One of Central Methodist University’s most iconic and longest-tenured faculty members has died at the age of 86.
Thomas L. Yancey Jr., a native of Marshall and a resident of Fayette since 1958, passed away February 25, 2019 at The Lodge nursing facility just outside Fayette where he had been a resident since last fall. Mr. Yancey had been in declining health in recent years.
Joining the faculty in 1958, Tom served as a beloved teacher and mentor to hundreds of students taking classes at CMU’s Swinney Conservatory of Music -– doing so during a time-span covering all or part of six decades. In 1972 he served as the conservatory’s acting dean. He took emeritus status in 1995.
In addition to being an accomplished musician, Tom was a well-known artist and taught art classes at CMU in both painting and art history. At the conservatory, he served as associate professor of piano, music theory and organ. For many years he played the organ for Central’s weekly chapel services, in addition to numerous concerts on both piano and organ, also serving as an adjudicator for numerous music festivals and the annual Concerto Competition in Jefferson City.
Tom was co-founder of CMU’s highly regarded Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art, now housed in Classic Hall on campus. He was curator of the gallery (and CMU’s Stephens Museum) from 1993 to 1998. Shortly before retirement, he was the first Central Methodist recipient honored with the Exemplary Teacher Award given annually by the Nashville-based United Methodist Board of Higher Education and recommended by the CMU’s Faculty Personnel Committee. Later in 2002 he was the recipient of Central’s Distinguished Service Award.
“Professor Tom Yancey made a lasting impression on Central Methodist University. Tom frequently mentioned how lucky he was to have the best job in the world—music and art,” noted CMU President Roger Drake. “We were the lucky ones to have him in our presence and in our lives. Thomas Merton, an influencer of Professor Yancey, said ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time’. Tom helped countless students find themselves with his amazing gifts of art and music. We will miss him greatly.”
In addition to his Central Methodist artistic endeavors, Tom was a respected free-lance artist and painting restoration specialist. For many years he maintained an art studio in the Uriel Wright Building on the west side of the Fayette town square, now better known as the FAHA building.
He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from (then) Central College in 1954 and in 1955 was awarded a Master’s Degree in music from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, later doing doctoral work at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
Tom served in the U.S. Army in Korea (1956-1958) and immediately afterward became a member of the faculty at his alma mater.
In addition to his teaching duties, he published several choral anthems including “Bless Ye The Lord,” “Song of David” and “Carol” (based on a poem written by Thomas Merton). Tom also composed the musical background for the play “Some Trust in Chariots.”
Born Oct. 27, 1932, he was the son of Leland Yancey and Grace Strother Yancey. As a high school student, he would frequently travel via bus from Marshall to Fayette to study piano and music composition with the late Dr. N. Louise Wright, founding dean of Central’s Swinney Conservative of Music.
Over the years Tom served as president of numerous organizations including the CMU chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia; the Boonslick Art League (charter member); and the Fayette Area Heritage Association (FAHA). He was honored with Phi Mu’s Orpheus Award and had been the recipient of a CMU Curator Scholarship designated for summer art study in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
Additional service included being a board member of the Boonslick Historical Society, the CMU Alumni Association, and the MU Art & Archaeology Board.
A longtime member of Linn Memorial United Methodist Church, Tom had sung for many years in the choir and had served on the official board.
Tom is survived by his companion of 45 years, Dr. Joe E. Geist, and Nancy Yancey, widow of his late brother, Wallis. He also is survived by nieces Sarah (Brad) Friskey Luecke, Columbia; Barbara (Dan Holland) Friskey, Columbia; Martha (David) Remer, San Antonio; and Mary (Alan) Yancey Wheat, St. Louis, in addition to a nephew, Daniel (Robyn) Yancey, St. Louis.
Besides his parents and brother, he was preceded in death by a sister, Elizabeth Ann (Betty) Friskey.
A celebration of life service will be held at a later date. Memorial contributions are suggested to the Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art or the Swinney Conservatory of Music at Central Methodist University.
Interment will be at Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall.
Arrangements are under direction of the Friemonth-Freese Funeral Service, Fayette.
Jim H. Steele