Fred Thomsen turns 100

Posted on July 7, 2024 by Sonoma Sun

To live 100 years is a genuine achievement, and on Wednesday, July 10, Sonoma’s Fred Thomsen joins that illustrious club.

Born in 1924, at 13 and three-quarter pounds, in the bedroom of his family’s home in El Verano, Fred has seen Sonoma change from rural to urban – and along the way he has had a rather marvelous life. 

He remembers it all, from childhood living on a chicken ranch on Grand Avenue –now called Arnold Drive – to caddying at the age of 11 for 50 cents a bag at the Sonoma Golf Club a mile down the road. Back then, Broadway leading up to the Sonoma Plaza was a gravel road.

Fred enlisted in the Navy in the fall of 1941, and was home on leave from San Diego bootcamp on December 7 when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. For the next four years the Navy sent him all over the Pacific. 

“I was on the aircraft carrier Saratoga,” Fred says, “when we provided covering fire for the Guadalcanal landing on August 7, 1942. We saw a lot of action. We bombed Truk and Rabaul, and were in the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.”

Fred has always been handy with machinery, and on board the Saratoga he was an engineer in a squad called the Oil Gang. “My job was to move oil from tank to tank to supply the many engines onboard,” he says. “Oil is heavy. The trick was to move the oil without changing the way the 990-foot-long ship was floating on the water. We could get 34 knots at full speed, and when the air group was with us we’d have 4,000 people on board.” 

Fred mustered out of the Navy in October, 1945, and returned to Sonoma. He started working for his dad, who by then was a Grace Beer and Coca-Cola distributor. Fred married local girl Jean Woods on November 25, 1946, and in a couple of years they had a son named Tommy, who has become rather famous as a musician, known as the “King of Western Swing.”

Fred’s path led into heavy equipment. “My father-in-law talked me into becoming an engineer,” he says, “running equipment used in heavy construction projects. I learned how to operate loaders, dozers and paving machines. Eventually I met a guy who needed a salesman to sell rock and sand for his company, Pacific Cement and Aggregate. He told me I would get a new car every two years, an expense account, and explained I would wear a suit and tie. So, I went to Eraldi’s on the Plaza, and had my suits made. I was a pretty good golfer, and that really helped. A lot of my deals were closed on the golf course. I had a 7 handicap for a long time.”

For that job, Fred drove all over the West, putting 40,000 miles a year on a grand succession of new cars. “Fords had the best engines,” he says, “but the worst seats you could ever sit in. I also drove Chevys, Oldsmobiles and Buicks. Now, when these cars reached 65,000 miles, you’d better find yourself a garage, because the water pump is going to go out. Every one of them. You’d think they could make a better water pump!”

When asked for tips on how to have a successful life, Fred says, “Pay attention. Do the job. Enjoy the work. I made sure to get to the job every day at 7 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. like everyone else. Sure, I gave them an extra hour of work, but I got a lot done in that hour before the phone started ringing. And it don’t hurt to be nice.”

Fred retired 30 years ago at 69, and devoted himself to golf. He still lives in the home in Sonoma he bought for $13,800 in 1954, and at 100 years of age enjoys excellent health. When asked for advice on how to attain this lofty age, he says right off, “Well, I have never smoked cigarettes. Almost everybody smoked in the Navy. I don’t know what they got out of it – all I got was a bad taste in my mouth.”

Fred and Tommy Thomsen are often mistaken for brothers while out-and-about in Sonoma, and Fred likes to share this story about his famous son. “When Tommy was two years old, we bought him a tricycle for Christmas. A couple of days later there was a knock on the door, and there was the Sonoma Chief of Police with Tommy, the tricycle, and Tommy’s dog Stormy. The Police Chief said, “Are these yours?” I said, “Yes, where’d you find them?” He replied, “They were in the middle of Broadway heading south.”

Story by George Webber

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA