CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 6, 2009 – A classroom in the Rosemary Berkel Crisp Hall of Nursing at Southeast Missouri State University has been named for the late Billy Joe Thompson Sr., a former Jackson, Mo., resident and the first male graduate of the Department of Nursing at Southeast Missouri State University.
Thompson’s son, John, and his wife Teresa Thompson, and Billy Joe’s daughter Susan (Thompson) Hahs and her husband Dwain Hahs, all of Jackson, Mo., have pledged $30,000 to the Department of Nursing in memory of Billy Joe. In recognition of their gift, Room 333 with full media capability, will be named for him, and their gift will be used to support future technology upgrades in the department and updates to facilities in Crisp Hall.
The gift comes as Southeast’s Department of Nursing is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the University.
“We want our students to have the best” learning environment possible, said Dr. Marcia Hobbs, chair of the Department of Nursing. The gift from Billy Joe’s children will help to support simulated and technological learning for students, she said.
“We are ecstatic to receive this gift,” Hobbs said. “Alumni support of our department is so crucial.”
At the age of 36, Billy Joe graduated from Southeast in 1962 with an associate’s degree in nursing. He was the only male among 13 graduates in his class.
“He was a renaissance man,” John said. “Caregiver and entrepreneur were his mantra.”
Hobbs said Billy Joe “really was a pioneer” who paved the way for men to pursue nursing degrees long into the future.
“The atmosphere for men entering nursing has changed,” Hobbs said. “You don’t see that differentiation” among the sexes anymore.
A 1943 graduate of Jackson High School., Billy Joe owned and operated the former Deal Nursing Home in Jackson, Mo., for 38 years. He bought the then 30-bed nursing home founded by his stepfather, Nelson Deal, in 1956. The facility was located next door to John and Susan’s childhood home. John and Susan say the nursing home became the fabric upon which their lives were woven and the place where they would perform various odd jobs, like roofing the facility, and learning the fundamentals of running a business.
Susan says she recalls earning 25 cents for polishing her father’s white nursing shoes, those likely worn by her father in a photograph in Southeast’s 1961 Sagamore yearbook in which Billy Joe is pictured in his white nurse’s uniform seated at a table surrounded by 18 female members of Southeast’s Nursing Association.
Billy Joe and his wife, Alice Faye, were the parents of six children, five of whom were young when Billy Joe decided to pursue his associate’s degree at Southeast.
John, president of The Bank of Missouri of Cape Girardeau, said his father’s decision to pursue a two-year degree came after the state of Missouri instituted requirements in 1959 calling for a registered nurse to check the charts of patients and sign off on them.
“He decided he could do it himself,” Susan said.
John said his father was both “business manager and nurse” at the nursing facility, in addition to serving as what would now be termed “activities director.” John and Susan say their father “did it all” at the facility that was later expanded in 1964 to house 75 beds. Their father, they say, also went on to earn 100 additional hours of continued education.
In addition to purchasing supplies for the facility and running IVs for patients, Billy Joe was an entrepreneur who, during his lifetime, was employed by Priest men’s store and owned and operated a laundromat, Thompson’s Grill, a gift shop, storage sheds, Dairy Queen in Jackson and Cape Girardeau, and several rental and investment properties under the umbrella of Thompson Family Enterprises Inc. and Thompson Union Group. John says his father also was a skilled artist who built an art studio in his home and frequently painted on canvas.
Billy Joe was active in the Boy Scouts and the Optimist Club, having served as president of the Evening Optimists and earning the club’s 40-year perfect attendance award. He was a member of New McKendree United Methodist Church, was an avid Jackson High School football fan and a lifelong member of the Jackson High School Athletic Booster Club. He also served on the Jackson School Board and the Jackson Heritage Association.
“In terms of Jackson, they were Mr. and Mrs. Jackson,” John said of his parents.
Billy Joe was active with the district Nursing Home Association, the Education Committee of the Missouri Nursing Home Association and the American College of Nursing Home Administrators. He was a member of the Cape Girardeau County Senior Citizens Advisory Board, Friends of Scouting, Central Democratic Committeemen, Wednesday Night Painting Group and the Southeast Missouri University Foundation’s Copper Dome Society. The Ombudsmen presented Billy Joe with their Quality of Life award in 1990.
Billy Joe died Dec. 7, 2000.
From left are Dwain and Susan Hahs, and John Thompson.