On a hot day at a Civil War reenactment years ago, Becky Thompson was selling her trademark soaps when a woman started complimenting her on her era-authentic dress.
“The woman loved Becky’s dress so much that she offered to buy it off her back,” recalls her friend Chris O’Connell. “So Becky sold it to her, sweat and all! People started to ask about her dress—she was only in her underpinnings now—and she would say that a Yankee came and stole her clothes.”
Thus began a tradition. Next to the tent where Becky would display her soaps for sale, she would put up a small tent just for fun, calling it the camp “brothel.”
“Sometimes she would dress up a little more scandalous, for the period,” O’Connell said. “But she loved to laugh about it and she would joke around with people.”
Rebecca “Becky” Thompson was 57 years old when she died on Dec. 28 from an aortic rupture, a complication of her recent dissection repair surgery.
“She loved Hawaii, and the morning she passed away we were sitting there talking about moving to Hawaii,” said Becky’s husband, Ken Thompson. “I left the room for a moment and when I came back, she was gone.”
Ken and Becky had been together for 16 years.
Perhaps better known as the Soap Lady, Becky created and ran San Benito Soap Works.
“She was going to these Civil War reenactments and she was trying to figure out a persona,” Ken said. “She knew she wanted to make something that was made back in the 1860s so she settled on soap. She first started making it for School Days demonstrations and people wanted to buy it from her. So we turned it into a business five years ago.”
Becky made all the soaps, balms, and lotions herself, sometimes beginning with fat bought from Paicines Ranch and rendered herself. She would work on making the soaps three days a week and market her products on the other days.
Larissa Gibbs had been working for Becky since the beginning of last year.
“I had not started with making soap yet—she was doing all that work herself,” Gibbs said. “She made 300 to 400 pounds a week. And that is in addition to the balms and lotions she made. Then we would sell at six farmer’s markets a week.”
One of Gibbs’ favorites in the product line was Becky’s “Titanic Soap.”
“It is a remake of the soap that was available in first class on the Titanic,” Gibbs said. “It is a super luxurious soap. She did a lot of research online and then played with it until she got something she liked.”
Becky enjoyed the challenge of reviving old soap recipes and creating new ones.
“She did a lot of experimentation,” Ken said. “People would come to her and say ‘Can you make this?’ and she would always say ‘Yes, I can!’ Then she would go home and research it and figure out how to make it for them.”
Her search for unique soaps took her at one point to B&R Farms, where she approached the owners with ideas for apricot-based products.
“She did a wonderful job for us, making apricot soaps, lip balm, and beard balm,” said B&R co-owner Mari Rossi. “She was one of our better vendors and right after Thanksgiving, we had been discussing her adding some new products. She always had a lot of enthusiasm and great ideas.”
Her passing left her customers and the community in shock.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook since she passed,” Gibbs said. “People are calling to tell me how much they loved her and asking if they can still buy her soaps.”
The San Benito County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a pop-up fundraiser, selling Becky’s soaps to help cover her final expenses. But San Benito Soap Works will not end with Becky’s passing.
“I want to continue the soap business,” Ken said. “I don’t know what form yet, but I want to keep it going as a tribute to her. Being the Soap Lady and running San Benito Soap Works was who she truly was. And I want to keep that going in some way, shape or form.”
Becky will be remembered for her kind heart and her sense of humor as much as for her unique soaps.
“She loved her family and was a devoted mother to her three children, Jared, Amanda, and Timothy, and grandmother to Jonathan, Hunter, and Jesse,” Ken said. “She had so many, many great friends who loved her and cared for her, and she always kept in touch with everybody. Once you met her, that was it—you were friends for life.”
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