Thompson’s nursing career leads to marriage, mission work in Bolivia

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 12, 2005

By Debbie Irmen, Tribune Managing Editor


not really surprising Tribune reader Marje Thompson met her husband in a hospital &045; he is Dr. Toby Thompson and she was working as a nurse in a Minneapolis hospital.

Her interest in nursing dates back to when she had scarlet fever, said the Albert Lea resident.

&8220;I was quite sick and in quarantine,&8221; Thompson said, recalling how her father could only wave at her through the window.

One of her mother’s friends was in nurse’s training at the time and her stories had an influence on the young Thompson.

After graduating from the nursing program in Rochester, she worked in the operating room

of a Rochester hospital, though it wasn’t Mayo Clinic, she said.

When she received a scholarship she returned to school, but only stayed for a couple sessions &045; she preferred working, she said.

Her choice of occupations would provide several unique opportunities, each with its own memories, such as the months she worked at a Jewish camp for kids. The 10-week program entertained about 300 kids and Thompson recalled it was the &8220;time of that awful flu,&8221; so there were kids sick there for weeks, she said. But overall she enjoyed herself.

&8220;It was a very fun experience,&8221; she said.

Following her camp work, she returned to working at a Twin Cities hospital.

Of course, things have changed dramatically since the early days of her nursing career, Thompson said. She recalled a patient under her care who was scheduled for surgery. In most instances nowadays, a patient has a great deal of freedom of movement prior to surgery, but back then, she let him raise his head to &8220;brush his teeth or something,&8221; and when the doctor found out

about the transgression, he refused to perform the surgery that day.

She met her husband while working at the hospital and the pair were married in January 1960 and moved to New Hampshire where Dr. Thompson completed his residency, she said.

While living and working in New Hampshire, the couple decided to go into mission work and spent a few months in extensive training before leaving for Bolivia where the previous doctor had died.

They lived in the country about five years from the mid to late 1960s, before returning to Albert Lea in 1969.

The couple traveled to Bolivia by ship &045; a trip which lasted 18 days &045; with two children and another on the way. Instead of working in her chosen profession, Thompson taught school there, until she contracted hepatitis and couldn’t teach for three months.

Though many of the memories of Bolivia are happy, it was while she was more than a continent away that her parents were in a terrible accident in 1965 that claimed the life of her mother and an aunt, she said.

&8220;I didn’t find out about the accident for a week or so,&8221; Thompson said. &8220;Mom lived for a week, but I didn’t get home in time.&8221;

She spent a few months in Minnesota following the accident to help her father who was hospitalized for six months.

Though retired from nursing, Thompson remains active with Emma Norton Services, a non-profit organization which helps women get on their feet, and which is supported in part by United Methodist Women.

Thompson is the mother of four children &045; Catherine who is a physician in Madison, Wis.; Susan, a teacher in Alexandria; Ian a teacher at Lakeview; and Sarah who is a researcher in Oakdale.