelled like a barn. We looked at this dog and we looked at each other. She said ‘this ain’t a wiener dog, but pay the lady.’”
And that dog, along with all of Candy’s other pets, lived a good life.
“People have told us that if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, they’d want to come back as her dog,” Michael said. “If that was such a thing, being one of her dogs would be a pretty good life.”
A perfect tribute
That passion for dogs is why Michael, Hatley and many others decided a dog park would be the perfect way to pay tribute to Candy.
It started as an idea from Candy’s sisters, and it immediately gained traction. Before the end of Candy’s memorial service, The Class Act Hair Salon had already pledged the dog park would be the beneficiary of its next Cut-A-Thon fundraiser, which the salon holds annually and donates the proceeds to a worthy cause.
“Everybody that knew her thought the dog park was a great idea,” Hatley said. “Everybody just knew. It made so much sense.”
Michael set up an account in Candy’s name at Pinnacle Bank, and it didn’t take long to raise more than $2,000 for the dog park – before it even had a location.
Just a few weeks ago, Michael applied for a conditional use permit with the City of Torrington to turn a currently unused portion of a softball field at Jirdon Park into a dog park. The area Michael and Hatley are proposing sits beyond the outfield fence of the field immediately north of the Dale Jones Municipal Pool.
The project is still in the planning stages, but the group’s current plans include an area for timid dogs that need their own space, an area for small dogs and a larger area where dogs can run and stretch their legs. A walking path, gazebo, clean-up stations and a security system would be part of the project.
According to estimates gather by Hatley, the dog park would cost somewhere north of $10,000 to install, an amount she says can be achieved by The Class Act’s fundraiser. Once the land is secured, Hatley said the project could be eligible for numerous grants.
“We don’t want it to be just a fenced-in little dog park,” Hatley said. “We want it to be something that, when people drive by, they say ‘did you see the dog park in Torrington?’ It would be a nice addition to the city.”
Hatley said the first hurdle is procuring the permit to use the city land, which will require a public hearing for both supporters and opponents of the project with the city zoning commission on March 12. The group will then go before the Torrington City Council on March 19.
The Candy Thompson Memorial Dog Park project has been accepted into the Community Pride Foundation, which will help the group ensure it follows the proper channels when accepting donations.
“We’re so small, we didn’t want to spend all of our money on legal fees trying to figure out how to get a nonprofit status,” Hatley said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable going to ask for donations without something like that.
“We just want to make something that is presentable that is a positive addition for the city, not just something for us. We want it to be something that everybody enjoys.”
‘A generous heart’
The Thompsons had big plans for their retirement. Michael was able to retire in 2017, but Candy had to put in a few more years to reach the magic number.
She never got there. April 21 would have been her 60th birthday, and it would have been the start of a grand adventure for her and Michael.
“They had so many plans,” Hatley said. “They had lot of things to do. They bought an RV and they were going to go camping and do some traveling.”
“She said the RV had to be big enough to take the dogs with us,” Michael said. “But she didn’t get to go anywhere.”
That’s why the project is so important. When Candy was diagnosed with cancer, it derailed the plans she and Michael had been making for years.
But now, if everything goes well with the city government and the money comes in, every dog owner in Goshen County – as well as ones that are just passing through – will be able to make a memory with their pet, just like Candy did with all of her beloved animals.
According to the people who knew her best, that would be the best memorial possible.
“She had a big generous heart,” Hatley said. “She would have helped anybody. It doesn’t matter what it was, she would bend over to help somebody. She was that type of person.”