Born in 1891 in Iowa, Thomas J. Tormey endured an early childhood marked by frequent moves and the divorce of his parents. Tormey excelled in school. A prizewinning debater, he played football, held office as class president, and graduated from a Missouri public school at age seventeen. Tormey enrolled, as a chemistry major, at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Odd jobs as a waiter and shoe salesman underwrote his education. Tormey was awarded his Bachelor of Science degree in 1914. He then served as superintendent of schools in Independence, Iowa and later at Grundy Center, following a brief enlistment in the military in 1917.
One year after receiving his Ph.D. in Education from the University of Iowa in 1932, Tormey became the eighth president of Arizona State Teacher's College [ASTC] at Flagstaff. Despite the economic challenges associated with the height of the Great Depression, Tormey and the school persevered. The President established community night classes to generate additional income and secured federal grants from the Public Works Administration to improve and expand facilities. The 1935 national broadcast of the first "Shrine of Ages Choir" performance at a Grand Canyon Easter sunrise service marked a pleasant note for his administration.
In 1938, ASTC presented its first master's degree in education. The first forestry courses were offered during the summer of 1939, a step toward the founding of a school of forestry. In the fall of 1940, students enlisted in droves for service as part of World War II. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tormey became general county chairman of the Civilian Defense Coordinating Council. In 1943, he accepted a temporary post in California assisting with civilian services. In Tormey's absence, Dean Tom Bellwood served as acting president. In June of 1944, Tormey resigned as president to pursue a career with a West Coast industrial firm.
Condensed from Platt Cline, Mountain Campus: The Story of Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff: Northland Press, 1983), chapter VI.