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The Alumnus - Friends Remembered


  • William "Calvin" Dickinson

    A photo of Calvin Dickinson in a dress shirt with a red tie.

    Eternally youthful in attitude, infinitely curious about many things, and gracious to a fault, Dr. William Calvin Dickinson died peacefully at his home on Aug. 30, almost four months to the day after his wife Charlene shuffled off this mortal coil. The two of them lived life to the fullest; they loved to travel and to entertain.  

    Born on March 30, 1938, and raised in Atlanta, Texas, Calvin graduated with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Baylor and completed his doctorate at UNC Chapel Hill. He began his academic career as a scholar of English History and published his first book (based on his dissertation) on the career of Sidney Godolphin, the first Lord of the Treasury — and arguably the first Prime Minister of England — in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He initially taught at Chowan College before moving to Cookeville in 1973.

    At Tech Calvin earned a reputation as a beloved lecturer, gifted scholar and mentor to his students. He earned the Outstanding Teaching Award among many other honors. Researching English history at Tech proved more difficult as the years passed and Calvin turned his attention to local history. Together with Homer Kemp of the English Department, they created the Upper Cumberland Institute to conduct research into the history and culture of the plateau region of Kentucky and Tennessee. The Institute provided resources for continued research and offered students the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, including architectural surveys of the region, interpretive material for state parks and local museums, and much more. Dickinson and Kemp worked together to add materials to enrich the TTU Archives. They produced a book based on the architectural surveys for the Tennessee Historical Commission entitled "Upper Cumberland Historic Architecture."

    As a scholar, Calvin published dozens of articles and books. In addition to his biography of Godolphin, Calvin wrote the history of Cumberland and Morgan counties in Tennessee. He and Dr. Larry Whiteaker published two anthologies devoted to Tennessee history, a volume on the Upper Cumberland entitled "Lend an Ear: Heritage of the Tennessee Upper Cumberland" and a book about the Civil War correspondence of Cornelius Tenure. Dickinson, Whiteaker and Dr. Kent Dollar published two books dedicated to the Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee. With Eloise Hitchcock, Calvin published two book-length bibliographies; one devoted to the history of Tennessee and the other concerning the War of Spanish Succession. He worked with Jennie Ivey on two volumes of Tennessee history targeted at high school students and developed pedagogical tools to accompany them. Dickinson and Dr. Michael Birdwell edited two anthologies about the Upper Cumberland region (and had plans to write two more books on the region before his unexpected passing). Both of those books included scholarship by former students.

    One of Calvin’s last books was an investigation of the Walton Road, one of the oldest east-west thoroughfares in Tennessee. His interest in public history led Gov. Phil Bredesen to appoint Calvin to the Tennessee Historical Commission where he lent his expertise to statewide historic appreciation and preservation.  

    Dr. Dickinson was dedicated to the Cookeville community and supported local arts, the Bryan Symphony Orchestra, WCTE-TV, and was a founding member of the Friends of White Plains. He believed in community service and was an exemplar Rotarian, past president of that organization and a multiple Paul Harris Fellow. A faithful member of the Cookeville United Methodist Church, he enjoyed singing in the choir.    

    Calvin had a tremendous sense of humor and an infectious hearty laugh. He liked trekking through the Upper Cumberland “in search of history.” On numerous occasions he remarked, “Hey fellas, I wonder where this road goes.” More than once the roads were dead ends, but that did not matter. It was the company of friends and sense of adventure that amused him. Travel on my friend.

    by Michael Birdwell
    Originally published in the Herald-Citizen

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  • Curtiss Eugene Jolley

    A snapshot of Mr. Jolley in a plaid shirt.Curtiss Eugene Jolley passed away on Aug. 20, 2021 in Concord, Massachusetts. Curtiss was born on Nov. 29, 1929, in Spring City, Tennessee. He graduated from Spring City High School in 1949. While working for the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Rockwood, Tennessee, his National Guard unit was activated and he joined the U.S. Army, serving from September 1950 until his honorable discharge as a first lieutenant in August 1956. He completed The Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia, in December 1952 and married Katy Lou Womack of Spring City the same month. Following his Army Service, Curtiss attended Tennessee Tech University and graduated in 1957 with a degree in electrical engineering, becoming the first in his family to attend a university. He joined Du Pont de Nemours, Inc. after graduation and worked his entire career for Du Pont, working in Parkersburg, WV; Wilmington, Delaware; and in Massachusetts until his retirement in 1992.

