In Memory of Mike Thompson
In Memory of Mike ThompsonMike Thompson was a dirty medallion.
Ordinary on the outside, gold bullion within. He was a mentor, Rolling Stones freak, runner, and proponent of hope. He decoded hops and barley tastebud data at Tröegs, The Warwick, and the Penn Hotel. He was a quiet rebel that followed the northern lights of his heart. He spearheaded career development at Middletown Area High School and across the state of Pennsylvania. He was authentic. He was my spirit animal.
Never saying the word “hate” was law in Mike’s home. It was something evil. He taught Sara, Andrew and Kelly to never judge others. He knew that everyone has different life experiences, diverse backgrounds, and different wounds. Mike’s golden rule was to never pass judgment. Unconditional acceptance of others. Always.
Mike lectured at many Pennsylvania colleges. He went Doberman and blasted the issue of exploding tuition, promoting cost-effective solutions. He noticed the wealthiest areas of the state were often the last ones to care about going to college with a declared major. He didn’t view these places as worried because rich students were going to attend college, improvise a plan, and finish with no debt. The best places Mike ran into were the poorest districts. These schools are forced to make plans for kids before they graduate.
He trained countless school districts, including Derry Township, Lower Dauphin and Palmyra. He helped build a K-12 career development guidance plan with administrations and their counselors. He trained educators at the Capital Area Intermediate Unit “IU15” and the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center.
Mike established the “Pathways” program, which dialed into a student’s gift and presented them with a range of post-secondary options once they unlocked their calling. The concept of this model is to help kids develop skills and then help them connect the dots before they graduate, to be a good consumer of what’s happening after high school. “The idea is to not settle for one way because someone told you that’s what you should do,” Mike said. He gave a mammoth push to skilled training and the trades.
Shadow Day was Mike’s creation, recognized statewide. It’s a networking event that continues at Middletown, pairing students with professional counterparts for an afternoon. If a student showed promise as a writer, Mike would pair them as an understudy with a Patriot News journalist. If they had a passion for computers, he would pair them with a senior software developer. Mike tapped every connection he had in order to ringbolt kids to working professionals. Students could ask questions about how demanding the career was, what their work/life balance was like, and if training could be achieved on a budget.
Mike watered the seeds of personal and educational growth. Students conducted mock interviews, learned networking skills, and researched innovative employers. He would issue and analyze personality and aptitude tests. If therapy was needed, Mike offered support by using cognitive behavioral techniques. He remembered being a teenager. His favorite Alice Cooper lyric was “I got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart / Took 18 years to get this far.” Mike didn’t have dripping black eyes, but he was the front man of scaling brick wall challenges.
Mike Thompson was a father, brother, friend, and grandfather. His heart was wide open. He liked Penn State football and rooted for the Middletown Blue Raiders. He loved the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh. He could navigate without a GPS. When coronavirus put an end to his haircuts, Mike sent his stylist a check for several trims that never happened. He did the right thing and kept it a secret.
Mike had no ego and never talked about himself. Instead, he did something rare: he listened. When conversing, he wanted to learn. He did not spin the topic into a monologue about himself. If someone was venting about work, he did not steal that moment.
Mike coached runners. He taught them that discipline equals freedom. His team members were regular people, looking to improve. Sometimes Yellow Breeches Creek was the finish line of a long run. He planted exquisite beer at the end zone, the reward for hard work. Since the waters were international, Messiah College couldn’t push their dry policy. His life rested on balance: running, healthy foods with a whisper of cheat days, trying new things, meeting new people, networking, helping others.
I moved to Los Angeles to capture my dream in 2009. Before long, things became very difficult. Mike put me in touch with his wonderful sister Julie, who lives in Ojai. When I visited, she handed me a business card which belonged to a television producer she knew. “George is the big time,” she said. I called the number, and my life got better. Mike and Julie were wellsprings of many blessings.
When I was a Middletown student, Mike and I bonded over Randy Rhoads. Randy was a virtuoso guitarist that died in a plane crash in 1982. He was 25 years old. Mike Thompson saw Randy play live with Ozzy Osbourne. For two hours, he stood in The Temple of the Sacred Groove. I was fascinated when he told me about the concert. Years later, Mike vacationed in California and visited me for a day. We zoomed past Burbank High School, Randy’s alma mater. “We must be close to where he lived,” Mike said. I knew where Randy grew up. How convenient. The car rolled through a tree-dazzled neighborhood, shouldered with bread-and-butter homes. The brakes gave a small squeak and we viewed a sepia house, plain and frayed. The driveway was caked with crunchy brown leaves, curled and sunburned and forgotten.
The front door shot open and Randy’s brother marched out. Grizzled, bloodthirsty for privacy. He gave us a look that could have gutted a tundra wolf. We flipped the switches of the time machine, and it was 1977 again. Smoky and the Bandit. Squealing tires, gooey molten asphalt. Gone.
On April 26, Mike Thompson went to Heaven. He was the guy. The mentor, the coach, the poet laureate of hope. Mike touched many lives, but he autographed mine in gold bullion.
----- Thank you Hummelstown Sun for permission to reprint.