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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Fort Thomas Native, Mary Jo Stolle Cropper, comes to life in new biography

Mary Jo Stolle Cropper, a Fort Thomas native, is featured in a new biography written by local author Janice Hisle.

A woman who spent her early years in Fort Thomas—and still has family connections here—is featured in a new biography that benefits the medical facility she helped establish to detect and treat breast cancer.

The inspirational story of Mary Jo Stolle Cropper, who has ties to Fort Thomas’ large, well-known Pendery family, unfolds in a new biography, A Comforting Light: Cancer Crusader Mary Jo Cropper & Her Legacy of Hope (2020, Orange Frazer Press).

The book tells how family and friendships intertwined with faith and fate, culminating in a lasting legacy: The Mary Jo Cropper Family Center for Breast Care. A leading-edge facility responsible for many “firsts” in the Greater Cincinnati region, the Center, located in Montgomery, served about 60,000 people last year. 

The book, which was released in advance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is raising funds for the Center. In the two weeks since the book’s release, sales of the book and additional contributions have generated more than $6,000 for the Center, says Cropper’s niece, Cathy Chasteen, a breast cancer survivor who enlisted award-winning author and former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Janice Hisle to tell Cropper’s life story.

The book also traces Cropper’s fascinating family history—a tradition of entrepreneurship, philanthropy and altruism that began with a Fort Thomas native, Cropper’s father, Ralph J. Stolle.

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In the early 1900s, Stolle grew up in a working-class family on Southgate Avenue, and literally married the girl next door, Dorothy Judkins. Stolle’s sisters, Charlotte and Irma, married brothers, Paul and Roy Pendery, all of whom are now deceased. Their descendants, including Campbell County Judge/Executive Steve Pendery, maintain a strong presence in Fort Thomas.

Through sheer will and ingenuity, Stolle became a successful businessman and inventor. He developed machinery that revolutionized the beverage industry, enabling manufacture of easy-open pull-tabs on metal cans for beer and soda pop.

Stolle amassed enough wealth to buy a 3,000-square-foot home that still stands today at 21 Carolina Ave. in Fort Thomas; that is where his three daughters, Sandy, Gail and Mary Jo spent most of their childhood years.

Stolle amassed enough wealth to buy a 3,000-square-foot home that still stands today at 21 Carolina Ave. in Fort Thomas; that is where his three daughters, Sandy, Gail and Mary Jo spent most of their childhood years. The family later moved to a farm in Lebanon, Ohio, closer to some of Stolle’s business ventures.

While the Stolles rose to prominence, the family also weathered serious illnesses, including cancer. In fact, the patriarch had a brush with death that changed the course of his life. Stolle suffered from tuberculosis in 1928-29, when he was in his 20s; in gratitude for surviving TB, Stolle devoted his life to serving others. Today, that lung disease remains “the leading infectious cause of death worldwide,” despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, according to The TB Alliance. 

Stolle spent millions of dollars researching human health, including cancer—a disease that later killed him and afflicted all three of his daughters. Although Mary Jo passed away, her two sisters, Sandy Perry and Gail Norris, fought less-severe cases of the disease. Both still going strong in their 80s, Perry and Norris have continued to support their sister’s legacy. They live in Centerville, Ohio, near Dayton. 

In a recent interview, Perry says she still considers Fort Thomas to be her hometown and has enjoyed get- togethers with the Pendery family at holidays. Although the area looks very different now than it did during her childhood in the 1940s and ‘50s, Perry sometimes drives along Carolina Avenue to reminisce.

Her sister, Mary Jo Cropper, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, while she was a teacher in the Lebanon City Schools. While undergoing chemotherapy, Cropper continued to teach—and, following her father’s example, went on a mission to help others. In 2000, Cropper co-chaired Warren County’s first Relay for Life. That event raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. In 2002, she was re-diagnosed with cancer; in the nine years that followed, she continued working on behalf of others with cancer. 

She decided to make a $1 million gift to establish the Center that is named in honor of her family.

Open since 2009, the Center provides routine screening exams and also acts as a “one-stop-shop” that coordinates care for women—and men—who have breast cancer and other breast health problems. The Cropper Center became a model for similar facilities across the nation, TriHealth officials said. In fact, the Center created momentum that helped propel Bethesda North’s $80 million expansion. The 140,000-square-foot Thomas Comprehensive Care Center, which now also houses the Cropper Center, was completed earlier this year. The Thomas building also includes The Robert C. Cropper Care Center, in honor of Cropper’s husband, who succumbed to kidney failure in 2018.

About a year and a half after the Center opened, Cropper passed away; she was 69. Her family couldn’t be prouder of the legacy she left; the book tells her story now, almost a decade after her passing.

As quoted in the book, Cropper’s son, Spencer, said, “Her million-dollar investment has paid dividends far beyond anything she ever would have expected. I wish she could have seen the return on her investment. She would just be in awe.”

For more information on A Comforting Light: Cancer Crusader Mary Jo Cropper & Her Legacy of Hope, click here.

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