Susie Thompson of Walters, Okla. Recognized by ODAFF as a Significant Woman in AgricultureFri, 02 Nov 2018 11:43:00 CDT
As part of a continuing series of stories on Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry and Oklahoma State University are recognizing and honoring the impact of countless women across all 77 counties of the state, from all aspects and areas of the agricultural industry. The honorees were nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of 14 industry professionals. Loessa (Susie) Thompson of Walters, Okla. is featured this week as a Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture.
Loessa (Susie) Thompson still lives on the same section of land that her family has farmed for four generations. And just like a farm that triumphs through hard times, Thompson has persevered despite her own difficult challenges.
Thompson’s great-grandparents first came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon for the Land Run of 1893, also known as the Cherokee Strip Land Run. Though they originally settled in northern Oklahoma, Thompson’s great-grandparents later moved to Walters where their farming legacy continues to this day.
Her mother Ruth named her Loessa for her two grandmothers, Loyse and Odessa, though her brother Jack wanted to name her “Sue,” after Sue Bees honey. They compromised on Loessa Sue, hence her nickname “Susie.”
Her family has shaped much of who she is.
“I had a wonderful life growing up on the farm,” Thompson said. “I have fond memories of riding on the back of the drill when dad or grandpa were sowing wheat. My brother and I would jump off to play with a rabbit or something and jump back on.”
At the young age of five, Thompson was eager to be outside helping with cattle. Her family raised cattle, wheat and sometimes cotton on their small farm, and her mother worked at the bank in town.
“We worked hard,” Thompson recalled. “I remember early mornings feeding calves before we got on the bus for school.”
As many farmers know, working out in the field under the hot Oklahoma sun could sometimes be brutal.
One of her favorite ways to cool off in the heat of a summer afternoon was swimming in the ponds. She recalled fond memories of her grandfather Fred taking her and Jack for a swim in their pond.
“We even swam in the water troughs,” Thompson laughed. “I can’t imagine doing that today.”
But one of the things she most loved as a little girl was when her father Jack would take her to Cookietown, just a few miles away.
“Dad would take us to get a coke and candy bar from the store in Cookietown,” Thompson said. “That’s where all the farmers gathered, so it was a real treat. It has changed so much now, there isn’t a store anymore, just a little church.”
In fact, Thompson’s career first began at age 15 at the Walters Coop elevator in Cookietown.
“I was in the shop at first,” Thompson said. “When I first started, I never understood why the farmers would follow the truck to watch it weigh, and then I realized that was their money.”
She moved around to different locations in the county working for Walters Coop.
“I loved my job at the Coop,” Thompson said.
After graduating from Walters High School, Thompson went on to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater for a year before returning to marry Jerry Thompson, a farmer who grew up only 10 miles away from her in Temple.
The two met through a mutual friend and have been married for 34 years. They have two daughters, Charity and Chelsea, and two grandchildren Henry and Charlie. Thompson named their oldest daughter Charity, after the great-grandmother who helped settled the family in Oklahoma.
Charity decided to work with cancer patients after their family tragically lost Ruth three days after being diagnosed with colon cancer. She is a radiation therapist in Altus. With her only two grandchildren also living in Altus, Thompson said she making a lot of road trips in her spare time.
“My car is practically on auto-pilot to Altus,” Thompson laughed. “I go see my grandbabies as often as I can.”
In May of 1982, she took a temporary position at Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, now known as the Farm Service Agency (FSA). After three years as a temporary employee, she became a program assistant, then a program technician. In November 2008, Thompson became the Executive Director for the Cotton County FSA.
It is impressive enough that Thompson worked her way up to the director position after beginning as a temporary employee, but perhaps even more impressive is that she pushed on in her career, even after losing her speech.
In 1987, Thompson suffered a stroke that caused her to lose her ability to communicate with words.
“It was hard, but I made it,” Thompson said, “The Lord helped me. I had to write things to communicate with my co-workers, but we made it.”
After intense speech therapy multiple times a week for an extended period of time, she was able to regain her ability to talk.
In 2014, Thompson had a second stroke and again lost her speech. Her doctors later discovered a previously undiagnosed hole in her heart that they believed to have been the cause. With the hole now fixed, Thompson remains hopeful that she is in the clear.
Thompson’s struggle inspired her youngest daughter Chelsea to study speech pathology in school.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Thompson’s love for her job and helping the farmers in her community pushed her to continue working at FSA, despite the challenge of having to learn to speak again.
“I just love my farmers,” Thompson said. “They have big hearts and they work so hard.”
As a fourth generation farmer, she’s no stranger to the uncertainties and difficulties that farmers often face with drought, natural disasters, fluctuating market prices, and much more.
“I’m just glad we have this agency for the farmers,” Thompson said. “Last fall we had a drought, this year a flood. They can’t harvest and they can’t plant, so it’s nice to be able to help them some.”
Reflecting on her 36-year career, she said she never dreamed she’d have the opportunity to one day serve as the director when she first began as a temporary employee.
In addition to serving as director, Thompson is also an elder at the First Presbyterian Church in Walters, a member of the Oklahoma Cattlmen’s Association, and has been a 4-H volunteer leader for the last 20 years.
“I just help with anything I can,” Thompson said. “They are a small county and sometimes that means they need a lot of help because these kids have to go on.”
Thompson pushed both of her daughters Charity and Chelsea to be very active in 4-H.
“When they went off to college they thanked me because it had helped them in so many ways, more ways than they imagined it would,” Thompson said.
She also helps her husband Jerry tend to their cattle, wheat, hay and cotton.
“I have a sign in my office that says ‘Behind every successful farmer there is a wife that works in town,” Thompson laughed.
She enjoys cooking from her garden and taking it out to the field. She also helps with module work, parts runs when needed, and on occasion, feeding calves that do not catch on to nursing.
“I had to tube feed a calf one time that wouldn’t nurse,” Thompson recalled, “I was terrified I was going to kill it, but it lived! I cried when that calf moved.”
Though their daughters have both chosen careers outside of the farm that she is extremely proud of Thompson is hopeful that Henry or Charlie will eventually carry on the family farm.
“I still hope and dream that someone in the family will continue the farm,” Thompson said. “Maybe one my grandkids.”
Source - Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry
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