Community pays tribute to Shelburne Falls woman killed in hit-and-run

  • Mindy Decker, center, with her daughter Courtney Danielsen, welcomes those attending a candlelight vigil for their friend Rhonda Thompson at the former Farren Care Center in Montague where she had worked. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Photos of Rhonda Thompson are displayed at the candlelight vigil for her at the former Farren Care Center in Montague on Wednesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mark Thompson, husband of the late Rhonda Thompson, is comforted at the vigil for his wife at the former Farren Care Center in Montague on Wednesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The First United Methodist Church of Greenfield performed on bells during the vigil for Rhonda Thompson at the Farren Care Center in Montague on Wednesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Friends circle around a heart formed from candles at a candlelight vigil for Rhonda Thompson at the former Farren Care Center in Montague where she had worked. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sarah Hathaway and Jen Moser spoke at a candlelight vigil for Rhonda Thompson at the former Farren Care Center in Montague on Wednesday evening. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mindy Decker, center, with her daughter Courtney Danielsen, welcomes those attending a candlelight vigil for their friend Rhonda Thompson at the former Farren Care Center in Montague where she had worked. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mark Thompson, husband of the late Rhonda Thompson, is comforted at the vigil for his wife at the former Farren Care Center in Montague on Wednesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Well over 200 people attended a candlelight vigil for Rhonda Thompson at the former Farren Care Center in Montague on Wednesday evening. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2021 11:19:23 PM

MONTAGUE — In the backyard of the Farren Care Center, Mindy Decker channeled the strength of the very woman whose life she was there to remember.

“Speaking at this isn’t something I wanted to do,” Decker said at a vigil Wednesday night for Rhonda Thompson, the 45-year-old Shelburne Falls woman who was killed in a hit-and-run on June 8. “It’s not something I’m good at and not something I’m comfortable with, but Rhonda never would have turned down something for a friend because of her own discomfort.”

The Colrain native had been walking with a friend on Route 2 in Shelburne at around 6:30 a.m. on June 8, when she was struck and killed by a pickup truck allegedly driven by Peter Toomey, 51, of Northampton. Toomey was arraigned in Greenfield District Court on June 9, where he pleaded not guilty on charges of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, negligent motor vehicle homicide and failure to stay in marked lanes.

Decker said that when Thompson died, she and others began to wonder what was being done or planned to honor her, only to realize that was exactly the role Thompson would have assumed in a time like this.

“So we were a little slow, but then everyone stepped up in so many big ways, and we managed to put this together to honor our Rhonda,” said Decker, one of Thompson’s closest friends.

Thompson was dedicated to her work at the Farren, leading the vigil’s organizers to get permission to hold the event at the now-closed facility, which essentially merged with a similar facility in Holyoke called Mount Saint Vincent Care Center.

“It’s fitting that we’re gathered here to remember Rhonda, in the place she spent her entire adult life, dedicated to the residents and the staff at the Farren Care Center,” Decker said to the well over 200 people at Wednesday night’s vigil. “All of us are gathered here because we love and miss Rhonda. We also were all loved by Rhonda. That’s a lot of love for a heart to soak in.”

Decker’s daughter, Courtney Danielsen, said Thompson was like a second mother to her.

“Our families went on a lot of vacations together,” she said. “Her daughter is a good friend of mine.”

Thompson was incredibly close with her daughter, Ella — “closer than anyone I’ve ever met,” Danielsen, 21, said.

She added that Thompson enjoyed bicycling along the rail trails and paddleboarding. She particularly loved the Shining Sea Bikeway in Barnstable County.

Those who worked with Thompson said they will remember her as the kind of person you could always count on for support.

“She’s the boss I’ll remember believed in me,” said Lesha Yerka of Greenfield, who worked with Thompson for 11 years at the Farren Care Center. “She believed in me when others didn’t.”

Yerka added that Thompson supported people in all kinds of ways, not just professionally.

“We did craft fairs here, and she always had a booth,” she said. “She convinced me to have one, too. We just supported each other.”

Cindy Cyr of Hinsdale, N.H., worked on Thompson’s management team for three years at the Farren.

“(I’ll remember) her support to everybody,” Cyr said. “If somebody needed her, she was there.”

She said Wednesday night’s vigil was the kind of gathering she imagines Thompson would have wanted — a chance for old coworkers and friends to reconnect.

“Rhonda was the type of person that would have wanted people to be happy,” she said.

Jen Moser of Pioneer Valley Hospice, a partner of the Farren, recalled Thompson as a “force to be reckoned with.”

“We’ve been gathered here for a death, but perhaps it’s not death, but life — Rhonda’s life — that we have shared with her,” Moser said. “As I look at each of your faces, I see Rhonda now. She’s here with us now. … In your hearts, your voices, the gifts and legacies Rhonda has given each of us. She continues to speak, to breathe and live through us, and we’ve become an extension of her life.”

With each person whispering Thompson’s name as they lit the candle of the person closest to them, Decker asked that each one of them continue to support one another just as Thompson would.

“Let’s light up the night with candlelight, as Rhonda lit up each of the lives she touched,” she said. “As we go forward, let’s continue to support each other with love, as we now have to figure out how to even be in a world where Rhonda is not.”

Donations to support Thompson’s family can be sent to Mark Thompson at P.O. Box 15, Greenfield, 01302.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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