Centre remembers Thomas A. Spragens
RELEASED: Feb. 16, 2006
Update: There will be a memorial service for Dr. Spragens on Saturday, March 4, 2 p.m., at the Presbyterian Church of Danville. Visitation, and a reception sponsored by the College, will follow the service in the fellowship hall of the Church.
DANVILLE, KYThe Centre community lost a dear friend and exceptional leader Saturday, Feb. 11, with the passing of President Emeritus Thomas A. Spragens.
During his tenure of nearly a quarter-century, President Emeritus Spragens guided Centre College through a $30 million fundraising campaign; oversaw the merging of the men's and women's campuses in 1962; led the College through the replacement or renovation of nearly all campus buildings, including construction of Norton Center for the Arts…the list of his achievements goes on and on.
The Centre community was asked to share their remembrances of the late Dr. Spagens. Following are a selection of the responses:
Hendy Davis Seelbach '70:
My memories of Dr. Spragens are so many. I was at Centre from 1966-1970, years of enormous change for both Centre and the country. Those of us who were there will always remember Dr. Spragens' calm, non-judgmental support of the student body. While there was chaos on other campuses, Dr. Spragens led us in peaceful protests. Classes were cancelled while speakers were brought in to give us thoughtful opinions. It was truly a remarkable day.
Also, during those years Centre changed dramatically from a very conservative community where women could not wear pants to class and had curfews, to one in which students were allowed to have a voice in their own lives. Dr. Spagens once again handled these changes thoughtfully and with the grace of the Southern gentleman that he was.
Then there are the personal memories I have of Catharine and Tom Spragens. They were invited to our wedding in Lexington and came. How many people can have that type of relationship with the college president? There was also the time when a classmate and I decided that we would decorate Old Centre with empty 16-oz. cans. After we formed our pyramid on the porch at a not-exactly-early hour of the evening, Dr. Spragens opened the door, complimented our efforts and then asked that we clean up the mess now. Having been sufficently embarrassed and humiliated by Dr. Spragens' quiet demeanor we cleaned up the mess very, very quickly.
God bless this wonderful person and great president. You made a difference in my life. My thoughts and prayers go with Catharine and the family.
W. Barry Dixon '59:
I was a Centre student when the Spragens' team came to the college and returned to be a member of the Centre administrative staff in 1962. His leadership was strong, wise, visionary and comfortable. I am indebted to the Prez and to his wife Catharine for their years at the helm of our Centre and for their friendship and support to me. And, although he was twenty years my senior, he beat the bajeebuhs out of me on the tennis court. Godspeed.
Mona Wyatt, director of donor relations and parent programs:
I have so much respect and admiration for the late Dr. Spragens. My job interview with him was in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Lexington—which I thought was a rather strange arrangement. Later, I realized that as usual, he was doing 10 different things at once, all for Centre.
When I came here in 1979, I observed that the "Centre way" under Spragens' leadership was an expectation of total commitment and total dedication from faculty and staff. Perfection was the standard in all areas, and long, long working hours were the rule. This spirit of loyalty and devotion to Centre was intense, mirrored in the alumni giving record that put Centre on the map. It didn't take long for my husband, Clarence, and me to become swept away as part of this special Centre family.
Spragens worked tirelessly across the continent for Centre and was never afraid to take Centre down a new road. He made friends for Centre everywhere he went. And in his personal life, he and his wonderful wife Catharine epitomized fine hospitality, generosity and kindness.
He's one of the few men I know who mowed the lawn in a tie and I've searched for years to try to find a green pepper jelly that came to close to Catharine's. While there are many little details like that, of speeches, and good food and gatherings, the overwhelming memory I have is of a man of high standards, who was totally devoted to Centre, and committed to making it and the world a better place.
John Roush, Centre College president:
Dr. Spragens and his wife, Catharine, together defined what it was to be gracious and elegant in the Office of the Presidency at Centre College. Both were gifted at making all people feel important, feel good about their interest in and support of the College, believe that this institution was a place of highest promise. Theirs was a partnership.
Brian Chafin, Centre College athletic director:
He had long retired before I got here in 1989, but I do remember him always coming to Gold and White lunches and being present at many home contests. He did make me feel like part of the Centre family even though he was not working.
Jamey Leahey, instructor of government, director of gift planning, and associate college counsel:
I only got to know President Spragens after his retirement, through weekly encounters at Church, in Rotary and around campus. I have, though, had the pleasure of "meeting" him in his workdays here by reading through archived files containing his correspondence.
Given his long tenure here and his proclivity to write letters, he has left quite a legacy through his correspondence. In his letters, all elegant and personal, I could sense his warm regard for those to whom he was writing. Anyone opening one of his letters was treated to an experience all too rare these days.
Jeff Bryant, Centre College post office:
Centre College has lost a great man with the passing of Dr. Spragens. If not for him, my dad (Tom Bryant) wouldn't have been hired as the men's basketball coach in 1968. My family will always hold a special place in our hearts for the Spragens'. I know if Dr. Spragens hadn't hired my dad, Tom Bryant Court would not exist.
If you'd wish to share thoughts, memories or anecdotes about Dr. Spragens send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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