- Published: April 14, 2011
Tom Ayrsman died unexpectedly on Sunday, April 3. He was 60.
Tom was born June 21, 1950 to Grace and Robert Ayrsman. He went through Beavercreek schools where he met his future wife, Cheryl Call. After graduation from Beavercreek High School, Tom waited for Cheryl to finish nursing school so they could marry and set off to establish themselves in Vermont. They had a wonderful hiatus staying in a bed and breakfast, but could not find jobs. They returned to the area and set up their first residence in Cedarville. Tom worked at Central State and rebuilt their tornado damaged green house.
Tom and Cheryl were excited to move to Yellow Springs It was a place they both felt comfortable and a place that shared their values. Tom began his association with Antioch College by enrolling as a student in the early 1970s. In the mid-’70s, Tom was hired by Antioch College to be technical director of the science area, providing support for all laboratories in the sciences. While working as technical cirector, he went on to obtain his PhD in environmental studies, with a specialty in botany, from the Union Institute. After completing his PhD, with the encouragement of many, he joined the Antioch College faculty, teaching environmental science and botany. During this time his son Shane was born, with Amy following six years later in 1981.
As an Antioch College professor, Tom was well-liked by his students He had the talent of making each student feel special. He was skilled at integrating field study with his classroom teaching using Glen Helen, the Smokey Mountains, Cedar Key in Florida and other midwestern sites.
While he was technical director and continuing through his work as a professor, he was director of the college’s Environmental Field Program. or EFP. Selected EFP leaders and students spent 10 weeks in a bioregion distant from the college campus studying environmental issues. The success of each program depended on skilled leadership. He was masterful at teaching EFP leaders the skills needed to keep each program functioning. For many students, EFP was the most memorable academic experience of their Antioch education.
Tom had special skills in construction and woodworking. His hobby was making Shaker and colonial replications. He built his own home, including the cupboards, counters, mantle and even the toilet roll dispenser. He was known as a “good steward” of any project he touched, whether it was how to care for a tool, how to plant a tree or how to treat other people.
Tom was a member and past chair of the Glen Helen Association and provided decades of service on the Yellow Springs Tree Committee. Tom helped plant and care for trees throughout the village, including those in Mills Lawn and Ellis Park.
Tom’s passion was protecting and caring for our environment. He was an expert on old-growth forests. Decades ago, he and the family were featured in a Dayton Daily News article about their environmentally-friendly lifestyle before anyone had used the words “green living.”
Tom was devoted to his family. He helped both his children move across the country and encouraged and supported Shane’s new business. He remodeled the homes of both his mother and mother-in-law. He will be missed by his mother-in-law Martha Call, Cheryl’s sister and husband Caryl and Bill Bowman, his niece Chaland Hobbs and brother Bob Ayrsman. He will especially be missed by his wife, Cheryl and their two children Shane and Amy.
Tom will be remembered by his students , environmental field trip participants, colleagues and alumni of Antioch College, many of whom felt their lives were changed by knowing Tom.
A tree-planting memorial service will be held April 16, 3 p.m., in Glen Helen near Trailside Museum. A white oak, Tom’s favorite, will grow as a memorial to his love of trees and caring for the environment.