(Karen Thurlow grew up surrounded by her extended family. Vern and Edith Thurlow were her mother and father, and she had three brothers. They lived alongside Warner and Margaret Denton, Edith’s mother and father. Karen’s great-aunt and great-uncles, Harold and Mildred Andreasen, lived not far from the Thurlows. Mildred was Warner Denton’s sister. Karen enjoyed family closeness throughout her childhood. This concludes her story, which began in the April 6 Daily News.)
From 1958 to 2018 the Farmer’s Market by the Tridge was an important part of the Thurlow and Andreasen families. The market has changed a lot over the years. It was originally a place for Midland County farmers to sell their farm produce. But later wholesale sellers became part of the picture. It became increasingly difficult to compete with wholesalers, and eventually farmers like the Thurlows no longer belonged at the farmer’s market.
Karen first attended school in Olson and remembers two of her teachers, Mrs Hollingshead and Mrs Anger. She was in Floyd Elementary from third grade. Then it was junior high and senior high. She was in the class of 1976. Karen said, “I dropped out my senior year for reasons beyond my control.”
She said: “I got married too young and had my first child, Christopher, in 1977. Cheri in 1978 and Dale in 1982. I didn’t go to college. I learned from hard hitting school.” Today, Karen also has four grandchildren: Chelsie (Christopher), Adaleigh (Cherie), and McKenna and Thea (Dale).
Her first job at age 16 was at the former Mullin’s Restaurant on M-20, a mile west of M-30. She was still in high school then. At 17 she was working at Kresge in downtown Midland. She said: “I remember the old downtown. Woolworths. Kresges. Knepps. penney’s. sears Pizza Sam’s if it was on the east end of Main Street. As a child, we used to watch the pizza makers through the windows.”
While Karen’s three children were young, she worked in restaurants. Tips were good and she made a decent living. She has worked at the Elks Club, Northern Recreation, Circle Bowl, Sullivan’s, Red Oak in Sanford and China Palace. She said: “I did what I had to do to survive. I never received government money or social assistance, as we called it at the time.”
Karen left an abusive marriage and became a single mother. She had to work two or three jobs at a time just to make ends meet. She misses many school programs and finds that her children did not have an easy life growing up. Luckily, her parents and family were nearby to help her.
In 1976, her grandmother, Margaret Denton, passed away, and Karen filled her spot at the Farmer’s Market to earn extra income.
From 1996 to 1999, Karen and her friend Betty Palmer ran a business called Bloomin’ Buddies. They used the family square at the Farmer’s Market to sell plants. But later commercial vendors selling plants came in and Karen and Betty couldn’t keep up. Karen said, “It wasn’t worth our time anymore.”
Karen also did insurance settlements at Dr. Rodnick’s Chiropractic Office. She worked at Omelets and More in downtown Midland and at Suderman’s Car Care on M-20. In 2008 she started working in the Clinic for Sports and Spine Physiotherapy as a receptionist and therapy assistant.
In 2012, her daughter Cheri opened a gym, Reaction Fitness, and Karen taught physical education classes there. Karen also ran the Seed 2 Table business from 2011 to 2018. While working both at the gym and at the Seed 2 Table, Karen landed the Midland Conservation District position in May 2015.
Vern Thurlow was acquainted with District Conservationist Will Sears. Vern became interested in beekeeping and Will helped him with the project. That’s how Karen and Will met.
When Michigan State decided to put the district back into service, Will, a soil protector, thought Karen would fit well on the board. She submitted an expression of interest and was accepted onto the board. The next year she became an administrator.
In 2017 Karen bought Beyond Measure Bulk Foods from Tim and Deloris Coston. Her longtime friend Betty Palmer helped out in the store on the days Karen had to be at the county office. But Betty ended up with health problems and couldn’t help anymore.
The district office made progress. The Tomlinson barn had been bought by the district and suddenly Karen was spending most of her time on this project. Karen eventually decided to sell the store. The Midland Conservation District’s responsibilities grew rapidly.
Earning a living has been paramount in Karen’s life, but she’s also found time to participate in group sports. From 1978 to 2016 she played softball with various sponsors in Midland. Cherie played on several teams with her mother. Karen and her mother Edith were on bowling teams together and then Cheri joined the bowling leagues too. Karen quit in 2014 due to shoulder and neck pain.
Karen is currently a volunteer at Dahlia Hill and Midland Community Television and a member of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network and the Chemical City Garden Club. She is also a member of the Coleman Agriscience Advisory Board. In her free time, Karen rides a motorcycle, kayaks, and hikes.
Karen and her father, Vern Thurlow, had a special bond as long as he was alive. Unable to live in the home he built, he lived in Riverside from 2017 until January 1, 2020 when he moved to Meridian Acres in Sanford. Vern passed away on May 7, 2020.
While he was still in Riverside, Karen tried to see him every day, helping him walk Buddy, his dog, making sure he ate and taking his medication, and taking him on long drives on the weekends .
In March 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown, Karen was able to take Vern on one last visit to say goodbye to his friends. He said goodbye to Frank Cooper. To Joanne and Ron Piland and their daughter Chris. To Larry Skym for always being there to help Vern when needed. To Jim Bade, who shared Vern’s love of beekeeping. It was a very emotional day. many tears
Time has a way of smoothing out the rough edges we go through in our lives. Remembering the people she loved and lost, Karen says, “I will always cherish those memories.”