Tribute to Dan Tonkery – remembered by colleagues and friends

by | Apr 28, 2021 | 1 comment

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Dan Tonkery

At the end of March, 2021, the scholarly information community lost a true giant, Dan Tonkery, whose profound influence and amazing career will long be remembered and respected, as evidenced by the many wonderful memories which follow.  

A biographical article about Dan’s life and work by Amira Aaron, including a personal remembrance, appears in the April issue of Against the Grain (this post will be updated with a link to that article, when available).

NLM:

Elaine C. Alligood, MLS

Little did I know that my Youth Opportunity Act, summer of ’69 job, at the National Library of Medicine, was to change my life in the most amazing ways. Dropped into the tiny Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, with only 16+/- staff then. Our Director, Dr. Ruth Davis’ office was adjacent to NLM Director’s–innovation was in the air and nothing less than transformation was the agenda at LHNCBC!  Speaking of innovation, in 1970 Dan arrived in one of the coolest NLM Associates groups ever! His grasp of technology’s potential, and his humor were always present. Often most present when I asked him for explanations of what and how these technologies were the answer to medical libraries. His kind and humorous answers to my questions were always a big help to me as I was stuck typing up the many arcane technology details and plans. Luckily, I was able to stay on at NLM for the next 3.5 years, as did Dan, and when I graduated with my art history degree my epiphany came fast—medical librarianship—is so much more exciting!  Of course, my next move was to shift gears and enter U.Md. College of Library and Information Sciences!  Much later, after I’d been in a variety of medical librarian jobs, Dan and my career paths crossed more often, especially when I worked for Elsevier managing the North American Database Department for EMBASE from ’84 to ’90. We frequently wound up at the same conferences and parties. He was a brilliant guy, terrific strategist, a warm and engaged gentleman, taken far too soon.

Jean P. Shipman – Favorite Memory of Dan Tonkery 

It’s really hard for me to remember when I first met Dan Tonkery. Dan was just the kind of person everyone knew. He played a huge role in the scholarly communications and library worlds, mainly for his innate ability to connect people. We shared a connection – working with the National Library of Medicine (NLM). As a regional medical library director of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), Dan would often reflect on his time working at NLM. He would contact me from time to time to ask my opinion about different information products and to learn about how I applied them in my medical library world. He also introduced me to many people at conferences and via email. He also encouraged me to submit an article about my professional career to the Serials (UKSG) journal; the same issue of this journal includes a profile of Dan. When I joined Elsevier, he congratulated me and told me I could reach out to him at any time if I needed any assistance. That willingness to share his knowledge from his many years of varied experience was a key trait of Dan’s.

I wish to share my favorite memory of Dan and his wife, Linda. We were in Milan, Italy, attending the 2009 IFLA meeting. Dan had asked my husband and I to dinner. Unknowing to him, he asked us for dinner on a Monday night, a night most Italian restaurants in the area were closed. This didn’t discourage Dan. He called around and located a chef/restaurant owner who was willing to offer us a private cooked-to-order dinner. The restaurant was all ours, and we ate what the chef recommended all night long. We ate until we were stuffed, but while the food was delicious, the best part was the company. We laughed so hard for so many hours, that I’m sure we were able to consume more as we shook the food to make more room with our laughter. It was a very special night, and now, with Dan’s passing, an even more special memory. Dan will be sorely missed.

Sheldon Kotzin, Former Associate Director for Library Operations, NLM

Dan and I were hired at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) through the Library Associate Program, a one year internship that, at that time, usually led to the intern being hired by the Library. I came to NLM in 1968 and Dan arrived two years later. The program was led by the Associate Director for Library Operations, Dr. Joseph Leiter, a mentor to both of us. I think that Dan saw Joe as a role model, and many of us surmised that Dan featured himself as a young Joe. Was Dan a bit too impetuous? Probably so, but in no time he proved why Joe gave him the opportunities he needed to demonstrate his worth to all of us. Dan accomplished a great deal in his 10 years at NLM, especially in technical services and early automation efforts that supported the MEDLARS retrieval efforts.

After Dan left for California and later in his business ventures, he demonstrated new skills and acumen. Throughout his long career, he remained close to NLM, serving as a mentor to young staff and a trusted colleague to others. His main interests continued to be the Library Associate Program and automation activities. I looked forward to seeing Dan at annual meetings of the Medical Library Association. He always wanted to meet the new interns, find out what was new at the Library, and share his time and financial support in quiet but extremely generous ways. He will be missed.

