SHERIDAN — After a social hour and dedication ceremony in honor of Tom Kinnison, a piano concert took place at the newly-christened Kinnison Hall inside the Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College last Thursday. A mural of Kinnison inside the concert hall was unveiled as well, with two separate images: one of him as a young man and one as a legislator.
Tom Kinnison died July 1 at age 70 after a battle with cancer. He had served on the Whitney Benefits Board of Directors since 2000, was a member of the Wyoming Legislature for nearly 20 years and a former city of Sheridan councilman.
Kinnison helped fund and advance many educational and community projects in Sheridan, including the Whitney Center for the Arts.
Whitney Benefits board President Roy Garber met Kinnison when Kinnison joined the Whitney board in 2000. Garber said the auditorium was one of Kinnison’s passion projects.
“The performance hall at the college is certainly one of them that I think was near and dear to his heart, and he wanted to see a quality facility there,” Garber said. “I think it lived up to that.”
Sheridan College President Paul Young agreed.
“It really is sort of the crown jewel of the facility,” Young said. “A lot of people will get exposed to Tom’s story that way.”
Young said Kinnison’s wife informed the late legislator about the name change a few days before he died.
“We had hoped to have a reception like this while he was still alive,” Young said. “At the hospital, he was told of this.”
The name change had been in the works for several months. Shortly after Kinnison became seriously ill in February, the Northern Wyoming Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously approved the renaming.
NWCCD board Chair Norleen Healy worked professionally with Kinnison during the past seven years. Healy recalled his persistence to see the WCA come to fruition.
“He just kind of took it under his interest,” Healy said. “He worked hard to help us get the funding … He felt personally invested in it.”
Young met Kinnison more than a decade ago when Young was a vice president at Gillette College.
“I would come to meetings up here, and he was actually quite a fearsome presence,” Young said. “He really wanted things done. He wanted them done in a certain way at a certain time and he was always pushing the college really hard … I knew when I became president I needed to earn his support in order to do more things. My board told me that was my number one job, was to get the support of Whitney Benefits for Sheridan College.”
Young said working with Kinnison for the past eight years always provided a challenge.
“He was singularly-minded on promoting the community and bettering it,” Young said. “Tom was always interested in results. He told me that at the very beginning, ‘All I care about is results’ … It was a lot of hard work to convince Tom of a course of action and to meet the very high standards that he had for everything. He was the original attention to detail guy.”
Similarly, Garber said Kinnison had a drive to see the local area improved.
“He was always looking for a way to add to the college and to the community things that would help in the education of young people,” Garber said. “He worked tirelessly in those efforts to see what he could bring to fruition and put a lot of his time and effort into it.”
Young recalled Kinnison’s unique sense of humor, like when Kinnison wore a Mexican wrestling mask to a symphony rehearsal. Young never could tell for certain when Kinnison was joking, which always kept Young on his toes.
Young said Kinnison had a softer side as well.
“Everybody knew tough Tom, demanding Tom, (who) was pushing to get things done,” Young said. “I don’t think people knew about his love for people that were disadvantaged, the way he helped students out here, all anonymously. That side was just not — people didn’t see that.”
Garber said the name change lifted his spirits, which it will hopefully do for others.
“It’ll always put a smile on your face when you walk in and see the name attached to it,” Garber said.
After his work to help construct the concert hall, the name change and mural signify tangible evidence that Kinnison’s legacy will live on at Sheridan College.