The current co-chair of the board of directors for the Bowen Center for the Arts in Dawsonville, Jeanne Tompkins is channeling a lifelong career of teaching into bolstering the arts center to be the best it can be.
Native to Atlanta, Tompkins considers Clarkesville her home and attended the University of Georgia, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in home economics and chemistry.
Tompkins was a home demonstration agent with 4-H after graduation, and eventually went back to UGA to obtain a masters in elementary education and special education.
She worked in special education for a time, but when she started having kids, the work became too demanding. At that time, she said, the job was much more involved than it is today.
“I had to see that they got doctor’s appointments, dental appointments, it was very comprehensive,” she said.
Tompkins moved to Cobb County with her husband and two kids and taught elementary education, and when the family moved to Louisiana, she took a middle school job.
“I loved it. I knew it was where I needed to be,” she said. “They’re kind of special, eighth graders are always kind of weird but I just love their sense of humor and I loved what they did and how they did it, there was nothing they wouldn’t try one time.”
Tapping into their curiosity and willingness made teaching middle schoolers a joy, she said.
“I started teaching earth science, and I knew I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, so I stayed in that,” Tompkins said. “I taught 31 years total.”
Tompkins went back to school a third time to get her National Board Certification, which she compared to getting a doctorate degree in classroom teaching. The program was incredibly intense, she said, but taught her how to analyze her teaching in a way she’d never done.
“It was more about vision and understanding students, and I’ve probably used that skill more than anything else that I’ve learned in all my teaching, all my degrees, all of that: Being able to look in the moment, what needs to be done, how we’re going to do it, what’s the next step, what’s right, what’s wrong, those kind of things,” she said.
And when you have an organization like the arts center, Tompkins said, that’s vital.
“What’s right, what’s wrong, who do we need that can do this, this, to reach a goal, all of that,” she said.
Tompkins and her husband moved to Dawsonville in 2003 because she wanted to be closer to her sisters, who lived in Clarkesville.
When her husband died from complications of leukemia in 2014, Tompkins said she started looking for something to focus on. Around 2008, she started hanging around the center, and later when her husband got sick and received a bone marrow transplant, she decided for her health to find something to do other than direct his care.
“I got interested in photography, I went to (the University of North Georgia) and took photography certificate courses through their continuing education,” she said. “That got me into shows, and the shows got me into the Bowen. The Bowen filled a void and a love for other things. I began to understand fine art a lot more through my photography.”
One year when the center hosted Art in the Garden, Tompkins was in charge of publicity for the event, which opened doors for her to later serve as vice president and president.
“The arts center is certainly a love of mine, I’ve even left it in my will,” she said. “I think art feeds your soul. Other organizations that are nonprofit, they feed people, I’m all for that...I love Rotary Club, because it has fingers in every nonprofit in the county. But the arts center just feeds your soul.”
Tompkins compared the center to a flowering bush.
“You have the roots in the community that are underground and not so pretty, and you have to feed those roots and you have to take care of them, and then you have the leafy parts that come as an outgrowth from that but what makes it beautiful and what gives you joy are the flowers, and to me that is the arts center, the flowers,” Tompkins said. “You need all of it together, but you need it.”
Her favorite thing about the Bowen is meeting people who come to the shows, whether it be artists or people in the community.
“Being a part of all these different groups is how I function as a person,” she said. “It’s like when I was teaching, I was always motivating. It’s the same with the arts center: Motivating people to want to come, motivating people to want to be a part of it, to participate in events.”
Tompkins is constantly donating her time to better the county, and takes it all in stride.
She is also heavily involved in the Dawson County Rotary Club, and is president-elect for 2019-2020.
She also donates her photography. She takes photos for the Friends of Recovery pictures with Santa at Christmas time so the families can have the memories, and also donates photographs to Grace Presbyterian Church, where she is a member. She also does free photography for high school students for their senior pages as well.
Tompkins is also a mentor, and saw one student from third grade to graduation.
And last but not least, she makes sure everyone in her life is fed, from Rotarians to friends to neighbors, purposefully making too much food when she cooks.
“I like that kind of sharing,” she said.