Anyone who follows the Channel 27 News Facebook page would know that the Marion B&K root beer stand has been in the news the last few days and has received a lot of pushback from the community over a message they posted on their sign overlooking the bypass. The message was interpreted by the community and the Channel 27 team as being racist.
Following the debacle, we received plenty of comments and messages regarding the history of the family who has owned and operated B&K since its opening, so we decided to take a deep dive into that history and bring the Grant County community the full story, about which rumors have spread for years.
Robert Thompson and the Thompson family have owned and operated the B&K root beer stand in Marion ever since in opened in 1969/1970.
There have been numerous rumors spread around Grant County about Robert and the entire Thompson family for years, but we had the opportunity to speak with his daughter, Debbie Thompson Bobson, on a conference call Wednesday, and she told us the story, in her own words, about the type of man her father, Robert Thompson, truly is. She gave us permission to share these details with the rest of the community.
As is often talked about in the rumors, Robert disowned Debbie because of her relationship (and, later, marriage) with a black man named Paul Bobson. Debbie told us it has been 45 years since she and her father have had any type of meaningful contact. She and Paul had made the decision to leave Marion and Indiana altogether after being put through nothing less than hell by her father.
Not only did Robert disown his daughter for loving and marrying a black man, but he made sure Debbie’s entire family, both immediate and extended, had nothing to do with her. Sadly, because he was such an intimidating man, they all did as ordered. As a result, Debbie’s parents never met her children (their grandchildren), who are, obviously, bi-racial.
Debbie told us “it’s hard when you have kids,” because she had to come to terms with the fact that her parents had no desire to even meet their own grandkids, all because their dad is a black man. She also told us that, growing up, her children were “well respected” within the school system and were really great kids, which made the situation all the more heartbreaking.
While Debbie told us she was sad her parents never met her children, she said she and her husband would “never expose their kids to a possible situation where there would be harm done to them.”
According to Debbie, she says her parents never gave her husband or family a chance, and she says that’s her greatest regret. She says her father made it clear, not only to the family but the entire community, that “she had to stay out of his way,” and that’s exactly what she did — she and her husband, Paul, first moved to California, and they now reside in Nevada.
When asked how things were in her father’s household while growing up, Debbie told us a story about something that happened when she was in high school and around 13 or 14 years-old. It was nighttime, and Robert told the whole family to get in the car. Debbie said she thought they were simply going on a family drive, but her father drove until they pulled up outside of a barn, which appeared to be their destination that night.
Debbie explained that the family was led through the barn, and on the other side, they were met with burning crosses and men dressed in white robes. She told us she’s not sure whether or not her dad was an actual member of the Klan, but she suspects that he was being recruited, at the very least.
One of the reasons Debbie says she stayed away from her father and family is because she has lived in fear of him for the last 45 years, and she had good reason to be scared — Robert Thompson threatened Debbie’s and her family’s lives many times.
Debbie told us that, at one point, her father made it clear that he would rather see his daughter dead than dating (or marrying) a black man.
We asked Debbie if the rumor was true about her father threatening her with a gun, and she said, hesitantly, that yes, that did happen.
Debbie told us, with some encouragement from her daughter, Brandi, about the time her father threatened her with a gun and even assaulted her. She and her future husband were visiting with his parents in Marion, and when they went to leave the home, Robert “jumped” Debbie in the front yard.
Robert grabbed Debbie by the hair. He had a gun in his hand. Robert shot the gun towards Paul, and then he proceeded to use the pistol to beat Debbie. While continuing to beat her, Robert dragged Debbie down 2nd Street, then managed to throw her into his truck.
Debbie tried to escape by jumping out of Robert’s truck, when a man outside of Waylon’s saw her and called the police.
She filed a police report about the entire incident, and, at first, the police seemed interested in investigating the case, but as soon as they found out Robert had beaten her because she was dating a black man, they decided to not get involved in the case and said that was an issue for the family to work out on their own.
