Thompson a good fit as husband, father and pastor

February 19, 2006|By MARLO BARNHART

Janet Thompson said she and her husband, Ernest, always were a good fit.

"He was so tall that when I stood next to him, his hand fit right on my shoulder," she said.

But she quickly added that their lives came together beautifully for 55 years in many other ways - through six children and callings to three churches, including Evangel Baptist Church in Hagerstown, where "they" served for 33 years.

"We were very much a team," Janet said.

Ernest Thompson died Feb. 6 at the age of 75.

Janet and Ernest met in Michigan when she was in the 10th grade.

"He told my sister he wanted to date me, and so one day, when he drove her home from play practice, he came up on the porch and we chatted," she said.


They married in 1950 after she graduated from high school. A year older, Ernest by then was enrolled in the General Motors Institute for engineering with tentative plans to work in the automobile industry.

"But one day, he came to his pastor and told him he'd been called," Janet said.

From there, the direction of their lives changed dramatically, as both entered Bible school. Ernest later graduated from Grand Rapids Baptist Theological Seminary in Michigan.

After stints at three churches in Michigan, the Thompsons answered a call in 1970 to come to Hagerstown and pastor at Evangel Baptist Church. After 33 years, Ernest retired and became pastor emeritus.

Through the years, Janet found the time to assist her husband in his church work while raising their six children. She plans to stay active in the church.

At her father's funeral, Kathleen Broome - their only daughter - started off her talk by saying she sometimes introduces herself as the sister to five brothers.

"Our son, Ernest Jr., said his father taught his children how to live and how to die," Janet said.

Sitting with his mother at her kitchen table, son Steven recalled the many camping and canoe trips the family took together over the years.

"Dad always made it to all our sporting events," Steven said. "And the grandkids, too."

Ernest's love of sports went back to his own student days when he was a football and baseball standout.

The youngest Thompson son, Tom, was able to get home from Iraq to visit his ailing father.

"Tom got his return delayed when his father went into the hospital on Feb. 5," Janet said. Ernest died the next day and everyone was able to be home for the funeral.

"We were a very close family," Janet said. With the exception of Thanksgiving Day, the family always shared holidays at different family members' homes.

On Thanksgiving Day, the extended Thompson family gathered at Ernest's church, where the meal was served. After the meal, there was basketball for those wishing to work off the dinner and crafts for the youngsters and others in an adjoining room.

"We would always reserve the church each year for that occasion," Janet said.

Steven smiled when he recalled how his father taught him to drive a car.

"When I was close to driving age, my dad and I were driving across Michigan," Steven said. "He just pulled over and put me behind the wheel."

Ernest used a similar method to teach his children how to swim - he would throw them in the water and tell them to swim, Steven said.

"But he was so big ... we had no fear," Steven said. "We knew his hand would be there."

Congregation member and friend Jane Moats said she and her fellow parishioners felt the same way.

"He touched so many lives," she said. "He was always there."

Because of Ernest's devotion to his congregation, Janet and her children purposely didn't schedule the viewing on a Wednesday, which is a regular church day at Evangel.

"He wouldn't have wanted that," she said, noting Ernest had attended that Wednesday church service just five days before he passed away.

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