When Addie Tompkins began volunteering at a children’s home 18 years ago, the kids who touched her heart the most were the ones who never had visitors. “I’d sort of pick them out from the crowd and do special things for them you know, bring them little treats for their birthdays and such,” she recalls. “They started calling me ‘Mom,’ and it really charged me up, seeing how a tiny kindness could have such an impact on a child’s life.” Inspired, she started dropping by a nursing home. There, too, she focused on residents who seldom had visitors. “Having someone to talk to and spend time with made all the difference in the world to them,” she says.
She’s been volunteering ever since. Today, Tompkins serves on the boards of three nonprofits: the St. Louis chapter of American Parkinson’s Disease Association; Queen of Peace Center, an agency for addicted women and their children; and Variety Women, a fund-raising auxiliary of Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis. She also lends a hand to countless other charities, including Angels’ Arms Foster Care, Friends of Children’s Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Missouri and the Saint Louis Symphony.
Scrolling through the list, it’s clear that issues relating to children and seniors are of special concern to her. “Children are so vulnerable, whatever disadvantages they have are not their fault. And seniors have paid their dues and deserve our respect,” she says.
There’s a personal story behind every board she sits on and every organization she supports. “I started volunteering in the first place because of the example set by Shirley Neuman, my boss at what used to be Landmark Bank,” she says. “She took me by the hand and got me going.” Tompkins became involved with the American Parkinson’s Disease Association 15 years ago, when a dear friend contracted Parkinson’s. “I felt so helpless when she was dying; I promised her I’d do everything I could to find a cure.” But her earliest inspiration was her mother. “She always helped around our neighborhood. If someone passed away, she’d plan the repast and cook for everyone.”
Tompkins moved to St. Louis from Hamtramck, Mich., 40 years ago, when her husband, Willie, was transferred here for his job. “After all this time, I feel like a native St. Louisan—we raised our two daughters here, and we’re very much a part of the community,” she says. “But I’ll never get used to the ‘Where did you go to high school’ question!”
Recent thyroid surgery hasn’t slowed her down. Her calendar is packed with meetings and events, and if a trip to an exotic locale is auctioned off at a fund-raising gala, chances are that she and her husband have entered the winning bid. “We’re both retired now, but we’re busier than ever,” she says.
Tompkins doesn’t view her dedication to philanthropy as out of the ordinary. “It’s really very simple: I looked at my life, and was so grateful for my two girls and Willie that I decided it was time to give back,” she says. She urges anyone who wants to volunteer to follow their heart. “Read the paper, watch the news and go with whatever touches you. Pick a charity and learn about what it does. You don’t have to give money. Give your time. Once you get started, the gratification you feel will entice you to do more.”