To know: the accomplished pianist was the first woman to earn an MBA at Duluth
Frances Thompson’s students walked in and out of her home for after-school piano lessons each day in an orderly procession.
They usually entered through the back door and had to take off their shoes. Then there was the bathroom so they could wash their hands.
“You couldn’t touch the Steinway without washing your hands,” said Martha Thompson, daughter of Frances Thompson, in a recent interview.
Snacks can usually be found on the kitchen table, where you can wait and cool off as the student ahead of you prepares for the day. Then it was your turn.
This process repeated itself countless times over the years Frances Thompson lived in Duluth. After a musical career that touched countless lives and intertwined with some of the most accomplished musicians of the time, Thompson passed away on June 1, 2020, at his home in Loveland, Ohio. She was 84 years old.
A funeral service for Thompson will be held in September.
Thompson’s blue-collar education in the industrial town of Hoquiam, Wash., Gave him a sense of self-sufficiency that lasted a lifetime, according to his daughter Martha Thompson.
Yet it was his mother Eula Dressel who taught him the piano. Frances continued to study the instrument at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she began in 1953 and developed a close bond with Professor Berthe Poncy Jacobson, a student of Bernhard Stavenhagen.
Stavenhagen was one of the last to study with the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, who died in 1886.
After marrying high school sweetheart Larry C. Thompson in 1955, Frances made the difficult decision to move to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where her husband was studying.
“All I can think of is that she just assumed that was what she had to do or that was what she was supposed to do. the time, ”said Martha Thompson. “She ended up getting a Bachelor of Music degree from Willamette, but it wasn’t the same as studying with Ms. Jacobson.”
The Thompsons moved several times before settling in Duluth in 1960, the year Larry Thompson joined Duluth faculty at the University of Minnesota. Frances Thompson looked after the house, where she taught and continued to play the piano.
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She considered pursuing a master’s degree in music at university, but, in part because of her arthritis, she chose to enroll in the new MBA program instead. In 1979, she became the first woman to earn an MBA from the Duluth campus.
In a newspaper article about her accomplishments, Thompson was asked if being a woman with an MBA would help her search for a job.
“It is possible,” she replied, “but I prefer to be hired because I am qualified for a particular position.”
Thompson found a job at a Krenzen car dealership in the Duluth area before returning to Hoquiam in the mid-1980s to care for his mother. She eventually divorced and made herself a new home in Ohio, where she remained until her death.
In his home studio there, Thompson continued to play the piano and recorded his grandchildren’s audition tapes.
“She had a huge influence on me, and I think a lot of my motivation as a musician comes from her,” said grandson Christopher Thompson-Taylor, a jazz saxophonist.
Thompson is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.