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Sept. 27, 2010
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Former Department of Music professor Byron Mitchell passed away Sept. 15. He taught at Northwest Missouri State University from 1964-1999, leading and shaping the Tower Choir and University Chorale.
Mitchell headed the Tower Choir from 1964-1992. He won two Missouri Music Educators' Association choral appearances for the ensemble, in 1973 and 1978. Typically, only two university choirs perform for the MMEA each year, according to fellow Department of Music professor Stephen Town.
"I think he really took over the Tower Choir and made it his own for many years," Town said.
Mitchell, who died at the age of 74, was regarded by his colleagues as a soft-spoken and humble man. Chair of the Music Department Ernest Woodruff worked with Mitchell for 23 years, who recalls faculty receptions at the Mitchell home following music recitals.
"Byron got results, I think, in classrooms by using a fairly gentile approach," Woodruff said. "He didn't get in people's faces and show them an angry side or anything like that. He was just very kind and a fairly quiet man."
In 2009, Mitchell's wife Fran publicly announced his affliction with Alzheimer's disease. They moved to the Barry Road quarter in Kansas City to be closer to Fran's children. By the summer of 2010, Mitchell's Alzheimer's disease, combined with Parkinson's, brought him to Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Riverside, Kan., where he passed away from disease-related complications.
"He was an avid watcher of the stock market," Ernest Kramer, Department of Music professor, said. "He was funny because when you would run into him and ask how he was doing, he'd say, 'Well the market had a great day today,' or 'The market isn't doing well.' That's how he would greet us."
Kramer, like others, spoke highly of Mitchell's patience and congeniality.
"He'd never say a bad word about someone else," Kramer said. "A gentleman is a very good way to describe him - outstanding gentlemen, outstanding conductor."
Mitchell was involved with Missouri Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association for many years, even serving as president. In 1986 he received the MCDA's Luther-Spayde award, which is given to one member annually.
In addition to Mitchell's ample work at Northwest, he directed the Chancel Choir at First United Methodist Church. Mitchell also was avid in physical recreation including golf, racquetball and fly fishing.
"Most of us have our degree diplomas up on the wall," Town said. "Well, he had his fish on the wall, the ones that he had caught."
Town began teaching at Northwest in 1986, at the beginning of Mitchell's 22nd year. Town recalls Mitchell's friendly, welcoming support. The two maintained communication up until Mitchell's death.
"To sum up Byron, he was professional but he had a really good sense of humor," Town said. "He usually knew how to use that sense of humor to break any kinds of stressful situations."
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Charles Johnson Theatre. Alumni of the Tower Choir are invited to join current choir members to perform "Fare Thee Well Love," "A Parting Blessing" and "Amazing Grace." Alumni wishing to participate can contact Dr. Stephen Town at 660.562.1795 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A musical scholarship has been set up in Mitchell's name. To contribute, send donations to the Byron Mitchell Memorial Scholarship Fund to the Northwest Foundation, 800 University Drive, Maryville, MO 64468. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the fund.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
email@example.com | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900
Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468