This Encore Found Her Second Act As a Massage Therapist
“We Boomers aren’t going to go down easy. We’ll be kicking and clawing.”
So says Mary Jo Thompson, referring to the way in which many folks today view their Encore years -- as an opportunity to actively engage again and in other ways that contribute to the common good.
But just to be clear, Mary Jo has no intentions of literally using those kinds of moves on you, as she’s much more inclined to engage you with massage therapy techniques that now define her workaday world.
A native of West Michigan, Mary Jo grew up in the Godwin Heights school district, graduating from high school there in 1965. Married and divorced early on, she raised two children largely by herself, while pecking away at classes that earned her a philosophy degree from Thomas Jefferson College, then one of the options offered by Grand Valley State University.
She moved to California with a girlfriend who also had two youngsters in tow and the six of them lived together while Mary Jo tried her hand at selling autos. After eventually moving back to Michigan, she worked as an accounts manager for a major auto manufacturer.
Upon nearing age 50, however, she looked into a crystal ball and realized she wanted something altogether different.
“Somehow, I always knew I wanted to do this, even as a kid” she says, of a decision to enter Blue Heron Academy in Grand Rapids toward certification as a licensed massage therapist. It’s a job she’s enjoyed since 1998, so the better part of two decades.
“I just love it,” she announces from Cascade Therapeutic Massage, in a suite inside an office building at 4500 Cascade Road SE. It’s there where Mary Jo enjoys a steady stream of clientele, in part because she focuses on “detail work.”
“I don’t skim over the body parts, but really work the toes, the hands, the ears and neck.” She incorporates everything from hot stones to Reiki techniques as needed and specializes in pre-and post-natal massage for moms bringing newborns into the world.
Among those she’s served is actor Ed Asner, who was in Grand Rapids and required a massage when he visited. “You know bodies and how to heal them,” he testified in a note to Mary Jo.
When she’s not making others well again, you can find Mary Jo spending quality time with friends or her grandkids and great-grandkids. But one thing you won’t find her doing much is taking it easy.
Her advice for men and women seeking a new direction in their lives? “Start volunteering. Get out there where there are people who could use some help rather than sitting on the couch and feeling blue and wondering how much longer you’re going to be here.”
Mary Jo practices what she preaches, signing up to volunteer her services as a massage therapist at different venues around town, most recently at a workshop offered inside the nearby Forest Hills Fine Arts Center.
Even if you can’t volunteer, she recommends doing something in the company of others: "Take a walk in the mall,” she says. “Or get on the bus and ride it to the end of the line and back again. We all need to keep moving.”