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  • Donald "Don" Brooks Jackson

    A photo of Don Jackson

    What do Placido Domingo, the Vienna Boys' Choir, Brenda Lee and the London Symphony Orchestra have in common? Well, it's none other than Tennessee Tech University music education alumnus Don Jackson.

    Jackson studied conducting at TTU under James Wattenbarger and upon graduation became Hendersonville Junior High School's band director for 10 years. He then took a position with Iliad, a Nashville recording and music production studio. That opened the door to a job that extended to 2003, when Iliad moved to New York City. During his tenure at Iliad, Jackson conducted 48 major orchestral albums, all recorded in London with world-class orchestras: the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

    His Platinum album credits (sales of 1 million or more) include Victoria's Secret - Classics By Request (Volumes 1-5), Nutcracker Highlights, and Hallmark Christmas (Volumes 1 and 2). Volume 2 included recordings with Placido Domingo and the Vienna Boys' Choir. Jackson's Hallmark Christmas album with Tony Bennett released in 2003 was Bennett's first holiday album recorded in 35 years.

    As of 2003, only 13 true classical albums had sold more than 1 million units. Jackson conducted 8 of those albums.

    He has recorded or performed with a variety of pop, country and other artists over his career. Among them are Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Brenda Lee, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, B.B. King, Jimmy Ruffin, Kenny Rogers, the Four Tops, The Temptations, Mary Wilson, Al Hirt, Bob Hope, pan-flutist Zamfir, Dolly Parton and Tony Bennett.

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  • James Slayden Love, Jr.

    A black and white headshot of James S. LoveJames Slayden Love passed away July 22, 2021 at the age of 96. He attended TPI from 1947-1949.


  • Jeffrey Lee Ray

    Jeffrey Lee Ray, `86 mechanical engineering and `89 M.S., passed away on July 26, 2021.

    Jeff grew up outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and earned a Journeyman Industrial Electrician license while working at R.R. Donnelley & Sons in Gallatin, Tennessee. He then earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering at Tennessee Tech University, and completed his doctorate in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University. He served as Dean of Engineering at Western Carolina University since 2014. Throughout his 28-year academic career, he served in many roles with the ABET and ASEE organizations and was an ASEE Fellow.

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  • Geraldine “Gerry” Tucker Fanning

    A portrait of Gerry and Joe Fanning.Joe Fanning shared this loving tribute about his wife Gerry Tucker Fanning, `62 human ecology, who passed away on Jan. 20, 2021:

    Gerry and I were married July 7, 1962, immediately after graduation. We had dated 7 years prior to that. We enjoyed a beautiful and wonderful happy marriage for 58 ½ years. She was able to attend her 50-year class reunion a few years ago. She treasured her time at Tech. She was a poor country girl whose family wasn’t really financially able to send her. There were many stories like that back then. Gerry had a work scholarship, and Gladys Crawford was her supervisor. She was very active in the Wesley Foundation and intramural women’s basketball. She was a devout Christian and taught Sunday School and was a church pianist for most of her adult life. She was also a middle school science and health teacher until we became parents. Then she became a full-time mother, housewife and volunteer. She was a devoted golfer and served on the board of directors of Riverbend Country Club in Shelbyville, Tennessee, including two terms as president. She directed the RBCC Ladies Invitational for 21 years. This year they renamed it the “Gerry Fanning Memorial Golf Tournament,” which was played May 13.

    Two of the accomplishments Gerry was proud of were serving as president to the Tennessee Methodist Women’s Organization for two terms and giving the commencement address at Martin Methodist College. Of course her greatest accomplishment, according to her, was being a good wife to me and mother to two wonderful sons, Wesley and Bret.

    July 7 will be a sad day for me as we celebrate our 59th wedding anniversary (her from heaven). Then on July 19th, she will celebrate her heavenly 81st birthday.

    She died on a Wednesday and was buried on Friday. Both boys live on our farm. On Sunday, when we returned from church, in a tree almost equal distance from our three houses there was a huge bald eagle sitting in a tree. We had never seen him before and haven’t seen him since. Some said that was Gerry, now our guardian angel, watching over us.

