Marjorie Compton was “Marge” to her husband and siblings, “Mom” to her kids, “Grandma” to her grandkids, “Aunt Marge” to her nieces and nephews — to her face, anyway.
Behind her back — with appreciative affection — they called her “Marge the Sarge.”
“She was a take-charge person — not with any meanness, but she very definitely got things done,” recalls Kay Logsdon of her mother, who died in late January at age 92 and whose life will be celebrated in a service this Saturday, Feb. 19. “For a while, we secretly whispered ‘Marge the Sarge.’ But eventually, we got bold and let her know what we were calling her.”
“And she loved it!” assures Marjorie’s husband of 71 years, Troy Compton.
“I don’t remember how it started,” Kay says. “It was a cousins thing. Mom came from a family of five kids, so there were a bunch of us. We had regular family reunions at Lake of the Ozarks. It’d be Mom and my aunts who would take care of the food and activities while the dads were out driving the boats and taking us waterskiing. Everybody had fun — but you had the feeling that if Mom didn’t take charge, there wouldn’t be food on the table at mealtime.
“When Mom told us to do something, we did it. And it wasn’t just us kids — it was everybody.”
Troy agrees with a chuckle: “Everybody in the room snapped up and said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
Even friends outside the family noticed. “In church, if she turned around and gave one of her kids the eye, everyone in the congregation sat up straighter,” remembers Shirley Umstead, fellow member of Central Assembly of God, with a smile in her voice.
Memorial service Feb. 19
A memorial service for Marjorie Compton is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 19, at 2 p.m. in the chapel at Central Assembly of God, 1301 N. Boonville Ave.
‘She was a math wizard’
That was only one aspect of Marjorie’s personality. She also had an extraordinary aptitude for arithmetic.
“She could add so fast in her head and always be a hundred percent correct,” says Troy. “She never needed an adding machine.”
For example, notes Kay, “You could be at a restaurant with several people sitting at the table, and everyone would order something different. At the end of the meal, Mom would have it all figured — what each person owed. With the tax. To the penny. In her head.”
“She was a math wizard,” marvels her son, Kevin Compton, who is a high-tech venture capitalist in California. “When I was a boy, she’d take me to the grocery store, pull out a ten-dollar bill and say, ‘You watch what I put into the basket and tell me when we’ve reached ten dollars, including tax.’
“Now, at 7 years old, for all I knew ten dollars was all we had. So I thought I’d better get it right! She taught me tricks on how to do it. I still remember them. Those tricks may not have a lot of practical application today, but once in a while in meetings, I still use them to drive other people crazy, which I love.”
Majorie put her facility with numbers to good use professionally, too.
When Kay, Kevin and elder daughter Carole were well along in school, Marjorie, then in her late 30s, decided to again work outside the home. Troy had risen from his initial hire as a paint salesman for Montgomery Ward to a series of managerial assignments for that once-ubiquitous retail chain in several states. The family was living in Overland Park, Kan., when Marjorie answered an ad placed by a certified public accountant there seeking an assistant for the busy tax season.
“She went in for an interview and went to work the next day,” recounts Troy. “She found she had a real knack for taxes. She’d done our taxes during our marriage, but this job really struck a chord with her. So when tax season was over and the CPA didn’t need her anymore, she applied for a job with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) processing center in Kansas City. They hired her part-time, but soon she was full-time doing initial audits on tax returns that came into the center. And she loved it.”
Troy’s job required frequent moves as he rose up the Montgomery Ward ranks — to seven states as far away as New Hampshire and Massachusetts in a 30-year career. Marjorie returned to the IRS when Troy reluctantly agreed to what turned out to be his final post with the retailer, in Detroit, Mich.
“We had been in Burlington, Iowa, and really liked it there,” says Troy, noting that Marjorie had operated a gift shop in Burlington. “There probably still are heel marks in the pavement from dragging me from there to Detroit. But Marge was always one to make the best of any situation. And so she said, ‘Well, I’m here, I worked for the IRS in Kansas City, so I’m going to go down to the Detroit central office and apply.’ Well, once they learned of her prior experience, they hired her immediately, gave her back her seniority — and within three months made her the problem resolution officer for the entire Detroit district.
Asked to sign ‘Ronald Reagan’ to letters from the IRS, but added her initials
“Ronald Reagan was president, and Marge was answering complaint letters sent by major corporations as well as grandmothers, trying to see that everyone was satisfied. If they’d sent their complaint to the president but they were from the Detroit area, the letters were referred to Marge. She had to write the response, but they wanted it signed as if it were from the president. So she signed her letters ‘Ronald Reagan’ and added a small ‘MC,’ her initials, so it wasn’t really forging the president’s signature. Also, her letters were on Detroit IRS office stationery, not from Washington. That was quite a job.”
The Comptons were in Michigan for five years. Troy decided to take early retirement (“Ward was changing, and I wanted out,” he explains). About that time, Marjorie was invited by IRS higher-ups to come to Washington to help with the Reagan rewrite of federal tax laws.
“We thought about it and prayed about it,” Troy says. “I told her I was willing to move to Washington and look for a new job there. But then I got a call from Springfield, asking if I’d come to Central Bible College as vice president of finance and administration. We’d both gone to school there, and we discussed it and prayed some more, and decided it seemed the right thing to do — to come home because we knew we were going to eventually do that anyway.”
So in 1984, the Comptons returned to Springfield. “Marjorie passed up on that Washington job, but I know she did it with kind of a heavy heart,” Troy says.
However, true to form, Marjorie got right back to work. She applied to the IRS office in Springfield. “They made her a very generous offer, and she went on the public desk at the IRS office on South National,” says Troy. “She wasn’t an auditor here; she was the public representative who was behind the counter, answering questions. And they had her go out and hold seminars for taxpayers at the start of every tax season.”
