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Van Denman Thompson served in the School of Music under six presidents for a period of 45 years. University organist and a teacher of organ, piano, and composition since 1911, he also directed the School of Music from 1937 until his retirement in 1956. He was a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and earned the degree of B.Mus. from Lincoln-Jefferson University in 1919 and was elected a fellow of the American Guild of Organists in the same year. DePauw awarded him an honorary doctorate in music in 1935.



Outside of his work in the Music School and as organist and choir director at Gobin Methodist Church, Thompson was best known for his brilliant organ recitals and witty chapel entertainments. Diminutive in stature and painfully shy, he revealed a remarkable sense of humor in his public appearances. His colleague Jerome Hixson has described him as a "lesson in the gentle art of not taking himself too seriously." Seated at the console of the Bowman organ in Meharry Hall he would improvise in the style of Bach, "My girl's a hullabaloo; she goes to D.P.U.," exhibit his mastery of Boogie Woogie to the delight of the assembled students, or hunt for the "Lost Chord," finally finding it at the end of the performance. One morning word spread that a second daughter had been born to his wife, and students shouted, "Thompson, speech!" Slipping from behind the organ bench and drawing himself up to his full height of about five feet, he confirmed the report with the explanation that "we had rather hoped for a boy, but we decided to name her Patience." (Patience Thompson Berg grew up to become a concert performer and teacher of violin and viola at the university.)

Van Denman Thompson was a prolific composer of hymns, anthems, cantatas, and oratorios, and a principal contributor to the 1935 edition of the Methodist Hymnal edited by Dean Robert McCutcheon of the Music School. Commissioned in 1934 to compose an oratorio in the honor of the 150th anniversary of American Methodism, he wrote the music for "The Evangel of the New World" (with words by a faculty colleague's wife, Ethel Arnold Tilden). Its premier performance was given on the DePauw campus by the university choir under Thompson's direction.

A devoted family man, vegetable gardener, and reader of encyclopedias, the versatile organist was also a gourmet cook, specializing in pastries. When he purchased a bright red convertible in his later years, he justified its acquisition by the typical Thompsonism, "We can only be young twice." He retired to his home in Greencastle, where he died in 1969 at the age of 78. His wife, Eulamai Bogle Thompson, who was blind and herself a musician and composer, as well as a celebrated seamstress and mother of six, died in 1954. Van Denman Thompson's portrait, painted by Harold McDonald, hangs today in the Recital Hall named for him in the Performing Arts Center on the DePauw campus.

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