Front Row Seat: Plenty of memories wrapped up in land where new Aurora softball field is situated

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Mary Jurkiewicz Beckstrom believes the Thompson family, which lived for more than a century on South Chillicothe Road and for whom the new girls varsity softball field will be named, was “somehow neglected throughout Aurora history.”
“This might be because the last living Thompson was Sadie, a widowed woman in a time when women had no real influence on the course of history,” she said. “Therefore, it seems fitting that a softball field — Thompson Field — primarily used by females, is named after this early Aurora family.”
It is also fitting that Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin delved into local history, one of her passions, for the selection of the name of the field, which was suggested by Jurkiewicz Beckstrom.
The new Aurora High School varsity girls softball diamond, which also will likely be known as Field 5B, will be named after the Thompsons, who lived in the home in front of the ballfield.
Jurkiewicz Beckstrom’s parents, Alfred and Louise Jurkiewicz, purchased the home from the Thompson family in 1958 and still live at 240 S. Chillicothe Road, which was built for the Thompson family in 1852.

The name of the field brings to mind the Aurora of yesteryear, where members of the Thompson family were blacksmiths.

"Sadie Thompson was the last Thompson to live in the house. She and her husband Edwin had no children, and she had been a widow for a long time," said Jurkiewicz Beckstrom. "Mrs. Thompson ran the Cottage Tea Room -- the original sign still exists -- plus she took in female single teachers and Kent State University students as boarders.

"FOR YEARS after my parents lived in the home, former boarders came to sing Christmas carols and inquire about Sadie.

"Sadie was a very good friend of Kitty Wheeler, who lived on the same side of the street, but up north," said Jurkiewicz Beckstrom, adding that the Aurora Memorial Library has a Kitty Wheeler wing named in her memory.

"In the Aurora Cemetery, there is a large Thompson monument which is the final resting place of the Thompsons. It is at the front of the cemetery near the police station and has a tree beside it."

Jurkiewicz Beckstrom, who lives in Aurora with husband Jeff, said when her parents purchased the house, barn, pond and surrounding property, the parcel was about 10 acres.

Originally, the property on which Aurora High School and Veterans Stadium are located was part of the parcel.

"In the early 1960s, the property was acquired by the school district from my parents," she said. "The football field used to be a pond, and prior to the softball field being erected, the property was an apple and pear orchard, bordered by barbed wire on the south, the Thompson trash midden to the north and a creek on the east."

As children, she and her sister Jody A. Jurkiewicz Kocsis played in the old orchard, climbed trees, made forts, looked for treasure, walked in the creek and harvested apples, pears, black raspberries and wild strawberries that grew there.

"My mother always thought maybe even Johnny Appleseed [John Chapman] might have contributed seed for the orchard," she said.

It sounds like it was a child's paradise, which is the way she described it.

"SHORTLY after my parents purchased the property, my father found in the hay loft an old box that contained two sets of sleigh bells," she said. "The leather and velvet straps were deteriorating.

"However, a Ravenna cobbler made new straps that matched the originals. Both are on black leather ­­-- one with a beautiful forest green velvet inlay and the other of royal blue. My father was able to reattach the bells to these new straps.

"The green strap contains a unique acorn-shaped bell. The blue strap contains a typical sleigh bell. For years, Jody and I awoke on Christmas morning to the ringing of 'Santa's' sleigh bells. These continue to share their magical sound every year with the two third-grade classrooms of Janice Parker and Mary Radtke at Leighton School."

The property also helps to provide history lessons for students.

"As part of the third-grade curriculum in Aurora, students study Aurora history," she said. "My parents, my two children [Alfred and Louise] and I go into these classrooms to read 'The Polar Express' and do a presentation on the Thompson property as it relates to Aurora history.

"I take in pictures of the old orchard, actual pieces of barb wire and nails, the sleigh bells and other items. I explain about where the house, barn [one of the last remaining] and softball field are located in the center of town -- right on Route 43 in the historic district."

There are many memories wrapped up in the land. It provides an historic backdrop to the city and now will be more easily remembered, thanks to Womer Benjamin and the naming of the field. It is a fitting tribute to an Aurora family of yesteryear.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

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