  • Frankie “Fran” Womack Perry

    A portrait of Frankie Womack Perry.PERRY, Frankie “Fran” Womack, age 81, of Winchester, passed away on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at Alive Hospice in Murfreesboro. She was born on Sept. 25, 1939, in McMinnville, to the late Frank Lester Womack and Ora Belle Huntley Womack. She attended Tennessee Tech, Peabody College and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. For many years she was one of the best loved fourth grade teachers at Clark Memorial School. Fran was an avid reader, Franklin County Library Board member and a member of the Southern Tennessee Ladies Society. She loved her several bridge and book clubs and also enjoyed restoring and collecting antiques. She was an active member of Christ the King Anglican Church in Decherd. She is survived by her husband, Richard Truman Perry of Winchester; daughter, Margaret Michelle Perry (Bob) Hamilton of New Albany, Indiana; sons, Richard Bradley (Sue Anne Heins) Perry of Brentwood and Frank David (Sharon) Perry of Murfreesboro; grandchildren, William Paul Hamilton, Elizabeth Huntley Hamilton Farmer, Olivia Fran Perry, Richard Owen Perry, Leah Michelle Perry, Mary Margaret Guzik, Anne Thomas Guzik and Sarah Marie Heins Guzik. Visitation was held on Friday, May 14, 2021, from 5-8 pm at Moore-Cortner Funeral Home in Winchester. Funeral services were conducted on Saturday, May 15, 2021, at 10:30 a.m. at Christ the King Anglican Church with Father Bill Midgett officiating. Interment was in the Franklin Memorial Gardens in Winchester. Serving as pallbearers were: Steve Arnold, John Heins, Chad Morgan, Matt Carter, Joe Gipson, Robert Gipson, John Morris and Troy Cash. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to Christ the King Anglican Church Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 296, Winchester, TN 37398.

  • Hannah “Tommye” Schoolfield

    Hannah Tom Schoolfield (left) with her husband of 70 years, James

    HANNAH TOM (TOMMYE) ROBNETT SCHOOLFIELD  ’78 BS special education passed away on February 11, 2018.  After earning her degree, she served in Bledsoe County Schools (1980-1994) then later substituted at Taft Youth Center, a state school for juvenile offenders until her retirement. Tommye also served on the executive board of Green Valley Developmental Center in Greenville, Tennessee.

    Tommye’s teaching career was more than a job to her. Having a servant’s heart, she was seldom happier than when she was serving others. Besides helping the mentally disabled at various institutions, she found several local individuals not being served anywhere else and undertook to visit and see to their well-being. This included among others a family of disabled children who lived in the Nine Mile community in Bledsoe County and even a former high school classmate of one of her children. She discovered that this former classmate was disabled and wheel chair bound, and lived within walking distance of her home. She paid him regular visits, sometimes bringing  him pie or a cake. 

    For Tommye, her work was its own reward. Seeing others being helped in some way was satisfying to her, but  occasionally like all teachers, she saw signs that their work was actually life-changing. She often spoke of the time she and her husband James, “Jimmie” were shopping in Chattanooga, when she heard a familiar voice say, “Hello Miss Tommye”. They were delightfully surprised to learn the voice was from one of Tommye’s former students/inmates from Taft Youth Center. He thanked her for being his teacher and wanted her to know he was living a new life away from crime. What could be more encouraging than to learn that your efforts had changed the life of a student much less the life of a convicted criminal? 

    Other members of Tommye’s family with degrees from TTU include, two sisters (Elizabeth ‘51 history; Sue ’54 elementary education, ’73 MA elementary education), and two children (Rob ’77 BS music education; John ’81 BS chemical engineering, MA environmental engineering). Together Tommye and Jimmie had five children, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

    Pictured: Hannah Tom Schoolfield (left) with her husband of 70 years, James

  • Mary Etta Roaden

    A portrait of Mary Etta RoadenMary Etta Roaden, of Nashville, TN, passed away, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her. Her positive outlook on life, loving nature, and quick smile will always be a cherished memory.


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  • Lifting up generations: The legacy of Dr. Leo McGee

    A portrait of Dr. Leo McGee at a lecturn.

    Lifting up generations: The legacy of Dr. Leo McGee
    By Laura Clemons
    Originally published in the Herald-Citizen on April 2, 2021 

    It is no exaggeration to say that well before he retired from Tennessee Tech in 2007, Dr. Leo McGee had become the most distinguished and beloved administrator on campus. His wit was legendary. His grace and diplomacy taught by example; there are countless students, faculty and staff who are the beneficiaries of his mentoring.

    Dr. McGee would tell you that he, too, was the beneficiary of mentors who taught him how to excel in an academic setting throughout his 30 years at the university. But he would never have made it that far if not for his family, who taught him how to navigate an environment rarely favorable to African Americans.

    The son of Robert and Willie B. McGee, Leo was one of 10 children in a household reliant on low-income jobs in Crossett, a small rural town in Arkansas. Alongside his mother, he worked in the homes and yards of white people throughout his childhood. For a time, he worked in the cotton fields as well to make enough money to buy school clothes; he has said that his greatest ambition then was to out-chop even the most experienced men and women. 

