DEFIANCE, OH – Several Defiance College alumni received honors during the homecoming festivities on Saturday, Oct. 24. Among those recognized was Fayette resident Thomas Spiess, who received the Alumni Achievement Award.
Tom Spiess graduated from Defiance College in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in comprehensive art. Shortly after graduation, he accepted a position at Gorham Fayette Schools as the K-12 art instructor. Tom stresses that his career at Fayette was only supposed to last three years: enough time for him to implement an innovative program, see it through its first years, and move on to a larger school and city. However, his involvement with the community and the receptive audience he found in Fayette led to a fundamental shift in the way he viewed education. Tom retired from Fayette Schools in 2000 after 30 years of service, and he continues to fulfill his passion for bringing art to communities.
Tom has been called a “bridge-builder” by those who know him best, and this characteristic is evident through his efforts as the Fayette Community Arts Council Executive Director. While in this position, Tom led the restoration of the Fayette Opera House, returning access to cultural arts and arts education to his community. The Opera House is described by community members as “a vital space for the performing arts and the heartbeat for cultural and historical activities in parts of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.” Current programs implemented by Tom at the Fayette Opera House include the Steinem-Nyce series, a community conversation series promoting civic responsibility by linking the arts and humanities with civic engagement. Tom is also proud of the Opera House’s annual Glasgow Reed Organ Series, bringing musicians from around the world to perform on the restored reed organs featured at the Fayette Opera House.
In the Fayette community and its surrounding region, Tom has found an appreciative audience. “There are no innovative programs without the desire for people to welcome innovation into their lives,” Tom says, and successful programs are a product of strong communities.
Tom’s lasting legacy at Defiance College began as a tribute to his oldest son, Jon. In May of 1994, Jon Spiess graduated from Defiance College with a degree in Sport Management. Unfortunately, Jon lost his life in an automobile accident two months after graduating. Two years later, Tom established the Jon Spiess Memorial Golf Tournament, and in two decades, the tournament has hosted thousands of college golfers. Growing from a six-team format in 1996 to a two-day, two-course event featuring collegiate players from NCAA Division I, II, and III schools; NAIA Teams, and junior college teams. Proceeds from the tourney benefit scholarships for DC students.
Tom has served on the Ohio Arts Council; as founder and director of the Fayette Community Arts Council; as a Jennings Scholar; chairman of the Fulton County United Way; president of the Gorham Fayette Teachers’ Association; and president of the Fulton County Community Improvement Corporation. Tom is humbled to be the recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award, and credits the successes he has enjoyed to the “efforts of others who share the same vision.” Tom currently resides in Fayette with his wife of 47 years, Cherlyn. In addition to Jon, they have three children: Matthew, Mark, and Elizabeth.
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