stories from the book
by James V. Browning
You Were the Wind Beneath My Wings
Mary (Cothen) Thompson
It was a typical hot summer day in 1945 when the automobile driven by an employee of the Oklahoma Child Welfare Department parked in front of the office of the Oklahoma Baptist Children’s Home at 63rd and Pennsylvania in Oklahoma City. As I got out of the car, I had no idea what changes would come into my life during the years ahead, and I was filled with fear. My name was then Mary Bell Smith. I was fourteen and had not really had a home since the death of my mother during childbirth in the summer of 1941.
We buried my mother in the little cemetery at Baron, Oklahoma, near Westville. The years following her death were filled with grief, loneliness and frustration. My dad decided that he could not take care of seven children and left home shortly after the funeral. I never saw him again. My five sisters, my brother and I went to live temporarily with my paternal grandparents in Mangum. After a brief period my brother, Jim, my sister, Doris and I were sent to the State Children’s Home in Helena, Oklahoma when the State of Oklahoma decided to close the Home in Helena, Doris and I were placed in a foster home in Tuttle, Oklahoma. Jim left to begin life on his own. In the Spring of 1945, Doris met a young man and got married. I was told I would be moving to the Baptist Children’s Home in Oklahoma City. I had just graduated from Tuttle Middle School.
At the Baptist Home, I was part of a large family of children who were much like brothers and sisters to me. A few of the 200 children became my very close friends and have remained so through the years. What fond memories I have of the Hudmans, Liz, George and Jack, Joretta Wright, Jack and Ray Ballew, Imogene and Irene Wilder, Norma Lee Ring, Nadine Clifton, Correna Choate, Odean Crabtree and Patty Hoodenpyle, to name just a few.
Life at the Baptist Children’s Home was a lot like life in any good Christian Home. We attended public schools. In my case this meant four years at Britton High School (now John Marshall High School). Those years are full of good memories—the teachers, the activities and friends.
The Home afforded every child the privilege of taking piano and voice lessons. On several occasions we had the opportunity to sing in Oklahoma City Baptist churches. This didn’t always work out well. During a quartet number at First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, someone in our group started laughing over nothing and soon the entire quartet was giggling as only teen-age girls can do. On another occasion, our vocal efforts came to naught when a cat wandered in as we sang and proceeded to walk in and out between our legs. At least the cat seemed to like our singing. I’ve always had a very special place in my heart for our music teacher, Mr. Nixon. A few years later, I was a member of the Treble Tones Choir at Oklahoma Baptist University.
We went to Falls Creek Baptist Assembly every summer. In the late 1940’s, the crowds each week were much larger than they are now because there were only two sessions. Each was attended by more than 10,000 kids and sponsors. This was prior to the era of air conditioning and fancy cabins, but we had great times spiritually and socially. These were some of the best weeks of my life. We were blessed by the ministry of Sam Scantlan, E. W. Westmoreland, T. B. Lackey, Charlie Taylor, Warren Angell, Gene Bartlett, E. F. “Preacher” Hallock and many others.
My life was transformed by the stable and healthy environment provided by a staff who demonstrated their love and commitment in a thousand ways. It was only as I matured and could look back on my experience at the Home that I fully realized what a remarkable group of people had nurtured and cared for us.
Words are not adequate to tell of “Aunt Edith” Stinson who counseled, warned, loved, threatened and otherwise guided me. After I had left the home to attend college, she went with Ken and me to select my wedding rings and helped us get the best price possible. She also made my wedding gown, seed pearls and all.
Then there was Mildred Gilliam, or “Mildred”, with whom I still correspond. She was our companion on countless shopping trips and was always there for us as a nonjudgmental advisor and friend. On more than one occasion she managed to “get me off the hook” when my behavior was less than ideal. For many years she welcomed me back each time I returned to visit the Home.
Irene Huffman was my dorm mother. She was a kind and gentle person who loved each one of us as if we were her own.
Two unsung heroes of the Baptist Home Staff were Rev. Wade East and Rev. Judson Cook who wore out the roads of Oklahoma constantly raising funds to keep the doors of the Home open. Wade East found a Baptist friend to pay my expenses at Oklahoma Baptist University and Judson Cook recommended my finance to a congregation which called him as pastor.
I can’t say enough about Dr. and Mrs. Maxey, Truman and Alice. Their contribution to Baptist child care in Oklahoma is unequaled. That fact is well known and has been publicly attested to on many occasions. What may not be as well known is how they loved the hundreds and thousands of children who resided at the Baptist Children’s Home through the years. I had been away from the Home for several years when the date for my wedding arrived. Mrs. Maxey insisted on preparing and serving the rehearsal dinner for the approximately twenty participants in the wedding. She used her “good” china and silver and made it a very beautiful and special occasion for me. The dinner took place in their private residence.
And now for “the rest of the story. Children at the Baptist Home were taken by bus each Sunday to one of four Oklahoma City Baptist churches - First Baptist, Olivet, Trinity, or Immanuel. I attended First Baptist for about two years and then began attending Olivet. In 1948 Dr. Grady Cothen was called as pastor at Olivet. During a revival I made my profession of faith and was baptized. The following year, Dr. Cothen indicated to Mrs. Stinson, the Administrator at the Home, that he and his wife, Bettye, would like to have a girl from the Baptist home live in their home for the summer. Mrs. Stinson selected me. I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of living in a preacher’s home, but the summer passed quickly and I found, to my surprise, that I liked being part of this family. At the end of the summer I returned to the Baptist Home for my senior year in high school and graduated in the Spring of 1949.
My plans were already made for entering Oklahoma Baptist University in the Fall. The Cothens invited me to come and live in their home again in the summer of 1949 and made me a permanent member of their family. Their children, Grady Jr. And Carole, became my brother and sister. In the wonderful and mysterious ways in which God works in our lives, I’ve been part of the Cothen family for nearly 50 years. I’ve often wondered where I might be today if Mrs. Stinson had selected someone else to spend the summer with the Cothens.
At OBU I met Kenneth Thompson, a ministerial student from Shreveport, Louisiana. We fell in love and married the day after his graduation in 1951. Ken and I both attended Southwestern Seminary where he earned Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees.
After serving churches in Oklahoma and Texas for nine years and a term of service with the Foreign Mission Board in Korea, Ken entered the Air Force Chaplaincy. During the 30 years which followed, we lived in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, South Carolina, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, and Spain. Since retirement from the Air Force, we have lived in San Antonio, Texas, where Ken continues to serve as the Executive Director of the Greater San Antonio Community of Churches.
We have two sons, Ralph and Grady. Ralph and his wife, Debbie, live in Boulder, Colorado. Grady and his wife, Debbie, have two daughters, Kirsten and Kathleen and live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ken and I recently celebrated our 46th Anniversary.
I will always be grateful to the Baptists of Oklahoma for making it possible for me to spend four wonderful years at the Baptist Children’s Home. During these years I learned about Christian love and commitment; I made my decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior; and I received the foundation that made possible a life of Christian service.
The words of Matthew 25:40 come to mind: “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me…”