    As a child and as a young man, Leo was the target of racism, facing the indignities of both personal prejudices and Jim Crow, the institutionalized form of racism prevalent in the South. He marched for racial equality in downtown Little Rock in 1962, joining thousands of other young people across the country demanding social and economic justice. There were times he feared for his life. 

    But what hurt more deeply than incidents aimed at him personally were the times, as a child, that he witnessed injustices suffered by his grandfather, Dan Lowe, the son of enslaved workers on an Arkansas plantation. Dan Lowe managed to survive by his wits, because he'd learned to gauge situations accurately, how to "read the tea leaves," as his grandson would say, when facing potential danger and escape, if not unscathed, then at least with his life.

    Leo McGee often said that his success was due almost entirely to that lesson. 

    In 1959, McGee enrolled at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, where he met the love of his life, Gloria, now also a retired Tennessee Tech faculty member. They moved north after graduation to Chicago, and from there, east for graduate studies at Ohio State, where Leo earned master's and doctoral degrees. He met a young administrator there, Arliss Roaden, who would influence the McGees' lives in ways they could only imagine. When Dr. Roaden left Ohio State for the presidency at Tennessee Tech, he kept after McGee to join him in Cookeville, and McGee -- now Dr. McGee -- finally said yes, heading back south, first to Tennessee State University from 1973 to 1977, then to Tennessee Tech. 

    Dr. McGee joined the Tennessee Tech faculty as assistant dean of extended services and associate professor of education. In 1986, he was promoted to assistant vice president for academic affairs, and then associate vice president, serving two years as interim vice president -- the rank second only to the president. Of all his professional achievements, he valued most the respect he felt from the faculty. Year after year, as faculty evaluated administrators, Dr. McGee's scores stayed at or near the top.

    No one worked harder or put in longer hours. He understood the absolute necessity of trying harder than the next guy if he wanted to excel. 

    "Most people can’t imagine what kind of mental gymnastics one has to go through in order to succeed in a situation where you’re very much the minority," he said. "How do you continue to grow professionally in an environment like that and coming from a meager background as we did? We simply never, never ever thought of giving up. I just never gave up. A person who didn’t have a newspaper or book in his home. Father couldn’t read. That I would be associate vice president emeritus and associate professor of education, published author ... who would have thunk it."

    He also understood that regardless of professional satisfaction, nothing will hold you up and give you a stronger foundation than family. He said that the single most important achievement of his life was being able to maintain a strong sense of family in a challenging environment.

    "I had to understand what it took to make me happy," he said. "It’s not the money, it’s about how successful I can be in the job and whether or not my family is going to be okay."

    Dr. McGee appreciated the value of asking for and offering help. Over the years, he helped steer the careers of his beloved daughters, Jennifer and Cassandra, and countless others in big ways and small -- knowing that while it's not possible to be sure of the impact, it's always worth the effort. In the past 10 years, he stayed in touch with a small group of young faculty and staff on campus in whom he saw potential. If he was ever boastful, it was about the men and women who "made good," who he was able to help professionally and personally -- knowing that because he had overcome, others could as well, with the right kind of support.

    "The key to success," he said, "is getting as many mentors as you can, and that comes from being able to get along with people, from being collegial. Those who think they can do it by themselves are probably not going to survive very long. You've got to have help from other people. I learned that from my grandfather teaching me how to negotiate situations during Jim Crow, that you can't stand alone."

    During his career, Dr. McGee published five scholarly books and, the closer he got to retirement, began to write and publish more personal essays and books. One of those was about the lessons learned from his grandfather Dan Lowe, who he called "Papa."

    "Papa had lots of stories and wisdom to pass on," Leo wrote. "He made me feel like a complete person, a dearly loved person, a person who was being coached and admonished at the same time about the dangers that lurked around the corner for a young Negro man in the South -- the habitat of that wicked beast, Jim Crow. Dan Lowe has been my hero for all these years. Heroes in our lives are individuals that stand high above the masses simply because of who they are. They have the unique ability to inspire us to pursue mountainous goals. I was fortunate enough to be at the side of my hero for many years."

    Men and women throughout this community and much farther afield have said precisely the same thing about Dr. Leo McGee. 

  • Dr. Carl Ventrice, Sr.

     A portrait of Carl Ventrice from the 60s, a snapshot of Marie and Carl with a birthday cake, a portrait of Carl Ventrice from the 2000's

    Dr. Carl A Ventrice, Sr. passed away on Sunday morning, December 27, 2020, at the age of 90. He had served as a faculty member at Tennessee Tech for over 45 years, retiring from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2011.

