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It started in February 1947—Loveland’s iconic Valentine Remailing Program, that is, not the story of Ted and Mabel Thompson; they’d already been married for years. It started with local postmaster Elmer Ivers, but it wouldn’t have continued without Loveland’s “sweetheart couple,” who co-chaired the program for 42 years and their 61-year love- and tragedy-filled marriage.
Loveland is best known as the town that stamps valentines with a special design featuring a young cowboy (Dan Cupid) and a Valentine’s Day verse. Lovers all over the world send their valentines through Loveland to get that coveted postmark hand-stamped onto their envelopes. But early on the program was failing. Ivers needed help promoting it, and so he called upon a local couple-about-town, Ted and Mabel Thompson, for help.
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“[Ted] was such a brilliant guy in marketing, and he and Mabel were known as an entity couple in the community—that’s how they got that label of sweetheart couple,” says Mindy McCloughan, president of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of the remailing program for the past eight years.
Ted and Mabel’s story begins in Grand Junction, where he managed the Avalon Theater and she worked for the Public Service Co. Ted was smitten in an instant; he asked Mabel to marry him on their second date. They wed in Mesa, Colorado, on Ted’s birthday, February 22, 1931, and in 1935 they moved to Loveland so Ted could manage the town’s Rialto Theater.
The couple made fast friends and became involved in their new community. In 1937, they opened the Falls Inn family restaurant (which closed during World War II due to gas rations), followed by the Dude Corral restaurant, motel, and gift shop complex. The Dude Corral was huge for Loveland.
“It was the place to go to eat. Back in the ’50s there weren’t fast food places like McDonald’s, you know,” says Norma Jean Goodheart, who drove Mabel (she never learned to drive) to various events around town near the end of her life in the early 1990s.
Besides being a popular local hangout, Dude Corral is credited with being one of the first restaurants in the country to offer a kids’ menu. The Thompsons loved kids—that young cowboy on the annual stamp design? That was Ted’s idea—but they never had any of their own, at least not any who made it past infancy. This is the tragic part of their story.
Mabel gave birth to two daughters, Elizabeth in 1938 and Jean in 1942. Both passed away as babies. Always an optimist, Mabel found another way to channel her motherly instincts and care. In 1962, the couple started the Miss Loveland Valentine contest and scholarship foundation, crowning a senior girl from one of Loveland’s high schools each year. The program lives on via Goodheart, who’s been a volunteer chaperone for 27 years now.
“Mabel acted as escort, mom, and role model for the young girls,” Goodheart says.
A 1994 article in the Loveland Reporter-Herald, “Mabel mom to 32 ‘daughters,’” describes the couple as surrogate parents to the Miss Loveland Valentines they’d chaperone around the state to promote the remailing program. Mabel treated the girls like family, staying in touch with many of them through the years and even becoming a sort of grandmother to their children.
They were quite the couple. Called “the wind beneath the wings of so many in this community” by Rev. Harvey Ruegsegger at Mabel’s memorial service, Ted and Mabel spent decades coordinating parades and rodeos; were integral in developing roads, Loveland’s first airport, and key water projects; and served on more boards and committees than anyone wants to read about—all on top of their lifelong dedication to the remailing and Miss Valentine programs. Former Gov. Richard Lamb declared February 22, 1981 as Ted and Mabel Thompson Day in honor of their volunteer work.
Ted died on February 26, 1992 and Mabel followed on June 2, 1994. The couple’s presence is still felt throughout Loveland—commemorated in a bronze memorial of them holding hands at Thompson Park, in an upstairs exhibit at the Loveland Museum, and in all the special projects and events they created throughout their six decades of marriage. None more romantic, though, than the Valentine Remailing Program, the perfect legacy for this sweetheart couple.