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At 100, Alumnus Reflects on Fond Memories and Growth of Alma Mater

Last week, an enthusiastic class of graduates finished their studies at Old Dominion University, leaving with memories of their time in classes and making social connections.

Linwood "Tick" Thumm is proof that these memories can last a lifetime.

Thumm turned 100 on March 26. Eighty years ago he was in the place of students who just graduated, leaving school and heading into an uncertain world. A member of the class of 1935, Thumm still cherishes his three years at what was then the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary.

"When I went there in the fall of '33, it was a really unusual school because we had less than 200 students," Thumm said. "We were very close to all the professors, and we knew almost everybody in the school. We had a great school; we had a wonderful time."

If Thumm had come of university age a few years earlier, he wouldn't have had the option to attend post-secondary school in his hometown. Before the institution was started in September 1930, Norfolk was the largest English-speaking city in the world without an institution of higher learning.

Thumm was delighted when the college opened in an old elementary school on Hampton Boulevard, within walking distance of his house on Mayflower Drive in Colonial Place.

Except for seven years in Fredericksburg, and three life-altering years commanding a Coast Guard cutter during World War II, Thumm has lived his entire life in Norfolk. He raised four daughters here (two of whom attended Old Dominion University) and still lives in a modest home in West Ghent.

"I don't believe the place now when I go there. It's so much bigger; there's so much more going on," Thumm said.

He still remembers sitting on the brick wall in front of the old administration building, practicing singing with the musical quartet he belonged to. The brick wall is still there, but the former administration building is now a grassy park.

"We had a quartet that we sang in every year in the High Hat Review (the school's annual variety show), and we used to sing in the afternoons sitting on the brick wall. And a lot of the students used to gather around to listen to us get ready for the big show every year," Thumm said.

His business administration studies at the Norfolk Division helped Thumm get a banking job in 1935, which launched a long career. When he thinks about his time in college in Norfolk, however, Thumm reminisces far more about the social connections he made.

"Everybody was so loose. There was not much discipline; let's say that. We had a good time, we had a wonderful show we put on every year - the High Hat Review - and we came up with a surprising amount of talent in the student body. It was just a wonderful time. It was a wonderful experience."

With the U.S. entry into World War II, Thumm joined the Coast Guard. After graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, he was given command of a small cutter stationed in Norfolk. The war years were marked with many challenges, including the time Thumm's Coast Guard ship tracked and destroyed a German U-boat.

"We had all the evidence, because they didn't believe a little 83-foot cutter like ours was good enough to take a German sub," Thumm said. "But we did it and we brought back half a German officer's body. So we had some pretty good evidence."

Following the war, and his time working in Fredericksburg, Thumm returned to Norfolk and owned a heating and air conditioning business. After he retired, he worked summers in First Landing State Park as a contact ranger well into his 80s. Even at 100, he and his 92-year-old wife Jane Brinkley Thumm still enjoy dancing during their outings.

Though he hasn't been to Old Dominion University in a while, Thumm has spent a lifetime running into college classmates all over town. "So many of them were local. We all grew up together," he said.

Hearing about last weekend's commencement ceremonies, with nearly 3,000 students, makes Thumm marvel at how his alma mater has matured.

"I'm certainly proud to be an alum. And I'm proud of what the school has done. It's grown into quite a college at this point," he said.