A log cabin beginning
Editorís note: The following column originally appeared in the Oct. 16, 2009 edition of the Daily Mail.
Eighty-five years ago tomorrow, Lester I. Thornton was born in a log cabin in Taney County, Mo., a few miles north of the Arkansas state line. He was the youngest of four children born to Ruic Harve and Smitha Jane Thornton. At that time Taney County was not an entertainment center but was inhabited by hard-working farmers, a few storeowners and some good teachers. In fact, the teacher at one of Lesterís schools was so good that Lester completed three grades of work in one school year and therefore finished the eighth grade at 11 years old.
Going to high school from his home meant a long walk and a much longer bus ride, so he followed his older siblings by attending the School of the Ozarks at Hollister where he worked 11 months out of the year in the boarding school to earn his tuition and room and board. His older sister attended at the same time but the two were not in the same dormitory. In spite of that, Lester said she found out that he had a deck of cards and took them away from him because she was afraid he would get in trouble. Cards were not allowed in this Presbyterian school. Lester worked in a canning factory, stoked furnaces and learned some masonry in the rock quarry where he cut rocks and helped lay them in a building that was being constructed. He can still show his grandchildren the stones he laid.
After he graduated, still quite young for the grade, he decided to do some post-graduate work at Forsyth School where he took vocational agriculture. The teacher recognized his abilities and encouraged him to go to the University of Missouri. The teacher even went with him to Columbia, helped him find a place to live, get a job and get enrolled.
He finished college in three different hitches, with time out in between to earn money and serve in the Army. His service was at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Riley helping discharge the soldiers who were being discharged after World War II was over. He and his wife, Carolyn, had a commuter marriage their first months until she completed her degree while he was in the Army.
Elkland, Mo., was the rural school where his professional agricultural life began first as a vocational agriculture teacher and later a University of Missouri Extension Agent. He also taught at Nixa, Mo., and was a county agent in Cedar County and later in Vernon County was a Balanced Farming Agent.
During this time the Thorntons bought some acreage from Carolynís familyís farm, The Wayside, and were raising three children when Lester answered the call to the ministry and began three years at Saint Paul School of Theology at Kansas City. This meant relocating to Archie, Mo., where he served the Methodist Church and attended seminary each week from Tuesday to Friday. They now had a fourth child and began a very busy lifestyle.
Churches served after seminary included Ohio Street and Mount Zion in Butler, Passaic, Savannah, Amazonia, Mt. Washington in Independence, Versailles and Glensted. After retirement, when they returned to the farm in Vernon County, Lester did associate pastor work at Fort Scott and Nevada and interim work in Bourbon County, El Dorado Springs, Rockville, Liberal, Iantha, Moundville, Sheldon and Bronaugh.
Now, at 85, he fills in when needed in nearby United Methodist churches and enjoys his nearby family and being part of the community of Nevada.