Wilmington teacher lived for her students
By Denise Baran-Uhland Correspondent November 25, 2012 7:26PM
Mary Thompson-Tatro SUBMITTED
Updated: December 27, 2012 6:09AM
Mary Thompson-Tatro of Wilmington so valued education, she sold the World Book Encyclopedia door to door to save money for her three children’s college educations.
And Mary worked that part-time job while teaching math and science full time in the Wilmington School District, where she worked for 37 years, and studying for her master’s degree on Saturdays at Pesta Lotzi Froebel in Chicago.
Her hard work paid off. Careers Mary’s three children pursed include nursing and pharmaceuticals. Mary’s son, John Thompson of Wilmington, owner of Professional Choice Hair Design Academy in Joliet, shares his mother’s love for teaching.
“I like helping the students bridging the hump from knowing nothing to supporting themselves in the industry,” John said. “I tell the kids that I’m lucky that I get to work a job I would have done for free. I try to instill that work ethic in them, just as my mother did for me.”
Mary grew up on a farm where the former Joliet Arsenal had been located. After the government took over the property, her family moved to Wilmington and rented and worked at the farm that had been in John’s family for more than 150 years, the farm where John still lives.
“That’s how my parents met,” John said.
Even as a girl growing up in the Depression, Mary placed a high value on education and became the only individual in her immediate family to attend college. She was just 19 when she began teaching at Moulton Country School and told stories of getting to the cold building before her students did so she could build a fire to keep them warm.
“She taught nearly everyone in Wilmington,” John said. “People talked about how she was one of the toughest teachers they had but the best one. She cared about them and made sure that they learned, no matter what.”
As a boy, John remembers how Mary, even after a full day of teaching, monitored her own children’s homework and stressed the value of receiving a good education. She won people over with her integrity and philosophy that hard work always paid off.
“Mom was the glue that kept the family together,” John said. “We could always come to her for advice and motivation. No matter if we stumbled or fell, Mom was always there to make us get up and keep going. One of the last things Mom said to us was, ‘I don’t want to leave you kids.’ ”
When Mary was not teaching, she enjoyed crocheting, bird watching and baking pies from scratch. She maintained the frugal habits of her earlier years all her life (Mary was 92 when she died Sept. 7), as well as her independent spirit, continuing to drive into her 80s.
“She’d get up and get her hair done,” John said, “and then she’d go up to Michigan to spend the day with friends.”