SPC Foundation announces scholarship to benefit students in hands-on professions
LEVELLAND – Connie Belcher has many fond memories of her father, Elmer Lee Roy Thompson. She said he was a “Depression baby” who joined the United States Navy at age 17 while he was in high school. He served his country during World War II on the troop transport USS President Adams for the duration of the war.
Thompson was a machinist on the ship where he achieved the rank of Metalsmith, Second Class. He was awarded a Victory Medal, an American Campaign Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (4 stars), and a Philippine Liberation Campaign Ribbon (1 star). Connie said his assignment suited him because she always remembered how much her Dad liked working with his hands.
In an effort to assist South Plains College students, Connie and Jim Belcher recently donated
$10,000 to the South Plains College Foundation to create the Gage Thompson Memorial Scholarship Endowment to honor the memory of both Connie’s parents.
According to Connie, Elmer was born in Bartlesville, Okla. While on leave, he married the love of his life, Gloria Jeanne Gage, on Aug. 16, 1945. Jeanne also grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., where she worked as a bank teller while in high school. After graduating from College High School, she was offered a scholarship to attend college – a rarity for a woman during those times. She turned down the scholarship and opted instead to get married.
The couple had two daughters, Cathey Ann (Lee) of Oxford, Kan., and Connie Jeanne (Belcher) of Lubbock. Jeanne was a stay-at-home mother who worked as the family’s bookkeeper, Connie said. She returned to the workforce when Cathey entered high school. Jeanne worked for the First Baptist Church for 17 years before retiring as the pastor’s secretary.
“There’s a funny story about my mother,” Connie said. “When she was learning how to drive, my grandfather was trying to teach her. She accidentally backed into a telephone pole. My grandfather started fussing at her and she got out of the car, walked up to him and said, ‘If I had meant to do it, I would have done a better job!’”
Connie said her mother’s words, “If I had meant to do it, I would have done a better job,” became the comeback of everyone in the family.
After the war, Elmer returned to Bartlesville to make his home. Elmer and Jeanne worked during the late 1940s and 1950s alongside Jeanne’s father, W. Clyde Gage, at Gage's Cities Service Gas Station on the corner of 14th and Virginia. Later, Elmer delivered milk for Top Hand Dairy before he worked several years at National Zinc. In 1964, he began working for Phillips Petroleum Company, first in maintenance at the airport and then as a carpenter. He retired from Phillips after 20 years.
“I really admired his work ethic,” she said. “Even though he worked as hard as he did, I most admired how he took care of Mother who suffered from dementia. He took care of her for 12 years at home, and he was so gentle, caring and attentive.”
The couple were married for almost 64 years until Jeanne’s death on April 6, 2009.
Connie said her father had a gift of making everything he touched better. He could look at something and see how it functioned, and then he would modify it and enhance it to make it work better. Elmer lived in Bartlesville for 89 years until he moved to Kansas to live near Cathey. Elmer Thompson, 91, died Dec. 3, 2016.
“They were the most compatible people I’ve ever known,” said Jim. “They did everything together. After the girls left home, they visited all 48 states in the country except Hawaii and Alaska. I think Elmer may have stopped in Hawaii while he was in the Navy, but they didn’t travel there as a couple.”
Connie added that no matter where her parents were going on vacation, all roads led to Lubbock so they could spend time with their grandchildren.
Connie and her husband, Jim established the scholarship to pay tribute to her parents. Among the scholarship criteria are that the recipient be a full-time student taking at least 12 semester credit hours and must be enrolled in one of the following programs of study – Automotive Collision Repair Technology; Automotive Service Technology; Diesel Service Technology; Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology; Industrial Manufacturing/Emerging Technologies; or Welding Technology.
The first preference of the scholarship recipient will be given to an applicant who has earned a General Education Development (GED) degree, a trait that Connie said was reflective of her father. He left high school to join the Navy and earned a GED later in life. Second preference will be given to an applicant who has earned an Honorable Discharge from any branch of the United States military.
For more information on the scholarship, to make a donation or for more information about ways to support scholarships and students at South Plains College, please contact Julie Gerstenberger, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, at (806) 716-2020.