Ralph "Porky" Thomsen wears many hats -- farmer, Toyota spokesman, businessman, wild and crazy guy, actor -- just to name a few.
But it's his philanthropy that earned him this year's Heart for the Arts award, which is given annually by the Academy of Children's Theatre as a way to honor local people who have gone above and beyond to support the arts.
The Heart for the Arts fundraising dinner where Thomsen will be honored is Feb. 8 at the Red Lion Hotel in Kennewick, next to Columbia Center mall. Tickets to the event cost $75 and are available by calling 943-6027.
"Porky is a tremendous asset to our local arts community," said Adele Connors, director of development for ACT. "Not only is he involved as an actor, he generously supports efforts that bring theater to life in our community, particularly involving kids."
Thomsen, who grew up in Warden, got hooked on acting in high school. His grandmother dubbed him Porky the day he and his twin sister were born.
"She called my sister Peewee, and since she was a lot smaller than me, my grandmother decided I should be Porky," Thomsen said.
Thomsen went on to earn a theater arts and ag-economics degree from Washington State University.
And though he attempted to take up acting as a profession after college, he instead got married and had a family and decided to stay home and be a farmer in Pasco.
He admits that sometimes he wonders what would have happened had he pursued acting full time, but he doesn't have any regrets.
He's fed his theatrical appetite part time for more than 45 years, performing on stage with Leonard Nimoy, Paul Williams and Edie Adams.
Thomsen feels as comfortable on a stage as Teddy Roosevelt probably felt sitting on a horse, he joked.
For more than 20 years, Thomsen portrayed the infamous Rough Rider president in a one-man show called Bully, touring the show across the country. He also toured with S.A. Flyin, also a one-man show, which was nominated for a Cable Ace award.
His portrayal of Roosevelt was as humorous as it was informative. He bought the rights to Bully decades ago, so he could modify the dialogue so it wouldn't put people to sleep, he said.
Veteran actor James Whitmore also portrayed Roosevelt in a touring show of Bully in the 1970s, and Thomsen had the chance to meet him when he got an invite to attend Whitmore's 87th birthday bash in Los Angeles in 2009.
"Bully was the king of the one-man shows and a thrill to perform," Thomsen said. "And it was equally thrilling to have the opportunity to share stories about it with Whitmore."
Thomsen has lent his acting talent to many community productions from the Tri-Cities to Walla Walla. His last local acting appearance was in 2012 when he portrayed Gen. Waverly in Columbia Basin College's White Christmas.
Ginny Quinley, a CBC drama instructor, remembers how Thomsen stepped in and saved the college's summer production of The Fantasticks years ago.
"Fred Dixon was playing the character Alfred in the show," Quinley said. "On the second night of the performance, Fred arrived at the theater, got into makeup, then fainted."
Dixon, who suffered a heat stroke, was taken to the hospital, which left a vacancy in the show with curtain time in less than an hour, she added.
"I called Porky and told him what happened to Fred, and he said he'd been there in 20 minutes," Quinley said. "He arrived moments before curtain time, reviewed the script briefly and went on like a pro. It's a blessing to have him in our community."
Thomsen said the arts have always been important to him.
"I am humbled by the Heart for the Arts honor," he said. "But it's really Terri (Stephenson) who should have this award."
Thomson describes Stephenson as his longtime lady and partner in bringing the Adventure Musical Theatre, Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre's touring company, to the Tri-Cities on several occasions during the past decade.
Stephenson said Thomsen's generosity and accomplishments throughout his life make him a perfect candidate for the ACT award.
"He is very humble about the many accomplishments in his acting career," she said. "I am thrilled Porky has been selected."
Thomsen also helped launch ACT's Living Theatre program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Kennewick.
"I am so excited we are honoring Porky this year," said Julie Schroeder, program manager for ACT. "It was way overdue. Porky and Terri are directly responsible for helping ACT launch Work it Out, a very successful anti-bullying program.
"Living Theatre allows students at the juvenile center to write their own story and have it presented to the public through the talent of Troupe. Troupe is made up of ACT's high school age drama students.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dorioneal