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Dec. 5, 2013 Volume 35, No. 15

Longtime staff member adjusts to changes at Mizzou North

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These days, Tilford Spry, supervisor of plant engineering of the Mizzou North building, helps out museum staff and other MU employees at the 115 Business Loop 70 West structure he’s worked at for more than 40 years. Photo by Rob Hill.

As a high school student, Tilford Spry already knew he wanted to work at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. He could see Ellis Fischel at 115 Business Loop 70 West from Hickman High School, and to him, the building represented security and stability. 

Spry started working in maintenance at Ellis Fischel in 1972. After more than 40 years of employment, Spry is the supervisor of plant engineering for the building. 

“I was thinking down the road that it would be nice to work someplace where you had decent benefits and someplace you’d try to stay as long as you could so that you’d have a decent retirement,” Spry said. “So I just started out like everybody else at the bottom line and moved up.” 

Today, Spry is the security and stability supporting the old Ellis Fischel building as it transforms into Mizzou North.

“I do whatever it takes,” he said.

Over and Above

Spry knows the building inside and out. If something goes wrong with fire alarms, electrical panels, plumbing systems, exhaust fans, utilities, air conditioners or valves, Spry can fix it or facilitate repairs. 

Spry also helps out co-workers and visitors. When the building was home to Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Spry routinely helped lost visitors navigate the maze-like hallways. 

Co-workers say Spry is the type of person who puts others’ needs before his own.

Larry Hall, manager of engineering at University Hospital until his retirement this year, recalled a time when a discharged patient discovered his car had a flat. Although Spry was on break and it was pouring rain, he fixed the tire. 

“He’s just one of those kinds of guys,” said Hall, who worked with Spry from 1991 to 2013. “I used to tell people that he was 6 feet tall when he started that job and just wore his legs down running around helping people.” (Spry is 5 feet 4 inches.)

The ever-humble Spry quickly sidesteps compliments.

“If they needed anything, we took care of those patients,” Spry said. “Not just me specifically. Ever since I’ve worked here, it’s always been a group effort.”

That’s just Spry, said Bob Schnetzler, assistant manager of plant engineering at University Hospital and Spry’s direct supervisor since 2001.

“He doesn’t like to give himself accolades,” said Schnetzler, who listed Spry’s achievements, including the 1993 Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award and the 2003 MU Health Care Service Excellence Champion award. “But he’s 110 percent go all the time. I call him my Energizer Bunny.” 


When the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center reopened in February 2013 at University Hospital at One Hospital Drive, Spry stayed at the Business Loop 70 building. The Museum of Art and Archeology is in the process of moving to Mizzou North for an indefinite time while work is done on its building on the Francis Quadrangle. Staff of the museum and other administrative offices have already moved to Mizzou North. The Museum of Anthropology is still open in Swallow Hall and will move to Mizzou North in summer 2014.

Although the change was difficult for some employees, Spry sees it as an opportunity. 

“If that’s what it takes to keep this facility open rather than taking it down, then that’s what is needed to be done,” Spry said. “Change is not always what you might want, but sometimes you can learn more, and sometimes it’s even better.”

No longer helping patients, Spry spends most of his time helping the building’s new tenants.

“If the guys that are doing the museums, if they need some help or want to know how to get into the building, if they call me in the middle of the night, I’m there to help them,” Spry said. 

With file cabinets full of blueprints and records that document the building’s 70-plus-year history, Spry answers a lot of questions every day, including from Campus Facilities. But he isn’t finished learning. 

“The people that are coming here [from Campus Facilities], I’m going to learn from them, and hopefully I can help them and give them some input, too,” Spry said. “You can learn every day.”

Having celebrated his 65th birthday in October, Spry said his outlook on life is changing — at least regarding some things. 

He started at Ellis Fischel with the hope of one day enjoying a comfortable retirement. He and his wife, Deborah, like to travel to places warmer than Columbia, and he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family. 

“But I’m not ready to retire,” Spry said. “I’m going to go as long as I can and stay as long as I can. I’m not ready to go. This is home.”

— Kelsey Allen