Kay emphasizes that her mom “always was on the taxpayers’ side. She said she was the taxpayers’ representative. They could tell her anything, and she would help them figure it out. She wasn’t there to tell them they did something wrong or to audit them — she was there to help them fix their problems.”
Marjorie retired from the IRS in 1993 — but she didn’t retire from helping others. With Troy’s assistance, she privately assisted local ministers, retired missionaries and a few others in doing their taxes.
“For years, those two were a team,” says Kay. “Mom would be reading off numbers, Dad would be inputting the numbers into the computer, and together they would work through problems that people had. Over the years I’ve had many, many people come up to me and say, ‘Your parents saved me so much money. … Your parents probably kept me out of jail. … Your parents did this or that, helping me with my taxes.”
Within the family, Marjorie was helpful as well.
“While I always felt that my mother was a woman of her generation, she also was ahead of her time,” says daughter Carole (Eldridge), who lives in Galveston, Texas, and holds a Ph.D. in nursing practice.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t know any mothers of my friends who had careers. But our mom gave my sister Kay and me the encouragement to do what we wanted to do with our lives. She told us, ‘Don’t depend on marriage to get you through life.’
“She was very, very active. I don’t remember her ever being idle. Even if it was just crocheting blankets to give away, she never, ever stopped doing. She didn’t sit around. She set standards for us, too. Sometimes they were a challenge for a child. But the message always was: ‘Get the job done.’”
Her advice: Seek contentment
In addition to such “Marge the Sarge” directives, Carole says another life lesson imparted by her mother was to seek contentment.
“The longest I was ever in the same school was only a couple of years. I wasn’t always happy about having to move. But my mother said that whether we live in Missouri or Massachusetts, we should strive to be content. Whatever came her way in life, she was going to make the best of it.”
Kay, who forged a successful career in marketing, editing and public relations in Springfield, well remembers the 20-plus moves, too. “We joked that we didn’t know how to clean house, we just knew how to pack. Because every couple of years we’d be packing up and moving someplace. But again, Mom always had everything organized.”
Another memory made a lasting impression upon Kay:
“When I was 10 or 11 years old, too young to grasp all the consequences, we had a neighbor who had two daughters. One day the mother came over to our house, and I saw Mom and her crying together. I found out later it was because the older daughter was pregnant out of wedlock. We didn’t really know them all that well, but that mother came to our mom for help.
“People brought their problems to Mom because they sensed that she would be willing to help with their problems — anything that needed wisdom and compassion.”
A longtime family friend and for 18 years the Comptons’ across-the-street neighbor, Shirley Umstead, also benefited from Marjorie’s willingness to help. “In 2013, my husband, Harvey, had a heart attack. Marge insisted that I was not to drive by myself to the hospital to visit him. She would take me in the morning, and then come back and get me at the end of the day at any time I wanted.”
David Drake, whose friendship with Marjorie spanned 70 years since they met while students at Central Bible College, concurs: “She was a very caring person, always looking out for the needs of others — just a great person to know and a wonderful friend to have.”
Wry sense of humor
She was a great mother-in-law, too, says Paul Logsdon, Kay’s husband who recently retired from a 33-year stint as Evangel University’s director of public relations.
Laughing at the recollection, Paul says: “I’d only been at Evangel a couple of years, and Marge walked into my office one day and handed me a small framed sign. She said, ‘I saw this and thought it was funny, and thought you might like it.’
“The sign read ‘Happiness Is Finding Your Mother-In-Law’s Picture on a Milk Carton.” I took it and laughed and set it up alongside my computer. We chatted for a moment, and then she left to attend a meeting of the ladies’ auxiliary. And as she walked into that meeting, she announced to everybody there: ‘You wouldn’t believe what I just saw in my son-in-law’s office! You just wouldn’t believe the sign he has in his office. …’
Nephew Bill Perkin also appreciated what he describes as Marjorie’s “dry sense of humor” even when beset with physical infirmities, including diminishing eyesight.
“You just couldn’t get ahead of her,” Perkin says. “I popped in to visit her not long ago, just to say ‘Hi.’ I knelt down next to her chair and said, ‘Your favorite nephew is here.’ And she came right back at me with, ‘Oh, is David here?’ David is my brother…”
Kay cites another example of her good humor as well as her resourcefulness: “When we were kids, we didn’t always have dessert with meals, but we’d always ask for it. And one time when we asked Mom said, ‘Wait and see.’ She came up with a concoction of ice cream and chocolate pudding and I don’t know what else that she happened to have on hand — and it was delicious. So that dessert was named Wait and See.”
Then there was the friend who remarked to Marjorie: “Didn’t you hate moving so often?” Troy says his wife’s response was “I considered divorce, but then I found out it would cost more to get a divorce than it did to move us.”
Among Marjorie’s legacies is her charter membership in the Evangel women’s auxiliary, even though she wasn’t living in Springfield when it began in 1955. “Marge’s mother (Ora Dana Perkin) was a member of the auxiliary from day one, and she signed up Marge in that original group,” explains Troy.
“Evangel was brand new and didn’t have any alums yet, so the auxiliary acted as sort of an alumni association. The women saw to it that the students had proper housing, doing things like sewing curtains for the (former O’Reilly General Hospital) military barracks that the students lived in back then. And if she found someone in church who had a child coming to Evangel, they would form a local chapter of the auxiliary in whatever town we happened to be in. That way she kept us involved with our hometown even when we lived far away.”
Marjorie’s service to Evangel continues in the form of the Compton Family Endowed Scholarship Fund. Donations may be sent to: Evangel University, 1111 N. Glenstone Ave., Springfield, MO 65802.