The power of art: PRC art teacher not giving up

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 21, 2015

ARTIST: Pearl River Central middle school art teacher Shirley Jo Thompson is not giving up in her fight against cancer.  Photo submitted

ARTIST: Pearl River Central middle school art teacher Shirley Jo Thompson is not giving up in her fight against cancer.
Photo submitted

Make your art a gift of inspiration to others to work towards better things. – Richard Schmidt, painter.

Family, friends and co-workers of Pearl River Central Middle School art teacher, Shirley Jo Thompson, collectively agree that she is a beacon of generosity to everyone she meets.
Now, loved ones are giving back to the woman who gives so much.
On Jan. 22 2015, Shirley Jo was diagnosed with stage four non-small cell carcinoma.
For the past 19 years, the Nebraska native has taught art at PRC’s elementary and middle schools.
“She started out working in the cafeteria and then began substitute teaching,” her husband Kenny said. “She decided to take college courses for art and English and received her bachelor’s degree with honors.”
PRC School District Assistant Superintendent Nina Guthrie was teaching fourth grade when she first met Shirley Jo.
“In the beginning, she rolled her art supplies to classrooms on a cart,” Guthrie said. “I leaned things about art by watching her teach. She painted scenes in the hallways of the elementary school that stayed there for years. She is a very caring teacher and always sees to the needs of children in need.”
Ashle, Shirley Jo’s daughter, said her mother began a Christmas program for the less fortunate children at the school.
“She spent her own money and has helped a lot of people,” Ashle said.
Shirley Jo not only bought the presents, but also would wrap and deliver them herself, Kenny said.
Music teacher Leslie Priest, librarian Karla Strahan and fourth grade teacher Sharman Lumpkin work closely with Shirley Jo and witnessed first hand her generosity.
“During the awards ceremonies, she not only hands out certificates, but also small gifts she has purchased for the students,” Priest said. “She loves to dig in her own pockets to purchase items not only for the students but faculty as well.”
Lumpkin said that when she realized Shirley Jo wrapped all the Christmas presents herself, she decided to help out.
“We all worked as a team,” Lumpkin said. “She also purchased presents for the siblings of the needy children. She’s like a mama bear with her students, firm but gentle. She taught both my children and they love her.”
Priest said that Shirley Jo doesn’t just teach craft projects, she teaches the students real artistic techniques including perspective and shapes.
“She also helps the students with their art contests,” Strahan said. “She guides them and gives them advice. We eat lunch with her every day and she’s such a hoot. She has this great dry wit.”
Lumpkin said Shirley Jo was always on the lookout for items on the side of the street to fix up and give as presents for the kids, for example she repaired an old bike that needed a new seat.
“Shirley Jo enjoys dressing up for events and holidays,” Strahan said. “She keeps you thinking, ‘What is she going to do next?’’’
Priest found it hard to come up with an adequate way to give testimony to the manner in which Shirley Jo always willingly gives back to her students and fellow teachers.
Kenny said Shirley Jo is a great mom. The couple has four children, Ashle, Kelli, Alicia and Kenny, Jr. They have three grandchildren, one-great-grandchild and another on the way.
“She’s always there for us,” Ashle said. “When I’ve been sick, she was always right there by my side.”
Everywhere she goes, Kenny said, former students walk up to her and tell her they remember having her as a teacher.
“We have a great life,” Kenny said. “She’s touched a lot of people’s lives.”
Shirley Jo’s daughter Kelli said her mom always encouraged her children to be their own individuals.
“We wanted to make her proud,” Kelli said. “We tried to succeed in everything we did. We made good grades and participated in activities. She always thinks about others, whatever she had she gave. She’s got so much to give. She has always been the rock, the strong one. I hope I’m half the person my mother is.”
Shirley Jo’s daughter, Alicia, said her mom is just the best person.
“She’s done more for people in her 64 years on this Earth than most people do in 90 years,” Alicia said. “She’s very strong, positive and hopeful.”
Shirley Jo is one of 12 children and her sister Shawn Stukenholtz said Shirley Jo was always the painter in the house.
“Our mom’s house is full of her paintings,” Stukenholtz said. “There’s not much that she can’t paint. She paints houses, portraits, plantations and scenery.”
Shirley Jo paints with watercolors, oils, canvas and sketch board, Ashle said.
Kenny Jr., who is now an artist, said he learned everything about art from his mother.
“One of her greatest gifts is encouraging people,” Kenny said.
Shirley Jo said it’s important to encourage and inspire young adults.
“Art gives them the freedom to express themselves when they are unable to express it other ways,” Shirley Jo said. “I want my students to remember to never give up on their artwork. Your artwork is a reflection of who you are. Don’t give up.”
In efforts to offset medical costs, the family has created a GoFundMe account, which can be found at
Another benefit account has been set up Southern Bancorp on Hwy. 11 in Picayune. The account is named Shirley Thompson’s benefit account. Donations can also be mailed to the bank at P.O. Box 1760, Picayune, Ms, 39466 and include a notation with Shirley Thompson’s name.
Pay a visit to the Caring Bridge website at for updates on Shirley Jo’s condition.

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