Converse College’s Thomas McDaniel doesn’t hunt or fish or enjoy travel. So what’s a professor, administrator and author of eight books, 35 textbook chapters and articles in more than 60 journals to do during retirement after nearly 45 years on campus? Continue to teach and write, of course.
McDaniel, 74, now serves as senior vice president at Converse. He began working at the college in 1971, as chair of the education department and director of graduate studies. He also has been an education professor and served as acting dean of the Petrie School of Music and School of Graduate Studies; dean of the college of arts and sciences; vice president of academic affairs; provost and in 1993-94, as interim president.
“I’ve done just about everything a college could figure out I might be able to do,” McDaniel said. “A small college always has needs, which we like to call opportunities. I worked under eight presidents, and I was the only one I could get along with. Just kidding — it was interesting to see different leadership styles and learn from them.”
The shelves in McDaniel’s office in Carmichael Hall are lined with books and journals, several of which he has written. He co-authored “At Home in South Carolina” with his wife, Nan, and Sandra Thomas. The textbook was adopted by the state for third-graders in 1991, 1999 and 2005. His latest book, “School Law for South Carolina Educators” was published in 2007, with new editions in 2013 and 2015.
McDaniel will continue to teach school law at Converse after his retirement at the end of the spring semester and edit “The Clearing House,” a journal for middle and high school teachers.
His volume of published material is impressive, but McDaniel said his proudest accomplishment over the years has been teaching more than 4,000 students. He also is proud of having an influence on teachers, administrators and superintendents by leading workshops across the country. “My most important contribution is helping the college I love get better in any way I could,” he said.
Debra Young, who’s worked as McDaniel’s assistant for 22 years, said McDaniel has been a kind, gentle-hearted supervisor. “He’s a wonderful educator,” Young said. “He’s been a mentor to everybody. He’s done everything, plus some, at Converse. He helps new students and parents unpack and take things to their dorms.”
When McDaniel served as interim president, he made daily rounds on campus, trying to get to each building. “I think he was the glue that held us together during that time,” Young said. “People were always glad to see him.”
McDaniel will be remembered not only for his teaching and mentoring, but also for his dry sense of humor. Young said he has a Yogi Berra quote at the ready for any situation and has played Santa Claus with full suit and beard for Christmas at the college. She also said he walks to work each day from his home in Converse Heights, across East Main Street from the campus, in any kind of weather. “He’s just one of a kind,” Young said.
Like Young, Converse President Betsy Fleming says McDaniel is an original, who through his teaching and leadership, has had an “exponential” impact on the vitality of the college. “He is a selfless leader who has transformed the field of teacher education and countless lives through his work,” Fleming said in a written statement. “He has equipped thousands of students to go out and make a difference in the world in a way that only each of them can uniquely do. His presence in the classroom is invaluable to Converse and to our current and future students, so we are thrilled that he will continue to teach.”
Outside of the classroom, McDaniel served as board president for the Charles Lea Center; chairman of the Spartanburg County Commission on Excellence in Education; chairman of the Spartanburg County Board of Education; chairman of the Children’s Advocacy Center; and numerous academic and professional boards.
McDaniel and his wife, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary in June, are active members of First Presbyterian Church and lead study groups there. Nan McDaniel is also a well-known educator in Spartanburg. She developed the gifted program for Spartanburg School District 7. The McDaniels have two children, Robb and Katy, who are both college professors, and five grandchildren. McDaniel has written a song for each of his grandchildren, and the sheet music for each tune, written by Converse’s music faculty, is framed and on display in his office.
“It’s been just a wonderful professional experience,” McDaniel said. “I’ve been able to grow as an academic, as a professor, administrator and president. It’s been a great experience with students, faculty and administrative colleagues. Seeing a timid freshman walk across the stage as a bold and confident senior — that’s something other professions don’t get to enjoy.”
Photo caption: Converse College honored Dr. Tom McDaniel during the 2015 Founder’s Day celebration. President Betsy Fleming, right, presents him with a proclamation from the City of Spartanburg.
This story was written by Jenny Arnold of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Photo credit: Tim Kimzey.