"I became a teacher because of Dr. Carpenter."
That sentiment was shared over and over again on Wednesday night at a memorial service for the Rev. Tom Carpenter, PhD, who died suddenly Sunday, Jan. 19. He was 75.
Dozens of students and colleagues attended and shared memories of their mentor and friend in Christ the King Chapel. Fr. Thom Hennen led the service.
A devoted colleague and beloved teacher, Carpenter was Director of the School of Education and Professor of Education. He advised students in the Teacher Education Program (TEP), taught undergraduate and graduate courses, observed student teachers in the classroom, and served on several University committees.
Carpenter was well-known on the SAU campus, and no matter where he was, his presence was always known. If you were across campus, you'd recognize his baseball cap. If you were in class, it was the thump-thump of his cane before he entered the room. If you were in a building with him, you could hear his voice speaking words of encouragement.
A framed picture of Carpenter smiling – his signature grin and shining eyes – was stationed at the front of the chapel surrounded by blue glass votive candles that students and colleagues took turns lighting.
At the SAU memorial service, students talked about the times they'd asked Carpenter for advice. His words of encouragement and care resonated so strongly with them; many admitted that they continued their teacher education at SAU because of Carpenter.
Dale Blesz, PhD, Associate Professor of Education, remarked that Carpenter went above and beyond for his education students.
"He deeply cared about kids," Blesz said. "He had strong convictions and loyalties. He was also a person of deep faith, which I think drove his commitment to social justice."
Sandy Cassady, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, who hired Carpenter nearly eight years ago, said he had a long life full of influencing and coaching others.
"He had so many life experiences," Cassady said. "He worked in and out of education, with decades of work experience. He was a strong contributor to our college leadership team: whether it was directly related to education or aligned with another initiative in our college, he was always on board and supportive. He was deeply committed to our core values."
Prior to Tom's arrival at SAU in 2012, he was Director of Education at Lyon College, a small, liberal arts college in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Batesville, Arkansas. Lyon colleague and Professor of English, Terrell Tebbetts, PhD, said that just like at SAU, Tom was very much loved by the teacher education students at Lyon.
Carpenter also had a profound effect on his fellow professors in the School of Education.
"Tom had the ability to perceive potential in people," said Gene Bechen, PhD, who previously taught music education before moving to teacher education in 2015. "He would encourage people to the point where they would need more time and the light bulb would come on. I feel a lot of gratitude and indebtedness to him."
"Tom and I came to the TEP in the same cohort of new faculty and I depended on his wisdom and mentoring through those first years," said Associate Professor of Education, Laurie Jeans, PhD. "I felt blessed that Tom saw the value in making good teachers of our smallest citizens and I believe we, in early childhood education, had a strong advocate. His support was unwavering and he is truly missed."
"He was such a kind, caring person and really had a love and passion for education," said Julie Delaney, PhD. As principal of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School, Delaney served on the SAU Master of Educational Administration (MEA) Advisory Council that Carpenter chaired. "He was able to bring a variety of people together and always trying to improve, to do what was best for his teachers and the school."
"He had a passion for education, especially wanting the very best for our SAU students, and for doing the right thing for people," said SAU colleague Nancy Gardner, EdD, in the MEA program. "Dr. Carpenter would always make time to work with the MEA Department and helped us see how our program fit into the whole scheme of the family and mission of St. Ambrose University."
He served the University in various capacities including sitting on several committees. Within the teacher education profession, he was also actively involved as a member of the National Association for Multicultural Education, National Alliance of Black School Educators, Washington Alliance of Black School Educators, Pedagogy Improvement Project, and the SAU representative to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (and its Iowa chapter).
Carpenter had a vast and varied background in education and religion. He was an ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Pastor to congregations in Arkansas and Washington state; and Guest preacher at Bethel AME church in Davenport and many others.
In the Quad Cities community, Carpenter lived out a personal mission to advance the education of minorities and underprivileged. He was a member of the Davenport NAACP, the Davenport Community School District's Faith-Based Advisory Council, Big Brothers/Big Sisters (executive board), and the Davenport Diocese Strategic Planning Commission.
Carpenter's daughter, Janice, wrote the following to be shared with the St. Ambrose University community:
It is with deep sorrow that our family announces the passing of our beloved Husband and father Rev. Dr. Thomas Carpenter.
Tom was many things to many people: a lifelong educator, a community leader, a courageous ally for the marginalized and for people of color; a loving husband, a devoted father and grandfather, and most importantly, a man of God.
And in all ways he was consistent; his great generosity was the strongest of the threads that wove together those pieces of his life. Tom was sincerely and deeply giving, of deed and of spirit; every soul that crossed his path was gifted with some piece of himself.
Our dad's favorite gospel song was "How Excellent," and what a fitting theme for his life. Because in all things he strived for excellence: in his walk with God, in his educating and community work, and in his great love for his wife and family.
The void left upon his passing will be felt not only by those that loved him, but also by those that simply knew him. May we all carry on the powerful legacy of Rev. Dr. Thomas Carpenter in our hearts, our actions, in our lives, and most importantly, in the way we love one another.