UCLA:

Josephine Crawford, Kansas State University – Dan Tonkery, a look back

As a trained informational professional, I used to weed my professional papers every few years.  This task became easier over the years by the information revolution which I, and many others reading this journal, have witnessed across the arc of our professional lives.  Gone from my household are numerous unbound issues of professional journals, committee correspondence, and much more.  Yet, after all these years, I have held on to one print “artifact” to remind me of the early (and oh so fun) days when I began my library career at UCLA.  

I met Dan Tonkery sometime around the year 1980.  He was a library administrator responsible for technical services and library automation and he also taught GSLIS 405 at UCLA’s information/library school.  I worked full-time as a library assistant in acquisitions while progressing towards my M.L.S degree.  Using a manual typewriter, I wrote a paper for his course on “automating the borrowing operations of large ILL departments in academic libraries.”  Dan’s encouragement and critical feedback when I was just forming my professional interests and skills were life-changing, as were the doors he opened that brought new challenges and new responsibilities.

Dan Tonkery was a giant in the library world, crossing seamlessly between the library/user interests to the commercial/vendor perspective and roles.  At UCLA Libraries, he led the effort to create an integrated library system from disparate single-function systems in place at that time – single functions being acquisitions, serials check-in and control, circulation, and cataloging — to a unified system called ORION available to users on and off campus.  Dan’s leadership style created commitment, group energy, and the desire to push current boundaries.  I and my colleagues formed lifelong friendships and the UCLA Libraries were forever changed. To paint a picture of those days… I recall a sunny lunch table where workflow inefficiencies were analyzed by the group, and holistically considered technical solutions were debated and crafted amid many jokes and much laughter.  And I must add this one small but telling detail: the ORION system was programmed to present catalog displays with numbers sorted properly as “whole numbers” rather than as single digits, something we rarely see 40 years later in list displays.  Dan had a deep appreciation for the role of bibliographic standards and structure, and he hired people who shared that view.

Dan went on in his career to lead other cutting-edge initiatives for the times, such as publishing Medline and other reference databases on CD-ROM, developing new commercial ventures providing services to libraries, and using the Internet Information Highway (as we called it then) to deliver valuable new customer services.  He was also a popular speaker and author who educated librarians about the library marketplace and a rapidly-changing publishing industry.

I am forever in Dan’s debt and grieve deeply at his passing.  I am also just one of countless information professionals who benefitted from his intelligence, wit, professional insights, and generosity of spirit.

George Gibbs, Lawrence, KS

In thinking back on my memories of Dan, a number of situations/incidents came to mind.  First, I recall one fall Saturday afternoon soon after he arrived at UCLA.  He invited me to be his guest at a home football game, then played at the Coliseum.  I cannot remember why Ruth was out of town, but I took our son Thomas with me—he still in diapers and with a touch of some intestinal disorder and me with one clean diaper.  Thinking about it can still bring tears to my eyes, and it definitely wasn’t the best way to ingratiate myself with my new boss.  

I greatly enjoyed working with Dan.  If I presented a reasonably thought-out plan of action, he was willing to trust in my ability to carry it out.  Given the diversity of personalities present in tech services (I almost wrote difficult personalities), Dan was able to herd cats to accomplish a great deal.  At the top of the list was moving ahead with a locally developed, integrated tech services system that was better than all the commercially developed systems.  Also, his oversight of the Getty financed retrospective conversion of most of the UCLA Libraries collection and the necessary editing and cleanup of records following OCLC’s quick and dirty conversion made this massive, complex operation a success and moved the Libraries several jumps ahead of other large research libraries.

Outside of work, I remember the fun of the cross-country skiing excursions over the President’s Day weekend up at Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead with Bobbi and Roger Edelson, Patty McClung and Alan Morgan, Dan and Linda, and Ruth and me.  In the Olympic year we would venture to Yosemite and spend the evenings comparing our superior technique to what we saw on the tv screen.

Ruth Gibbs, Lawrence, KS

Dan started work at UCLA Libraries two weeks before I did.  I suppose many of the staff viewed us as Young Turks, which served to establish a bond of mutual support between us.  Dan’s goal was to transform the technical services operations and integrate the computer operations of the library system. To achieve this, he recognized that the audience for his efforts was the public service staff and the wider university community.  To that end he not only accepted, but sought, input from those who would be the end users of his efforts.  It was a pleasure to  work with Dan.  He was a gentleman of integrity – always honest in his dealings with his colleagues in the executive suite, as well as the rest of the library staff.  I was disappointed, but not surprised, when he chose to pursue bigger challenges away from UCLA.

