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Thompson Farms matriarch dies at 81

Family remembers tough, tender, 'ever-ready Betty,' who,
by: File photo, Betty Thompson and her son Larry in 2000. Mother and son kept the farm and business going after Betty’s husband Victor died in 1983.

BORING - A pillar of the farm community and matriarch of Thompson Farms, Betty Jean Thompson, 81, died Monday, July 24, in her simple ranch home surrounded by her family and fields of dahlias and zinnias blooming outside her windows.

Her son and business partner, Larry Thompson, said after a two-year battle with lung cancer, her peaceful death was an answer to prayer.

'She just quit breathing,' he said. 'There was no pain, no strain. She was lucid the whole time. Ten minutes before she died, she asked Norm (her son-in-law) to sing the song he learned for her funeral. He played it on the guitar and five minutes later she looked around, told us she loved us, and then she died.'

Thompson Farms, including its three stands and u-pick locations, will close Thursday for her funeral so its farm workers, who gave Betty presents every Mother's Day, can attend.

Betty was born in Hawarden, Iowa, on July 31, 1924, to Joseph and Bertha Buum. As a girl, she moved to South Dakota and graduated from Beresford High School in 1942. During World War II, she was a cryptographic clerk for the Army Signal Core in Washington, D.C.

On Sept. 30, 1946, she married Victor Thompson in Beresford. The following year, drought prompted the couple to head for the Willamette Valley's lush farmland. In Gresham, the newlyweds raised berries, vegetables and four children.

Under Victor and Betty's stewardship, Thompson Farms grew from 3 acres to more than 100, producing a wide variety of diversified crops, including berries, pumpkins, gourds, dahlias, broccoli, squash, peppers, tomatoes and several kinds of lettuce.

Betty loved the ever-changing view from her windows - rows of lettuce replaced by fields of gladiolas and dahlias. Each season and weather change brought a new crop along with it.

Strawberries were her favorite, and her first bowl of perfectly ripe strawberries and cream was an annual delight. She made a great strawberry pizza, topping a pie-crust-like dough with cream and sliced berries - a favorite among her nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Her adult children loved her strawberry daiquiri recipe, which she would mix in a 5-gallon jug and serve at the many family gatherings at her home or on family camping trips at Fort Stevens.

When Victor died suddenly of a blood clot in 1983, Betty and son Larry formed Thompson Farms and continued farming in the Boring and Damascus area.

Her family and friends kept Betty going after Victor died. She continued his legacy of holding her family close to her, gathering the children and grandchildren at her home on Southeast Bohna Park Road for birthdays, Christmas, the Fourth of July.

'Mom wanted to make sure when she left this earth, the family would continue on as a strong, close-knit family,' Larry said. 'And we are going to do that. Mom never forgot a birthday, and especially in the last 10 years of her life, she was always telling us how much she loved us. That will go on.'

On the farm, 'ever-ready Betty' managed fruit stands, hoed, did the banking, and satisfied her shopping urge by buying all the supplies. She never drove the tractor. To her, that was not something a lady did, Larry said.

In December 2000, Betty was named to the statewide Hall of Fame at the Oregon Farm Bureau meeting. The Thompsons were recognized as farm family of the year in 1991 by the Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Never idle, Betty didn't have time for novels or television. She loved to dress up for formal dances and dinners at the Elks Club. She made her own clothes and would sew a new outfit, complete with matching hat and scarf, for every event and special occasion.

Betty's big trip was to China when her oldest daughter was living there with her husband and children. Betty took along her other daughter and granddaughter, and the group was among the first American tourists allowed back into Tiananmen Square after the deadly 1989 student protests.

She visited her sisters in South Dakota, California and Arizona. But perhaps her favorite haunt was the Silver Legacy Casino in Reno, Nev.

In a battered manila folder, she documented 41 trips to the city, where she loved the nickel slots and liked them even better when they switched from one-armed handles to buttons.

The farm girl in her never let her go hog wild. She'd usually allow herself $160 to gamble with, and her goal was always to pay for her trip.

During one trip to Reno with her two sons, Larry said, they decided to split up and meet at the room at midnight. Larry and Bruce met, but Betty didn't wander in until 2 a.m. She was back up at 4 a.m., asking her sons, 'Wanna go gamble?'

Back home, she'd stash spare change and bills into old cans and Tupperware containers hidden around the house, with masking tape labels reading 'Reno Money.'

A social butterfly, Betty had many different groups of friends - from Trinity Lutheran Church, the Elks, Gresham Senior Center, the Feisty Red Hatters, Zarephath Kitchen and the county farm bureau.

When she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in May 2004, doctors gave her six weeks to two years. She lived for two years and two months, dying just one week shy of her 82nd birthday.

Her family marvels at her positive attitude in her final years. In the last five months, her four children took shifts caring for her around the clock, along with hospice care.

'She was the most gracious person to care for,' said her daughter-in-law Kathy Thompson. 'She never complained about anything, even when she was in severe pain, she was never grouchy.'

Betty is survived by daughters Barbra Aune and her husband, Norm, Vicki Eustice and her husband, Ed, sons, Bruce Thompson and Larry Thompson and his wife, Kathy; sisters, Joyce Campbell of Sioux Falls, S.D., and LaVan Erickson of Tucson, Ariz.; brother, Bobbie Buum and his wife, Donna, of Freemont, Calif.; nine grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

Larry said he will always remember his mother as a tough and tender woman.

'Mom had a unique ability to basically run a business, which takes a business mind and the ability to be an extremely hard worker,' he said. 'But yet she was always a truly caring mom.'

Services

• A viewing will run from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, at Gresham Funeral Chapel, 257 S.E. Roberts Ave.

• A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 507 W. Powell Blvd., with a reception following.

• A private family committal service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, July 28, at Willamette National Cemetery.