Those who new Martha believe the present day success of the Nature Sanctuary is far beyond Martha’s early vision. They believe she would be proud of her Sanctuary and grateful to all who have helped it happen.
Today a large pink granite rock, featured below, is located near the picnic shelter in Memory of Martha. On a beautiful evening when the sun sets, visitors often gather to enjoy the view. We think she’d like this.
Martha Lafite Thompson was born in 1911 on Christmas Day. She was the only child of Roger Lafite and Annie Stillwell Lafite. Roger Lafite was from France and served in the Forestry department there. Martha always loved the out of doors. At age eleven, she received her first horse, Annabelle. The love for horses was no secret and lasted throughout Martha’s life.
Her senior classmates prophecy for her reads: “Martha Lafite won $5,000.00 as being the best woman rider in the Smithville Derby. Her prize horse, Queen Anne, received honorable mention at the American Royal Livestock Show.” – from The Spectator, Liberty High School 1929 yearbook, page 100.
Martha grew up in Liberty and graduated from Liberty High School in 1929. She married Omar Thompson in her late 20’s. Omar owned and operated a greenhouse and nursery. In 1954 the Thompsons purchased 53 acres of land, which is now the west section of the Nature Sanctuary.
The Thompson’s built their house and a small horse barn in the late 50’s. Later they added a trail system and the picnic shelter. They enlisted the aid of Audubon members to begin restoration of the property and Martha worked with local attorney, Conn Withers, to establish her vision of the Nature Sanctuary.
Martha died on March 17, 1975 when she was doing what she loved — spending time with her horses. Cause of death was a stroke. Omar continued to live on for many years, thus he was able to see the beginning of Martha’s Dream.
It is possible that Martha’s idea of a nature sanctuary for everyone might not have been realized. By the time of Omar’s death there was little left in the trust to set up a sanctuary or to maintain the property. Thanks to David Ross, the manager of Martha’s trust, the Nature Sanctuary was incorporated on November 17, 1976. David contacted personnel from William Jewell College, the Ernest Shepherd Youth Memorial and the Burroughs Audubon Society to create the first Board of Directors, Articles of Incorporation, non-profit IRS status and By-laws.
Shortly after, the Rush Creek Conservation Area property came up for sale. The Missouri Department of Conservation stepped in, purchased the 46 acre parcel of land, leased it to the Sanctuary and created a new first partnership.
In 1988, a successful capital campaign raised enough to build the Nature Center. By 1994 it was clear that the center could no longer meet the growth of visitor demands for services. In April 1997, an addition was built on the north side of the Nature Center, more than doubling space for exhibits and programs. The timing was perfect: since 1996 our programming has increased by 97.6%!