Thelma Jaunita Gourley was born October 28, 1924 to parents Bessi and Bartley Butler in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. She recalls her father worked full time for the US Forestry Service and her mother stayed home for odd jobs and that they petted their children but while they were out working she stayed with her grandparents. Thelma grew up in a big household with six other siblings: Arnold, Esther, Neil, Sue Sible, and Esten all of which obediently completed daily chores such as gathering water for cooking, bathing, and laundry, keeping house and babysitting. She only attended grammar school and never received a graduate education. Even though she recollects that her childhood was hard and that she grew up poor, Thelma never forgets the good relationships between her parents and siblings.
At a young age Thelma married Arvel Roe Gourley and had eight children together from oldest to youngest: Mary Lou, James Edward, Charles Ray (deceased), Barbara Ailene, Linda Sue (deceased), Caroline Jennet, Jerry, and Debra Annett. One old doctor named Doc Rodgers, and occasionally a woman named Molly Queen delivered all of the babies in the home on the mountain of Rafter. They supported their children in the summers by working at Stokelys Cannery in Tellico Plains, and in the winter by the food they grew, harvested, and preserved themselves along with milk from one cow. While the parents were out working, the children stayed home and looked after themselves and the farm.
Thelma was a constant source of faith to her family as she read the Bible to them every night and at times would play guitar while her children sang traditional country hymns at the Quakers Church, which is now called Rafter Chapel. Life was not easy even during her adult years as she made all of her childrens clothes from flour and feed sacks that would sometimes have little patterns or flowers on them. They grew up without the luxury of air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and had to walk long distances to fetch water from the spring.
In 1952, the Gourley family moved to Tellico Plains where the kids went to school and Thelma worked at a sewing plant until her husband Arvel, who worked full time at the US Forestry Service became disabled and she quit her job. He suffered from having mini-strokes and her children recall her loving devotion that when he passed from a stroke at age 59, she has just been sad ever since. None of the kids left home, except one, and during the last decade Thelma has been transitioning from one of their houses to another, taking care of her.
In 2010 She was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia where the doctors suggested that she be enlisted in a nursing home to take the stress off the family and off of Thelma for moving so much. She was placed in the care of East Tennessee Health Care Center in 2011 where her only living sibling, Esten still visits and her family makes sure she is always comfortable and well kept. Since then she has had six stints placed in her heart and battles arthritis and dementia nevertheless continues to crochet and give strangers her completed hard work. Thelma is a tough but softhearted woman who by faith worked selflessly hard, raised a loving family, and continues to touch the hearts of those around her. If you ask her about Heaven she will tell you where she knows she is going to be with her husband and family again. Thelma was placed in Hospice care this summer and continues to have good days and bad days.