As a result of the beating, Debbie suffered both a concussion and injuries to her face, which she described by saying “my face was messed up real bad.”
It was after this event that Debbie and Paul decided to move to California. The family later returned to Marion, and their children attended Marion High School, but they had no connection with the Thompson family during that time. In 2013, the Bobsons left Marion again, and they now live in Nevada.
Because of her father, Debbie told us she was not even allowed to come back home for her mother’s funeral when she passed away. However, when she came home last summer and went to visit her mother’s grave, she somehow managed to visit the grave at the exact same time her father was there. She told us that was the first time she had seen her dad in 45 years, and he didn’t even recognize her.
While she lived in fear of her father most of her life, Debbie says she’s not as frightened of him today, because he’s now 80 years-old and suffers from dementia. Nevertheless, she still chooses to not be involved in his or her other family members’ lives.
That’s why, when we asked about the most recent events at the Marion B&K, she didn’t have a lot of answers, but she told us what she thinks.
Robert Thompson, as far as she knows, still owns the Marion B&K, even though it seems to be currently run by a man named Michael Thompson. Debbie herself does not know how Michael fits into the family, but because he shares the same last name, it seems he is possibly Robert’s son and Debbie’s brother. There have been rumors spread around the county about whether or not Michael Thompson could actually be Robert’s son, though, because it appears that Michael might be bi-racial.
Michael’s race does come into play in this story, because on Tuesday, the Marion B&K posted the message “All Lives Matter” on the stand’s sign on the bypass. The message did not sit well with many Marion residents, as “All Lives Matter” is usually spoken in an attempt to deflect and take away from the cry of “Black Lives Matter.”
In response to the sign’s message, black protesters went to B&K Tuesday night, holding Black Lives Matter signs and making the message clear that “all lives don’t matter until black lives matter.” The protesters, who were mostly young black girls, were met by a large group of white bikers with guns, who showed up simply to intimidate the protesters and chanted “black rifles matter.”
Our own Richarh Tyson showed up at the protest, as well, to stand between the two groups. He also went live on Facebook, in an attempt to prevent violence from breaking out, or to at least catch any incident that did occur on video. Marion Police Department officers were present, but they seemed to keep their distance and simply observed the situation.
Here is Richarh’s live video from the protest:
Someone at B&K decided to change the sign out front four different times, in response to the pushback they received. First, the sign changed from “All Lives Matter” to “Peace and Love to All,” then to “Black Lives Matter,” and back again to “Peace and Love to All.” It’s not clear what’s currently on their sign, as of Wednesday evening.
Debbie says she wonders if Michael could be taking advantage of Robert’s age and health, especially since he often tells people that he owns the Marion B&K.
Nevertheless, her message today was clear: “racism is still thriving in Marion.” She said nothing much has changed, in either the community or her own family, and the people who decided to show up and support the business after the sign backlash (and there were a lot of them) showed who they truly are.
More than anything, Debbie said she was just upset over the whole sign debacle. She asked, “why put anything up? But ‘all lives matter’? You’re just promoting the racism.” However, it seemed to us that she really wasn’t surprised by what happened, and she said that the business definitely sent a message.
Because of her father’s age and condition, she says she doubts he even knows what’s going on, with the B&K sign or the Black Lives Matter movement, so she believes all of this falls back on Michael.
She said people have always told her, “I’m sorry, but I love B&K,” and to that Debbie says go right ahead — support the business if you want to, don’t let me stop you, because the stuff between her and her family took place years ago, and she now sees it all as being over and done.
She says, “I forgave them years ago so I could go on with my life… [M]y prayers are God has forgave them and me!”
Despite all of the drama and hatred from the Thompson family, Debbie and Paul have remained married for 43 years, they raised two kids together, and they currently live in Nevada.
Those of us at Channel 27 News want to say thank you to Debbie Bobson and her daughter, Brandi, for being so brave, for sharing their story with us, and for wanting to put decades of rumors to rest, while educating the community about the family behind such a longstanding establishment.