Thompson shares story of life, love, music and beating cancer

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By Ron Benningfield

 Steve Thompson could give lessons to whoever said, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Just when he was living the good life with success in music and real estate, he was besieged with a deluge of drawbacks, including two bouts of cancer and a disastrous economic downturn that would have caused most people to lose hope… but not Thompson.

“The victory is in the fight,” the 53-year-old former Michigan resident said.

Thompson was born in New York City but the family moved to a very rural Michigan farm in 1967.

 “We were a real “Green Acres” family,” he said, referring to the 1960s television comedy about city folks adjusting to country life.  “My dad, a retired Air Force pilot, grew up on a farm in Illinois, but my mother, a city-girl, wanted to stay in Manhattan and would cry every time she saw an animal on our farm.”

When Thompson was but a tyke, his grandfather presented him with a half-size guitar that matched his young frame. He learned quickly, not only how to play the guitar but almost any instrument he picked up. 

“My mom played piano and dad, the cornet, so playing instruments came easy for me,” he said. 

At age 12, he won a national competition by playing a trumpet and while still a child performed in many arenas including France.

He majored in trumpet at college and received a bachelor’s degree in music performance. His talent didn’t go unnoticed and soon he was grooving on the Motown sound and meeting important people in the business including Motown founder Berry Gordy and instrumentalist/vocalist Stevie Wonder.

Thompson started a classic rock band in Grand Rapids and when he placed an ad for a bass player, a particularly talented young lady bassist auditioned.

 “Penny was amazing,” he said. “Not only was she talented, I fell for her and we were married.”

Their band toured from 1979-1986.  Stars with whom they performed included Vince Gill and Pure Prairie League.

“We had a following in Louisville and Cincinnati and a huge one in Texas,” he said. “We opened for Aerosmith, Eddie Money and others.”

One morning, however, his wife noticed a mole on his shoulder with an unusual shape and a red ring beneath it.  She told him he had better have it checked.

 “I didn’t think much about it for I had never had any problems,” he said, “but the doctor shocked me when he told me it was stage three melanoma.”

The physician warned him that the hustle and bustle and stress of life on the road had to stop if he wanted to live and, almost immediately, he put his music, and much of his life, on hold.

“Cancer sure took me off the grid,” he said, “but by the grace of God we made it.”

Taking a hiatus from music, he entered real estate and construction enterprises which thrived, with his eventually owning four businesses.

Things were once again going smoothly when, in 2008, the bottom dropped out of the real estate market.

That same year, cancer had reappeared, this time in his colon. He also underwent six back surgeries.

“I often heard the darkest hour is just before dawn, and I thought surely dawn must be near because it couldn’t get any darker,” he said.

Starting over … again

As he had done in 1986, however, he started over … again.

“I have a brother who lives in Bowling Green,” he said. “He publishes The Sporting Timesand works with ESPN and I decided to see if I could try sports and be close to family, too.”

As he was coming through the area from Michigan, Thompson happened to stop at The Sweet Shoppe in Hodgenville. 

“When I went in, of course I didn’t know anybody there and they didn’t know me, but within a few minutes, six people were talking to me,” he said. “I thought this must be the place to live if people here are this friendly.”

He hosts several ESPN programs for local radio stations 101.5 FM and 1430 A.M.

“ESPN is so nationally oriented, we want to make it more grass roots,” he said.

Each weekday he hosts a one-hour sports call-in show. He also has a coaches show where he has interviewed such local mentors as LaRue County High School’s football Josh Jaggers, wrestling coach Gary Canter and principal Paul Mullins.

“I encourage our listeners to contact me and let me know what they like, don’t like, and what they think,” he said. 

“My roots are set here in Hodgenville and LaRue County now and here’s where I plan to stay,” Thompson said.

Returning to his beloved music as a teacher, he gives lessons — vocal, percussion, string instruments and horns — from his home. His e-mail is Steveman433@gmail.com.

He also takes time to talk with and counsel people who may be down and out because of circumstances they’ve experienced.

“Having your world seemingly fall around you is nothing to be afraid of,” he said.