Resilience in Times of Trial

Debbie Thompson Set to Receive School of Dentistry – Dental Hygiene Alumni Award

From volunteering for the American Red Cross in Okinawa, Japan, to her work with Dentistry from the Heart, an organization that provides free dentistry to underserved and uninsured patients, University of Missouri-Kansas City alumna Debbie Thompson (B.S.D.H. ’81) has been a philanthropist for more than 35 years.

As a former dental hygiene instructor at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU), member of the MSSU Dental Hygiene Advisory Board and founder of the Dental Careers Institute, Thompson has been instrumental in bringing dental care and education to southwest Missouri. She also established a satellite practice with her late husband and School of Dentistry alumnus, Dr. Patrick Thompson, in Cassville, a small town just outside of Joplin, Missouri, to bring dental services to a community in need.

Thompson’s devotion to education and dentistry is matched only by her passion for philanthropy. In 2015, she created the Debbie Thompson Spirit of Dental Hygiene Scholarships at MSSU. She is also an ardent supporter of the fine arts and MSSU Athletics in Joplin.

For her philanthropic track record and passion for expanding dental education throughout rural Missouri, Thompson will receive the UMKC School of Dentistry – Dental Hygiene’s 2018 Alumni Achievement Award.

She recently took time to discuss her passion for dental hygiene and community service.

1.    Why did you choose a career in dental hygiene?

As a child, I loved the idea of getting to visit with a “friend” in my dental chair every hour. I also loved the flexibility it allowed me to work part-time if I ever decided to have a family. It’s the perfect career for me, I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat. Being a dental hygienist has opened so many opportunities for me.

2.    You’ve taught dental hygiene, written newspaper columns and set up two dental hygiene scholarships through Missouri Southern State University. Why is dental education so important to you?

I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams and I want to share my blessings with others. I set up the Debbie Thompson Spirit of Dental Hygiene Scholarship to help other students interested in dental hygiene. It is a merit-based scholarship awarded annually to first and second-year students who are active in giving back to the community. My goal is to help at least 60 – 70 students get through the MSSU dental hygiene school. Additionally, writing weekly newspaper columns was important to me because it allowed me to educate the public about all the latest dental procedures, information and research that are available. I hope, in time, the public’s perception of visiting the dentist or hygienist improves.

3.    You’ve been instrumental in bringing dental care and education to the Southwest Missouri region. Why are you so dedicated to rural areas?

I grew up in a small Kansas community with a meager background. I think everyone should have access to the latest dental technology available. In 1999 I singlehandedly founded a satellite dental practice in Cassville, Missouri, and my late husband and I proved that we would provide quality dental care, treatment and education to an underserved area.

4.    You’ve weathered many storms in your life and turned each into a way to give back to your community. How do you continually find the strength to turn sorrowful events into a positive when others would’ve given up?

I think God does not give you what you can handle, rather He helps you handle what you’ve been given. I have learned that the best way to suffer multiple painful losses is with a lot of grace and dignity.

When I lost my daughter, I had a playground built in her memory at our church. Seeing the sheer joy in other children’s eyes as they enjoyed playing on it gave me great comfort. My late husband had a passion for baseball and I shared his passion by having a state-of-the-art press box and family suite built behind home plate at the new MSSU Lions baseball stadium. He used to announce their games. Losing our brand new dental office in the F-5 tornado that ravaged Joplin in 2011 was also very difficult, as was losing a grandson last year. My ability to weather the numerous storms in my life with such resiliency is one of my proudest accomplishments.

5.    What is one word or phrase you use most often?

“I love you,” or “much love,” which is, for decades, how I have signed each of the 300 holiday cards I send every year.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes individual alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Thompson and other outstanding alumni at the 2018 Alumni Awards event Friday, June 15, on campus. The reception is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. In the last decade, the Alumni Awards event has garnered more than $1 million in scholarships and immediate aid for students.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the June 15, 2018, Alumni Awards event.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Alumni Award recipients.

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