The Ball State community is remembering longtime educator Anthony “Tony” Edmonds, 81, distinguished professor emeritus of history, who passed away on August 9.
Edmonds taught in person at Ball State for 44 years until his retirement in 2013. Even after retirement, Edmonds continued to teach history online for the university until Fall 2018.
“Tony’s commitment to teaching was inspiring,” said Abel Alves, chair of the history department. “He taught thousands of students, and what he was always most enthusiastic about was helping them understand that a passion for learning would help them in their jobs, but more importantly, in their lives outside of their careers.”
Edmonds joined Ball State’s history department as an assistant professor in 1969. Throughout his illustrious career, he won numerous teaching awards, established the academic honors in writing program, served as chair and faculty advisor for the history department, and taught courses in the Honors College.
From 1974 to 2009, Edmonds also welcomed students at orientation with a lecture about the merits of a liberal arts education. He spoke to an estimated 250,000 incoming students and their family members over the course of those summers.
“He touched the lives of so many students he never had in class,” said Kevin Smith, associate dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities and professor of history. “Everyone knew him.”
Edmonds was also a productive scholar. His publications included The War in Vietnam (1998), Muhammad Ali: A Biography (2005) and Ball State University: An Interpretive History (2001), a text he co-wrote with his colleague, Bruce Geelhoed, professor of history.
“To say that Tony enlivened thousands of days for those of us who knew him would be a tremendous understatement,” Geelhoed said. “He was a fixture in the history department—and to all of Ball State.”
President Geoffrey S. Mearns said Edmonds’ contributions to the university are profound and enduring.
“Before I came to Ball State, I read the book he co-wrote with Dr. Geelhoed, which was instrumental to my understanding of the university. Dr. Edmonds will be remembered through his scholarship and through his legacy of inspiring our students to become lifelong learners.”
Edmonds’ colleagues recall how he balanced his wisdom with what Geelhoed calls his “inimitable sense of humor.” They use words like “ranconteur” and “legendary” to describe a man known as much for his exhaustive knowledge of the Vietnam War as for his penchant for jazz music, which he often played loudly in his office in the Burkhardt Building.
Alves has in his possession a cow bell that once belonged to Edmonds. The bell was a gift from Judy Bir, who served as the history department’s administrator coordinator when Edmonds was chair, from 1988 to 1992.
“Judy gave it to him because of his constant wanderings in the building while he was fulfilling the tasks of being chair,” Alves explained. “This was before cell phones, and now it’s a memento of both Tony’s personality and the merriment he brought to our department.”
Edmonds also left an indelible mark on the Honors College alongside his wife, Joanne Edmonds, assistant dean emeritus of the college. Together, the couple directed Socractic-like colloquia, led an intensive humanities seminar at the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, and, for years, took undergraduate students to study abroad in England.
They also inspired a new generation of faculty, including Tim Berg, humanities professor in the Honors College.
“I owe Tony a lot. He encouraged me to apply for this job, and my time in the Honors College has been the best professional experience of my life. He saw something in me that I couldn’t yet see and gave me a push. That’s the kind of person he was.”
Edmonds is survived by Joanne and their three sons.