Log in

Former Chancellor Kent Thomas remembered at MSU-WP


Officials at Missouri State University-West Plains on Tuesday were mourning the passing of former chancellor Kent Thomas.

Thomas, who served as chancellor from 2001 to 2007, passed away Friday, March 15, at the age of 71.

Current Chancellor Dennis Lancaster said Thomas’ loss will be felt for years to come at MSU-WP. “Chancellor Thomas’ tenure at the West Plains campus came at an important time for us. We were in ‘Step 2’ of like 500 steps in growing the workforce development programs we have today,” said Lancaster. “Kent saw the need for these types of programs, but it was a difficult time financially for the campus. With state dollars being cut year after year, Kent was still able to keep us moving forward, keep our faculty and staff numbers stable, and with that profound sense of eternal optimism he had, keep us looking toward better days.”

Thomas worked within the Missouri State University System 18 years, serving as vice president for administrative services at the Springfield campus, chancellor of MSU-WP, as an assistant to the system president in Springfield, and in International Programs.

Thomas joined the university after a distinguished 24-year career as an officer in the United States Army that saw him rise to the rank of colonel. He became chancellor of MSU-WP in September 2001 following the departure of Fred Marty.

During Thomas’ tenure at MSU-WP:

• The campus received reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for 10 years, the longest length of accreditation awarded by the HLC. It was the first time MSU-WP received a 10-year accreditation.

• The Associate of Science in Nursing degree program retained full accreditation from the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) for eight years, the maximum awarded by the NLNAC.

• MSU-WP classes at Mtn. Grove moved from the MSU Research Campus at Faurot Hall to Shannon Hall following approval of a lease agreement for the facility by the university’s board of governors.

• Several additions to the campus were dedicated, including the Richards House in 2002, the Grizzly Statue in 2003 and the Smith-London Centennial Bell Tower in 2005.

• The West Plains campus’ name changed from Southwest Missouri State University-West Plains to Missouri State University-West Plains following the Missouri General Assembly’s approval of the name change in 2005.

• Former MSU Board of Governors member William Darr and his wife, Virginia, established an endowment to support the campus’ honors program, which is now known as the William and Virginia Darr Honors Program.

MSU-WP held a special place in the hearts of Thomas and his wife, Barbara, and they showed it through their membership in the Friends of the Garnett Library and the Grizzly (Booster) Club. They also established the Kent and Barbara Thomas Student Ambassador Scholarship and, most recently, donated furniture to the Richards House.

Their support of these and many other designations at both the West Plains and Springfield campuses garnered them membership in the Missouri State University Foundation’s Founders Club, in which they hold a Silver Medallion.

Those who worked with Thomas at MSU-WP have many fond memories of his time here and his impact on the campus and in their personal lives.

“Colonel Thomas was a true gentleman who led with integrity and compassion,” said Rachel Peterson, director of development an annual giving at MSU-WP. “He was respected and beloved by the campus community for his ability to make us feel valued and committed to the same goals. I will never forget his spirited laugh, his advice and his friendship. Missouri State-West Plains is better because of Kent Thomas.”

“Even after leaving the community, Kent and Barb were great friends to Missouri State-West Plains and to my family,” she added. “They watched my children grow, continuing to ask about the entire family over the years. I had the honor of introducing Colonel Thomas to my grandson last November. It was a full-circle moment and I’m grateful to have those treasured memories. He was a special man.”

A memorial service for Thomas is set for 3 p.m. Friday, March 22, at Schweitzer Church, 2747 E. Sunshine St., in Springfield.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Schweitzer Church, 2747 E. Sunshine St., Springfield, MO  65804; Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758516, Topeka, KS  66675-8516; or Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, 230 E. Ohio St., Suite 500, Chicago, IL  60611.