Southeast Missouri State University student publication

A professor's journey through nearly 50 years at SEMO

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Photo by Emma Kratky

In 1973, Southeast Missouri State University celebrated its 100th anniversary and Tony Varnon enrolled as a freshman studying accounting. Varnon graduated in 1977, then began teaching at Central Missouri State University.

Varnon returned to SEMO in 1979, this time as a professor. He never left, and this year marks his 44th as a professor.

If you do the math, that’s a half-century of combined experiences at SEMO.

“I think I turned down 18,000 to be a tax accountant to make a whopping $11,000 to teach,” Varnon said. “‘Oh wow’, I thought. ‘Obviously, I must like [teaching].’”

Varnon said he was surrounded by a family of teachers growing up, so he accepted the possibility of becoming one himself.

He said the biggest change he has witnessed has been the use of technology in courses, and how many courses are now taught completely online.

Varnon said technology changes have not changed students or turned them away from SEMO.

“Students are always the same, he said. “They’re happy and excited and like being on campus. They’re there to learn.”

During his five decades at SEMO, Varnon said he has made many lasting relationships. One unique relationship is with former student and current colleague Leisa Marshall.

Marshall, then a double major studying finance and accounting, met Varnon when she took a class he taught in 1979. Besides being her teacher, she said they had a friendly relationship outside of class through the accounting club, which Varnon advised. A few years later, they met again in graduate school, where Varnon was finishing his doctorate as Marshall finished her master’s degree.

In 2013, Marshall was hired as the chair of the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics, making her Varnon’s boss. Three years later, she stepped down as chair and worked alongside him full-time as a professor.

“I actually told my department chair the other day, I have a high respect for Tony’s opinions, and probably that is from way back when he was the teacher,” Marshall said. “I just think he’s really super smart.”

The current department chair, David Yaskewich, also has high praise for Varnon.

“I think he adds a lot of insight and continuity and background on what has been done in the past,” Yaskewich said. “I think he’s been the elder statesman in the department, where he has a lot of that experience…and has valuable advice whenever we think of strategies to improve student outcomes.”

Yaskewich said Varnon also is a great individual to work with in the department.

“In department meetings he’s known for being sharp as a tack,” Yaskewich said. “He’s just genuinely cool. He’s someone who makes department meetings go smoother.”

Varnon said the change from solely in-person classes to fully online courses has been drastic. Even so, he said he believes students still enjoy attending class in person.

“Individuals have this desire to learn and have human interaction in this process,” Varnon said.

Marshall noted Varnon’s adaptability to technology, and even said he encouraged her to learn about it when it was first being developed.

“He’s wise. He has a question in mind, and I think because of that, he was eager to take in the new technology,” she said. “For people that are younger, it’s just a little bit [of new technology] each week. For us, it was like outerspace kind of stuff coming at us.”

Varnon said he thinks he will “keep on keeping on” at SEMO because he enjoys the community. Outside of class, he and his wife enjoy seeing plays at the River Campus, and they avidly follow women’s basketball.