UNM People Changing Worlds: Kyla and Roger Thompson
By Melissa W. Sais
With an eye for dreams and the inspiration of friends, Kyla and Roger Thompson developed a planned gift that extends directly from their hearts to the University of New Mexico.
“We started by wondering how we could make our dreams of giving come true,” said Kyla, a UNM alumna and former member of the UNM Foundation board of trustees for eight years.
Roger, a voice-over artist for television news stations across the country, got his start in broadcasting after his return from Vietnam and discharge from the U.S. Army in 1971. Kyla, a crisis communications expert, grew up on a ranch in Maljamar in Lea County, N.M., and graduated from UNM. She owned a public relations firm in Denver for 25 years and has been a consultant in New Mexico since 1998 when the Thompsons moved to the state from Denver. The two met in Denver and married 32 years ago.
The Thompsons regularly draw inspiration from Albuquerque restaurateurs and close friends Dorothy and Larry Rainosek’s enthusiastic contributions to UNM. Other friends also played a role. One of the first people Kyla met as a freshman at UNM was Rick Johnson, founder of the Albuquerque advertising firm Rick Johnson & Co. “I adored him instantly and we became good friends,” Kyla said. “Rick’s death (in 2010) not only stunned us but just left this huge hole in our hearts. When the Anderson School announced the Rick and Debbie Johnson Marketing Center, I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Participation in a recent Agent Orange study at the Veterans Administration Hospital started Roger thinking about helping veterans in any way that he could. “I certainly know what it’s like to be a vet and to try to get your education,” Roger said. “One of the more saddening things to me about our country is we don’t take care of our vets once they’ve done their service. To help these vets get their education is important to me.” A trip to the Veterans Resource Center at UNM solidified his commitment.
These life experiences converged to form a planned gift to UNM divided into three equal parts. The Roger and Kyla Thompson Loan Fund for Student Veterans will provide loan forgiveness for veterans who complete their degrees. The Kyla and Roger Thompson Communication Endowment at the Rick and Debbie Johnson Marketing Center will support the work of the center. And endowed Presidential Scholarships will give first preference to qualified students residing in Lea County to encourage more students from southeast New Mexico to attend UNM.
“UNM is such an enormous universe that there is something there for everybody to become involved with,” Kyla said. “That’s what made the difference and it really did make some of our dreams come true.”