Thompson, Mary Jo and Russ

Mary Jo Thompson (middle) sits with two of her siblings.
Mary Jo Thompson (middle) sits with two of her siblings.

Shown sitting on her mother's lap, Mary Jo Thompson's injured hand is behind her mother's back.
Shown sitting on her mother's lap, Mary Jo Thompson's injured hand is behind her mother's back.

Mary Jo Thompson in 1936
Mary Jo Thompson in 1936

Mary Jo Thompson sits by her fireplace in her apartment.
Mary Jo Thompson sits by her fireplace in her apartment.

Last updated: October 26, 2006

The Lusk Herald
October 25, 2006

Mary Jo Thompson Shares Memories About Starting the Family Ranch
by Brandie Bartelt

With a sparkle in her eye, Mary Jo Thompson sits at her dining room table in the late afternoon telling stories of her childhood and life on the ranch with her husband Russ.

Thompson was born on May 28 to Harry and LaRue Norman in Crawford, Neb., the oldest of seven children. "I tell everyone that I am 102 years old that way I can tell them that I look good for my age," said Thompson, hence the reason why her birthday is only the date not the year.

Growing up in the country, Thompson lived in a log house with her family on Crow Butte near Crawford. She recalls a time when she was about three years old and she had injured her hand. She had to be taken to the hospital in Crawford. At the time her father had told her that if she was good, he would buy her and her mother a new hat for Easter. Thompson was thrilled at the thought of getting a new hat and tried to be as good as she could while she had her hand taken care. The next day her mother took her to the hat shop in Chadron and purchased new hats, then went down and got their picture taken with their new hats.

Thompson attended school in the country, appropriately named Windy School as it was very windy where the school was located. She attended through the eighth grade and received the highest grade in civics class in the county, she says that she was very proud of earning that grade and so was her teacher.

Thompson then went on to attend high school in Crawford for three years staying with her Aunt Matilda and Uncle Floyd Nacee. She would sometimes ride the train into Crawford from her home, which was 15 miles away and then she walked to school. Thompson then spent her senior year at Whitney, Neb. She had to drive her younger siblings with her as they all attended school there as well. Thompson was disappointed to have to leave her school in Crawford, but knew it was her responsibility as the eldest child to take the younger children to school.

After graduating high school, Thompson attended college in Chadron to become an elementary school teacher. "I always wanted to teach," said Thompson. Her father was old fashioned and thought that women should get a higher education but should only go to school to become teachers. Of course Thompson says that she always agreed with her father and did just that.

During her time at college Thompson's brothers insisted that she needed to visit the grocery store and look at a pair of shoes that had been special ordered from Chicago. Thompson didn't know it at the time but it would be shoes of her future husband, Russ Thompson, whose mother owned the store. She still has Russ's shoes that she used to keep by the door; now she keeps them under her bed in her apartment in the Ranger.

After dating awhile, Russ and Mary Jo got married July 30, 1941. Mary Jo had wanted to get married on a Wednesday when the moon was full. She says that it was because of the old wives' tale that Wednesday was the day of the week that one would marry for love. At the time her father had asked that they wait until after the harvest of the wheat to get married as he needed her help.

Shortly after being married, Russ, who had previously played professional football for the Chicago Bears, decided that he didn't want to play football anymore. Russ wanted to pursue his passion of ranching. They spent their first year of marriage working on Russ's mothers' farm before leasing a ranch south of Keeline. "Russ and I always wanted to live in Wyoming and ranch," Thompson said.

Russ had been very frugal with his money and had been purchasing cattle until he had a nice herd. They raised sheep as well. They were looking to purchase their own ranch when a unique opportunity came by chance through a local doctor in Lusk. Mary Jo's second son, Leif, had fallen ill and she had taken him to Lusk to see Dr. Reckling. After a conversation, Dr. Reckling had told Mary Jo about an elderly couple that needed to sell their ranch and their daughters did not want it. That got the ball rolling and Russ and Mary Jo purchased the ranch, working until they had retired.

They had four children, three boys and a girl. Mary Jo spent her time helping with the ranch and raising her children. She had been wanting to work other than her ranching when she prayed, asking that God would give her an opportunity to do that, when a hunter stopped by her house and asked if he could hunt on their ranch. Seeing an opportunity, Mary Jo started a small business having hunters stay at the ranch and hunt. She said that she and Russ had a lot of fun with the money that she made.

After Russ passed away, she decided to sell the ranch and move to town. She resides in the Ranger and enjoys traveling, spending time with her family and friends. "I love playing Bridge and enjoy visiting with my friends," Thompson said.




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