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Talented local musician dies in bicycle crash

MANATEE -- Sondra Lee Thompson, 66, perhaps one of the most uniquely talented of all local amateur musicians, died a few blocks from her Mote Ranch home Sunday afternoon when her bicycle was struck by a pickup truck.

She had taken her Fuji bike out for a half-hour ride around 1:45 p.m., leaving her husband and bike-riding partner, Dick Thompson, home to nurse a sore knee.

But when she did not arrive home 45 minutes later, Dick Thompson went searching for her.

He expected to see her walking a bike with a flat tire. Instead, he came upon the accident scene on the north side of Whitfield Avenue, halfway between Old Farm and Lockwood Ridge roads.

“Before I got out of the car I knew she had been in an accident,” Thompson said Monday. “I saw her bike crumpled up in the bike lane.”

Thompson’s career as a musician really sparked to life when she and her husband moved to University Park last February.

A former elementary school teacher, Thompson excelled at piano, recorders, flute, harp, dulcimers and psaltery, her husband said.

She had a 15-year tenure as director of handbells at Clarks Green United Methodist Church in Clarks Green, Pa., and was recently named director of hand bells at the Church of the Palms in Sarasota.

“Music was my wife’s all-consuming love,” Dick Thompson said. “She got calls from various organizations to put on shows. She would do two or three a month. During Christmas season she was especially busy. She also performed Jewish holiday music.

“She would tell you she was ordinary, but she had an extraordinary talent,” Thompson added. “She not only enjoyed playing these instruments, but she would teach people how to play. She was self-taught herself.”

Florida Highway Patrol troopers first tried to wave Dick Thompson away from the accident scene. But, finally, realizing he was Sondra’s husband, informed Thompson that his wife of 46 years had been dead an hour.

“She died just minutes from our home,” said the heartbroken Thompson. “We normally ride together and if I wasn’t injured, this may have been a dual fatality. The troopers asked me if I thought Sondra may have strayed out of the bike lane. I told them we were religious about staying in that lane. But no one can say for sure what happened.”

Charges were pending against Mark D. Ruben of Sarasota, the driver of the 2009 Chevrolet pickup truck that struck the bike with its right front fender.

“I was the excitable, Type-A personality you find in the business world, and she was cool as a cucumber,” Thompson said when asked to describe his wife, who also enjoyed volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. “She was a real steady-as-you-go-gal. She didn’t get angry easily. She had the patience of Job. We were good partners. I miss her immensely. The most important thing was that we were best friends.”

Thompson was named Northeast Woman of the Month by the Scranton Times newspaper in the early 1990s for a program she devised called “Latch Key Kids,” her husband said.

“She was volunteering at Community Medical Center in Scranton and she came up with this program where kids could call a number if they had come home from school and no one was there and they were scared,” Dick Thompson said. “She introduced the program herself by giving puppet shows in Scranton area schools.”

Sondra and Dick Thompson have two daughters, Kimberly, a florist, and Lisa, a professional writer and two grand daughters.

“She was wonderful,” Jeanne Davies, Dick Thompson’s sister, said of her sister-in-law. “She was selfless. She was there for everybody and didn’t want a thing in return. She was so thrilled to be down here in Florida. She was always so steady and upbeat about everything.”

Celebration of Life services will be held in Sarasota and Clarks Summit, Pa., at a later date, Dick Thompson said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.