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Remembering our dear friends, Dick Thompson and Mary Lea Simpkins

Mary Lea Simpkins cuts the ribbon to open the A.E. Finley Center for visitors at Historic Yates Mill County Park in 2006.

Mary Lea Simpkins cuts the ribbon to open the A.E. Finley Center for visitors at Historic Yates Mill County Park in 2006.

Yates Mill Associates is mourning the loss of two dear friends whose energy, enthusiasm and support were essential in making historic Yates Mill the community centerpiece we know today: longtime board member and mill “ambassador” J.D. “Dick” Thompson, and Mary Lea Simpkins, the daughter of Yates Mill’s last commercial miller.

Mary, who passed away on Easter Sunday at the age of 95, lived in the Swift Creek community all her life. She spent childhood years in the shadow of Yates Mill, where her father — like his father before him — spent more than 50 years grinding grain into meal. She was an invaluable source of information as Yates Mill Associates and Wake County prepared the mill, park and visitors’ center to be opened to the public in 2006, and her voice can still be heard in recordings on display at the A.E. Finley Center.

Dick’s association with Yates Mill dates back almost as far, to his days as an N.C. State University student in the 1930s, as you can read in this profile from Perspectives, the magazine of N.C. State‚Äôs College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Dick Thompson

Dick Thompson on the park visitors’ center porch named on his honor, with a scenic view of Yates Mill. Photo by Marc Hall, N.C. State University

Dick, who passed on June 5 at the age of 97, remained in touch with the mill through a long and successful business career highlighted by his association with the N.C. Equipment Company, owned by A.E. Finley, in whose honor the park visitors’ center is named. The observation porch on the back of the center, with its picturesque view of the old mill, was dedicated in Dick’s name to honor his passion for and support of Yates Mill’s restoration and continued operation.

Dick was one of the most enthusiastic voices on behalf of Yates Mill Associates. He served as a board member, enlisted his friends as supporters, made fundraising appeals in person and by letter, showed off the mill to new and old visitors, and inspired all of us with his passion for preserving Yates Mill as a treasure from and window to our shared history.

We thank Dick and Mary for their many years of friendship and community spirit. We will miss them both, and pledge to continue our work in their memory.

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