Mary Jane Prokes, recipient of a We Honor Vets award, served for 18 years in the U.S. Air Force
As part of our ongoing coverage of the We Honor Vets program, this edition is honoring Mary Jane Prokes of Heber Springs. Mary Jane moved to Heber Springs from Texas in 1993 after serving 18 distinguished years in the United States Air Force with her then partner and later wife Sharon Prokes. During that time, the Prokes came to love Cleburne County and its caring people, and for the past 22 years were proud to call it their home. Although the years in Cleburne were happy ones, Mary Jane spent the last 11 years battling cancer. We had planned to interview her for this segment, but, sadly, she succumbed to the cancer on July 18 before the interview could take place. Her wife, Sharon, and their daughter, Angela, agreed to talk to The Sun-Times so we could bring you this segment of another American hero.
We sat in their beautiful living room, along with their extended family of dogs. "I met Mary Jane in May of 1991, and we got together in 1992 in Del Rio, Texas where she was stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base," said Sharon as we began the interview. When asked if this was a "love at first sight" situation, Sharon laughed and said, "No, I didn't like her. Didn't like her at all. I would tell my daughter, 'I wish she would quit talking to me.'" They met bowling in May 1991 and by September they had become friends and on the same bowling team. "She became my best friend and I fell in love with her." The happy couple said their vows to each other in a ceremony on February 13, 1993. For the next 16 years, they remained committed to those vows and in 2009 they traveled to Iowa and legally married. "To us though, our anniversary is still February 13," said Sharon.
Mary Jane was born in New Prague, Minn. in 1956. She served her country as a Security Police (SP) officer in the U.S. Air Force. During that time she was stationed in Grand Forks, Italy, Little Rock, Korea and eventually Del Rio. When Mary Jane and Sharon got together, military policy still officially forbade their relationship and, according to Sharon, told Mary Jane that she could retire early or she would be dishonorably discharged unless the relationship was terminated. "She chose me over the military," said Sharon. "We both gave up money to be together. It was tough but we made it because we were happy and who needs money as long as you're happy?" The Prokes then retired to a home in Cleburne that was bought by Mary Jane when she was stationed in Little Rock. In a testament to the kindness of the people of Cleburne County, they were welcomed and befriended by neighbors and newfound friends. "All our neighbors, doctors, and community all knew we were a couple and they didn't care. They liked us for us," said Sharon.
When asking personal stories about Mary Jane, one couldn't help but notice the love that would shine brightly on Sharon and Angela's face as they remembered and recounted stories of Mary Jane when she was alive. Although she isn't Mary Jane's biological daughter, Angela considers Mary Jane her mother just as if she were. "She treated me like I was hers," said Angela. "We would get up real early over on Cooterneck and go fishing and other stuff like that. I loved her like a mother."
Sharon's son recently gave them their first grandchild, Landon, who Mary Jane was fortunate to be able to meet before her passing. "That child made Mary Jane happier than anything," said Sharon.
In the past year, Mary Jane's health deteriorated until she eventually succumbed on July 18. "She knew she was dying," said Sharon. "On July 7, she wrote her own obituary and gave it to me and told me to give it to The Sun-Times." The obituary was published in the July 24 edition of The Sun-Times. Mary Jane left behind a family that, while understandably in mourning, still smiles and noticeably gets overcome with happiness when talking about her. "She's still here with me," said Sharon. "Her body left us, but she's still with us."
In closing the interview, Sharon offered up these words to the world about Mary Jane Prokes, "She was the sweetest, most gentle, easy-going person in the world. You would have never met a sweeter person than Mary Jane. Never in your whole life."