    He was born on August 7, 1930 in York, Pennsylvania. During his high school years, he had trained as a machinist, but soon realized after graduating from high school that it would be difficult to find a job in that field with so many men returning from service from World War II. Therefore, he decided to join the Navy in 1948 because he felt that this would give him a great opportunity to explore the world and learn a new profession. Since WWII had just ended, he believed that the chance of seeing any armed conflict would be low. He was trained as an electrician and the first ship he served on was the USS Chehalis, a tanker ship that supplied air fields in the Pacific theater. While off-loading aviation fuel in Samoa in 1949, his ship exploded, resulting in the loss of six of his fellow seamen. His next ship was a rocket vessel. While stationed in Japan, the Korean War broke out, and he ended up seeing service in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter, the Inchon Invasion, and the evacuation of the Chosin Reservoir. He was then assigned to a troop transport ship and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1952. 

    Following his Navy service, he was hired as an electrician in his hometown of York, Pennsylvania. Shortly after he was hired, the GI Bill was extended to Korean War veterans. Although he had a well-paid secure job, he decided to attend college and was the first Korean War veteran to apply for the GI bill in York county. He started his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at Pennsylvania State University in 1952. He obtained a B.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1956 and then went on to graduate school in physics at Penn State. The research for his M.S. degree was in the area of electromagnetic wave scattering from the Earth’s ionosphere. His research for his Ph.D. was in nuclear physics. Just after he started his Ph.D. research, the lab director informed all of the students that there would be cuts in the number of positions being funded due to a reduction in federal funding because President Eisenhower had decided to put a bigger emphasis on applied research over basic research.  Shortly after this, Sputnik was launched (October 1957), and the federal government made an abrupt change in funding priorities for research, prioritizing basic research over applied research. As a result of this, the nuclear physics lab at Penn State had more funding than they knew how to spend. Therefore, he no longer had to worry about his funding during the rest of his tenure as a graduate student. While studying at Penn State, he met his future wife, Marie Busck. The two were married on January 25, 1960. 

    As he was finishing his graduate studies, he began searching for a job. His dream job was to be a researcher at General Electric’s research center in Schenectady, New York, which was one of the top corporate research laboratories in the world at that time.  He landed an interview with them but did not hear back from them by the time that he graduated with his Ph.D. in December 1962.  Since his wife Marie was pregnant with their second child, he decided to accept a job offer from Analytic Services, which is a defense contractor in Washington, DC. About two weeks after starting this job, he got a job offer from GE, but since he had already started the job at Analytic Services, he declined the offer. Although the work at Analytic Services was interesting, it was not possible to publish his research since it was classified. In addition, he had developed a passion for teaching while he was a graduate student at Penn State.  While attending an American Physical Society meeting in 1964, he was recruited for a faculty position in the Physics Department at Tennessee Tech, which was known as Tennessee Polytechnic Institute at that time.  He started as a faculty member at Tech in the fall of 1964. During this time, his wife Marie studied to earn her B.S. degree in engineering science and mechanics. Although he enjoyed teaching in the Physics Department, the university did not have any Ph.D. programs at that time. Therefore, his research opportunities were limited at Tech. In 1966, he accepted a position as a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Auburn University. While at Auburn, his wife obtained an M.S. degree in mechanical engineering. In 1968, Tennessee Tech obtained approval from the State of Tennessee for a Ph.D. program in Engineering. Dr. Wallace Prescott, who was the Dean of Faculties at Tech at that time (and later became provost, and then president of Tech), contacted Dr. Ventrice to let him know of the new Ph.D. program and convinced him to return back to Tech. Dr. Ventrice returned to Cookeville in the summer of 1968 to become a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Shortly after returning to Tech, his wife Marie began her Ph.D. studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She graduated with the first Ph.D. degree awarded at Tennessee Tech in 1974 and then began as a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She eventually became the Associate Dean of Engineering.

    Dr. Ventrice had a very productive career at Tech, teaching electrical engineering and physics students and doing research in the areas of plasma science, laser technology, and electromagnetic field propagation and scattering. He was honored with Tennessee Tech’s Outstanding Faculty Award in Teaching and the Brown-Henderson Outstanding Engineering Faculty Award. During his tenure at Tech, he directed the research of over 30 graduate students.  At the age of 81, he decided to officially retire from Tennessee Tech because of he no longer had the stamina to teach a full load of classes.  He then continued to teach one class per semester as a service to the university until he had to stop teaching in 2013 because of failing health. He passed away on December 27, 2020.  He was preceded in death by his wife, who died from cancer in 2003.

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