When Brittany Thompson picks up her piccolo to play in the UNLV Symphonic Wind Ensemble, it’s the same piccolo her mother played in that same group in the late ’80s. Brittany always has enjoyed knowing that her instrument is a family heirloom, but that connection took on a deeper meaning last year when her mother, Lana Slater Thompson, ’96 BA Education, ’01 Master of Education, died unexpectedly in her sleep from natural causes at the age of 45.
Brittany, a 21-year-old psychology major, said though it was tempting to take a break to deal with her grief, she knew her mother would want her to continue her studies — especially at UNLV, which has played such an important role in the life of the Thompson family.
Now the Thompsons, including Brittany’s father Donny, ’90 BA Music, and 16-year-old brother Ryan, who plays the clarinet in the band at Arbor View High School, will be honored during this year’s homecoming festivities as the 2015 Honorary Rebel Family. The trio will ride in the homecoming parade and be recognized at halftime during the football game. And, no doubt, Lana will be there in spirit.
Anthony LaBounty, the university’s associate director of bands, directs Brittany today and remembers well when her parents were band members. Donny played timpani and xylophone, while Lana played flute in addition to piccolo. Both of them were Liberace Scholars.
“Donny and Lana Thompson make one great UNLV success story even though Lana is no longer with us,” LaBounty said. “I remember her as such a graceful and cheerful person, complimented by Donny’s soft-spoken and funny demeanor. It was the late 80s and Donny’s impersonation of Sammy Davis Jr. was (and still is) better than Billy Crystal’s. They were both talented musicians who contributed significantly to the programs at UNLV.”
Brittany, who also plays in UNLV’s marching and pep bands, said receiving the honor at homecoming “is really important to me and my family because of everything we’ve been through. It recognizes how hard we have worked in life and UNLV in general.”
And they do work hard.
The family often volunteers at Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest as well as Three Square food bank, Special Olympics, and the Las Vegas Pride Parade.
Now it has a new cause: promoting reading at local schools in honor of Lana, who taught for 19 years, primarily at May Elementary School and Faiss Middle School, said Donny, who does some of the family’s volunteer work in coordination with his job at U.S. Bank.
The Thompsons, with the help of friends and family, raised enough money to create a comfy reading nook in the Faiss library, complete with two leather sofas, leather side chairs, tables, and some decor from Lana’s classroom. They also donated a set of Kindles to the library.
Additionally, the family has partnered with the Nevada Public Education Foundation in the creation of two philanthropic efforts, the Lana E. Thompson Memorial Scholarship and the Lana E. Thompson Memorial Education Foundation.