By Amee Bohrer
Linda Jabara was a happily married mother of two young boys when military personnel from McConnell Air Force Base knocked on her door. She was informed that her husband, Staff Sgt. Robert J. Thomas, had been killed in a missile silo accident. The date was Aug. 24, 1978.
“It was my 28th birthday, and I had big dreams,” Jabara remembers.
Jabara coped with her grief through a combination of faith, family and ambition. She turned a part-time business she’d started a few months earlier, as a saleswoman for Mary Kay, into a full-time pursuit.
“I kept myself busy,” she said. “I had lots of support.”
Jabara, 70, celebrated 43 years with Mary Kay on March 6. A sales director since 1993, Jabara has earned the use of 14 of the famed “career cars,” a prize for the multilevel marketing company’s highest earners. She leads a group of 60 saleswomen called “Linda’s Ladder Climbers.”
Her oldest son, Scott Thomas of Andover, remembers losing his father and what came next. He was 5 years old and just starting kindergarten. His brother, Michael, was 2.
“Our house was mom’s business, like a store,” Thomas said. “Every day we had a list we had to do. Mom building her business made me realize we had to participate in the daily routine.”
Thomas, a car salesman for 22 years, says he learned how to sell and to take responsibility for himself from his mother.
“She is very good at prospecting. Everywhere we went, she wasn’t afraid to meet people. She was handing out cards and booklets. We thought it was annoying, but now I understand she was working.”
When Thomas moved out at 18 to attend Butler Community College in El Dorado, he knew how to cook, clean and do his laundry. His first roommate did not.
Linda’s entrepreneurial streak wasn’t out of character, although her outgoing personality took a while to develop. Growing up on a farm as the oldest of seven children, Jabara took her first job as a shy 15-year-old, making 75 cents an hour at Peter Pan Ice Cream. She gained confidence and discovered her talent for sales while working at David’s, a department store that specialized in sporting goods.
A new chapter in Jabara’s life opened in 1980, when she and a girlfriend went to a club called The Far Side on Harry Street. She met Marine Cpl. Paul F. Jabara.
“He had big hair and he was cute,” she said.
Paul, who’d served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971, remembers that night as well. Both cite the date — March 1, 1980 — when talking separately.
“I kept hearing these two girls giggling and asked her for a dance,” Paul said. “It was kind of like the Lord put me there.”
The two married in 1982. Paul had always wanted a girl. Their daughter, Heather Seifer, now lives in Bel Aire with her family.
Encouraged by Linda, Paul started an auto detail supply business. Linda often joins him on business trips.
“She likes to have someone to talk to, and I listen,” Paul said. “I’m easy to get along with.”
The two enjoy riding bikes, going to the movies and relaxing in their backyard hot tub. Both say their Catholic faith is extremely important to them.
They’ve lived in their home for 39 years. Many Wichitans go there to place and receive orders for Mary Kay cosmetics.
In the foyer are wedding photos of their children and other photos depicting milestones of their five grandchildren. And, naturally, there’s a photo of Linda with Mary Kay Ash, founder of the company with which Linda built her career.
“As long as people are buying, I’m not retiring,” Jabara said. “I enjoy taking care of people.”
Contact Amee Bohrer at email@example.com.