Kansas City businesswoman and mother Ethel Turner dies
Editor’s note: This feature is part of a weekly The Star focus intended to highlight and remember the lives of deceased Black Kansas citizens.
Ethel Turner loved proving people wrong.
When she wanted to become a real estate agent as a mother of four middle-aged children, some people – even her loving husband whom she married at 17 – cautiously warned her that it might be too big a business, recalled Turner’s daughter, Leslie Chandler. . She had only recently started working at General Motors in Kansas City, Kansas, after being laid off from her 20-year job at the Lake City Ammunition Center. She never went to college, holding only a GED equivalency, Chandler said.
But with persistence, she got a job with a real estate company and, after getting an idea of the job, Turner realized she could make more money if she got a broker’s license, Chandler said during a telephone interview. Turner took the classes she needed and focused on starting a business she could call her own.
In the 1970s, she opened the Turner Realty Company with the help of her husband, Percy Turner Jr., who was more than confident in his wife at this point.
Later, at the suggestion of his wife, Percy Turner Jr. started a pest control business, Turner Pest Control, turning his longtime stampede into a full-fledged operation. She also got her pest control license and ran the business with him.
“She was always one of the people who stood in the background, but she was very strong and very strong in her beliefs,” Chandler said. “If she decided to do something, she did it all the way.”
Turner, a self-taught entrepreneur and businesswoman who in her twilight years remained a devoted mother, grandmother and great-grandmother in the face of growing health obstacles, died June 16, said his family. She was 84 years old.
Chandler, who resides in St. Louis, has made an effort to see her mother almost weekly for the past few months, with four-hour commutes starting to feel like a repetitive blur, she said. Turner battled diabetes and the lingering effects of a stroke, both of which were exacerbated by a pandemic that forced her to miss physical therapy.
Linda Gray, Turner’s 63-year-old niece from Kansas City, noticed during her regular visits how Turner’s husband did everything she did but couldn’t do anymore. He cooked dinner for her every night, combed her hair. He told her, Gray said, “Don’t worry about seeing, I’ll see for you.”
Turner made sure to smile during her final weeks and days.
“She was a shining light no matter what,” Gray said. “Even when you did something wrong and she picked on you, she always did it with a smile.”
Born November 20, 1937, in Paris, Texas, Turner was the third child in her family, growing up with an older brother and sister, plus a younger sister. Their father had a job that took him, and sometimes them, across the country; when Turner was 3, they moved to Kansas City, Kansas.
Their mother sometimes homeschooled them, Chandler said, and preached the importance of education. But Turner did not graduate from high school and married at the age of 17, in December 1955.
Turner’s mother died within hours of the wedding, suffering a heart attack at the most unthinkable moment. The young bride was helped by her new husband.
“They were really strong on that,” Gray said. “You would think she would feel bad on her birthday, but he gave her a lot of wisdom.”
Two years later, the couple had their first child, marking the start of their life as parents. Turner, however, did not stop pursuing her career goals, first working for Lake City Ammunition before moving to General Motors, where her husband was already employed.
Her mind turned to real estate when her children hit their teens and didn’t need the same help. She thought about her future and the example she wanted to set for her children, and did everything she could to make her dream come true.
In the beginning, the family says, Turner Realty had four or five homes. He eventually managed 40 properties.
She was reflecting on her own experiences when she suggested her husband start a pest control business.
“He was working for somebody else doing pest control,” Chandler said, “and she said, ‘Why would you need to work for somebody else when we can own our own? pest control company?
Chandler — who now runs her own pest control business in St. Louis with her husband — remembers his mother taking them on trips to clients. The thing that struck her the most, she said, was her ability to listen with full attention, making the person feel heard and feel special.
It was the same thing she did at home too, like at Christmas, when she made sure that all of her immediate and extended family members had presents, no matter what. If there was a certain shirt or sweater her sons had, for example, she would make sure her nephews had the same, Chandler said. Gray considered his aunt the “unofficial Santa Claus of their family”.
Gray’s mother had health issues when she was young, and Turner took on a much bigger role in raising her, becoming like a mother to her. She was, for Gray, a calm and constant source of inspiration in his life.
“She carried herself gracefully throughout,” Gray said. “I called her ‘Miss Gracefully’.”
‘Right now I am free’
One of Chandler’s favorite stories about his mother comes from his cousin. When they were all kids, the cousin was playing around some Turner family furniture and accidentally spilled nail polish remover on it, washing off some of the polish. The girl was afraid of getting into trouble, Chandler said; Turner, however, never said anything to her.
It was not in her nature to yell at her loved ones, as the cousin expressed when she told the story at Turner’s funeral service.
Chandler read a poem to the service she had found online and felt captured by her mother. The first lines read:
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free
I’m the path God made for me
Some time after the ceremony, Chandler was rummaging through his mother’s belongings and made the startling discovery that she had long since cut the exact same poem out of a journal and put it away safely.
The parallel thinking incident made her feel special, the same way her mother always made people feel.
“We had no idea she wanted it already,” Chandler said of the poem.
Turner is survived by her husband, Turner Jr.; daughters, Chandler and Joyce Morrison; and several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other family members.