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Retiring faculty and staff members leave lasting mark on Union University

A painting was commissioned to honor Dr. Joseph Blass (left), university professor of music. The painting by Mary Spellings depicts scenes from Blass' 45-year career at Union.
A painting was commissioned to honor Dr. Joseph Blass (left), university professor of music. The painting by Mary Spellings depicts scenes from Blass' 45-year career at Union.

JACKSON, Tenn.June 1, 2004 – The close of the spring semester also brings to a close the careers of several faculty and staff members at Union University. Retiring from the university are Dr. Joseph Blass, university professor of music; Dr. Benny Tucker, professor of education; and Paul Veazey, assistant to the president for planned giving.

Blass began his career teaching sacred music classes and private voice lessons in 1959 on the original Union University campus. This was the beginning of the church music program at the university.

“It is normal for our lives to be lived in several locations and our careers to span several different job titles and responsibilities,” said Dr. Richard Joiner, chair of the department of music. “Joseph Blass, however, has spent his career here, in this place.

“I was asked if any other faculty member has been at Union as long, and, speaking historically, I do not know. But we do know that no one on the present faculty comes close to being a part of this university for so many years.”

Blass was recently honored by five decades of students, alumni and colleagues at a dinner filled with humor, music and expressions of gratitude.

“As I think about Dr. Blass, the thing that struck me is the number of students who are now in full-time ministry,” said Ken Hartley Jr. “They’re serving in churches all over America.” Hartley is a 1990 Union graduate and currently serves as pastor of worship at Central Baptist Church in Hixson, Tenn.

At the dinner, Union President David S. Dockery announced that an endowed scholarship – the Joseph Blass Vocal Music Scholarship – has been created through gifts of alumni, friends and colleagues.

“It will enable students for generations to come to come and study in this place and to receive an outstanding education,” Dockery said.

“Joseph Blass has been a model of excellence in the department of music at Union University for 45 years. His lengthy tenure has offered him the opportunity to put his stamp on the department and his influence on the lives of hundreds of students and colleagues. Dr. Blass is a magnificent musician, a superb teacher, and a gracious Christian gentleman. We wish the best for him in days to come as we celebrate his years of service to this institution,” Dockery said.

“Union has been a wonderful place for me to work. The students have been great. I’ve enjoyed being a part of their lives at such a formative time in their lives. I’ve worked with some wonderful colleagues, and I will miss all of that.” Blass said.

Joiner said, “This is a man who lived his faith through his teaching. He has been a mentor for many of us and a master teacher in more ways than just in music and singing. It has been a privilege to work by his side, to teach with him, to know his graciousness, to share his faith, and to share his life here at Union.”

Tucker joined the education faculty at Union in 1989 as chair of the department. During his time as department chair he developed the master’s degree program in education, rewrote the teacher licensure program and formed the School of Education and Human Studies, of which he became dean.

“Benny Tucker is a creative educator who has led the School of Education faculty to expand and diversify their curriculum, particularly in the area of graduate programs,” Dockery said. “He has been a faithful colleague to many. His reputation as a teacher and his work as a published scholar will leave a great legacy for years to come at Union University.”

In 1997, Tucker resigned as dean in order to devote more time to writing. Tucker is the author of two popular math education texts, most recently Teaching Mathematics to All Children. He taught part time for the last seven years. Although he is retiring, Tucker will continue to teach graduate education courses as an adjunct professor.

“I’m one of those people who if I had a hobby it would be the same as my career,” Tucker said. “At heart I’m a teacher. Being in a position doing what you would want to be doing even if you weren’t earning a living is a true blessing.”

Tucker’s devotion to education is evident to his students. Deborah Harrell, who earned her masters degree in education in 2004, considers Tucker’s guidance crucial to the completion of her thesis. “I could not have finished that without him,” Harrell said. “He was inspirational. He’s very organized and extremely enthusiastic. He made coming back to school after all those years worthwhile.”

Blass and Tucker have been named emeriti professors of music and education, respectively.

Veazey began his work raising denominational support and planned giving in 1983 and considers it a calling.

“If someone requested ‘Tell me your dreams,’ how would you respond?” Veazey asked. “For 21 years it has been my privilege to ask numerous individuals and churches this question regarding their financial gifts to Union University. I like to think that in some small way I've helped them achieve their dreams.

“During this time, I've enjoyed meeting some of the most wonderful and dedicated people. I will always cherish their friendship and appreciate their loyal devotion to Union's educational ministry. The support and friendship which I've shared with my co workers have made my days at Union University truly a blessing. I will never be able to thank the Lord enough for this opportunity.”

Dockery said, “Paul Veazey has given over two decades of his life to building the best church relationships that I know of at any Baptist college or university in this country. His work in the area of development has helped to advance the cause of Christ centered education, and his work in planned giving has provided the foundation for fruitful opportunities for this institution for decades to come. His admirable work is a testimony to his character and his love for the things of God's kingdom.”

Also recognized for service are Max Blackman, security officer who is retiring after 24 years; Bob Alsobrook, senior vice president for institutional advancement, who resigned to return to work with a private consulting firm; and long-time volunteer, Ramona Mercer.

Mercer began her association with Union in 1991 as the university’s first missionary in residence. She now steps down as chairwoman of Union Auxiliary’s Children of Missionaries (MK) committee and director of the campus’s Mu Kappa chapter, an international organization for MKs. Her immediate retirement plans include leading a volunteer mission trip to Japan in June. Mercer retired from full-time missionary service to Japan in 1992 following her last stateside assignment.

Media contact: Tabitha Frizzell, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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