Diane Bisom, Associate University Librarian Emrita, UC Riverside – A tribute to Dan Tonkery

My late father used to say that everyone you meet serves as an example – some are bad examples, and some are good. Dan Tonkery was, for me, one of those rare people who was a good example in all walks of his life. Dan was a mentor, a colleague, a practical visionary, and a treasured friend. 

I had the immense good fortune to meet Dan at the beginning of my career, in 1979. I was a graduate student employee on the UCLA Library’s Title IIC Serials Recon Project, and Dan had recently joined the Library as the Associate University Librarian for Technical Services. Dan took one look at the Project and made simple but revolutionary changes that super-charged data conversion productivity. He saw the genius and potential of the UCLA Biomedical Library’s serials check-in system and recognized the possible symbiosis between the two projects. His vision, drive, technical acuity, creativity, and remarkable ability to bring people along, led to the creation of the UCLA Library’s innovative ORION online catalog and technical processing system, one of the earliest integrated library systems. 

Dan brought me onto the Orion development team, and his confidence and trust in me as I started my career set me firmly on my path in digital library technologies, for which I will be forever grateful.  Over the years, and especially over the weeks since Dan’s untimely passing, I have thought a lot about Dan’s impact and all that I learned from him.

Before Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) had a name and a presence in academic institutions, Dan showed me the importance of finding, including, and investing in talent throughout the organization. As a young woman interested in technology, Dan encouraged me to speak up, listened, and treated me as a professional, giving me the confidence to pursue what was then, a male-dominated profession. 

Dan valued his professional relationships and friendships. He had friends in libraries and library-related companies throughout the world and was always collecting more. I never ceased to be amazed about the “degrees of Tonkery” connections among library colleagues. My favorite event at any ALA meeting was always “dinner with Dan” where I met many of these colleagues. Dan would regale his dinner companions with interesting, and always humorous, “tales from the field” over good food, dessert, and always tea for Dan.

Dan was a savvy risk-taker and creative problem-solver. He cautioned that while there was always a technical solution to the problem at hand, true success was dependent on the successful identification and resolution of the human issues. With head-shaking stories to prove it, Dan showed that with creativity and effort, there is always a way, even in the University of California, to make progress. 

Over the years, Dan and I kept each other up to date on our professional lives and respective families. Dan was devoted to Linda, proud of their sons and grandchildren, and happily immersed in Asheville life and their Tonk Farms venture. I will miss our email exchanges and catch-up phone calls.

Dan was my mentor and friend, encouraging in new ventures, supportive in challenging times, and happy for my achievements. And always, Dan was that rare, good example.

FAXON:

Bob Boissy, Director of Account Development, Springer Nature

My stand out memories of Dan are many.  We shared the life of a subscription agent, sometimes on the same team, sometimes on opposing teams.  But it always gave us a common understanding about offering good, attentive, and often technologically creative services for libraries.  Like me, Dan was a librarian by training and early career choice, which I greatly respected about him.  Finally, we both had a leaning towards professional society and standards work and enjoyed the camaraderie of gathering together to tackle the projects of the day.  I feel like I followed in his footsteps throughout my entire career.  He was my model in many ways, though perhaps I did not understand that clearly until now.  Dan did not make me feel awkward or shy in his presence even though he was always higher up the organizational chart than I was.   His great sense of humor and interest in the opinions of others was genuine.  In fact, I think it is fair to say that Dan always wanted to know what others were thinking.  His conversational style was that of a friendly conspiracy, leaning in on some trade news and predicting the likely effects to the industry.  It just demanded a response, and there you were quietly giving your response in detail.  And then he would grin because he had just added to his store of insider information, and you had added to yours.

Dan’s Opening speech at the NASIG Conference, delivered in wet suit with surf board in hand, will be recalled by many.  You just don’t get that kind of flair at many library conferences!  He was happy with his fame.  Like so many vendors in the scholarly information community, conferences were where we could always count on seeing each other – often on stage.  People like Dan traveled so much you might not see him that often even if you both worked at the same company.  So you would make the best of it at conferences.

As his career moved into the latter stages of consulting and semi-retirement he would ask me more questions, really never tiring in his interest about the scholarly community, and especially perking up when I joined a publishing house in 2003.  Then he wanted to know all about everything!  I asked him to stop by our office so he could see for himself, and that was fantastic.  How many of these editors have PhDs?  What do the assistants normally do?  And on and on.  The day I was the host and Dan was the kid in the cookie shop was just exceptional fun.

I will miss his social media posts.  I will miss his big grin and sense of humor.  I will miss his insider news and bold predictions.  But his legacy of full, positive engagement between vendors and librarians lives on. 

Denise Slifer:

Dan Tonkery was one of the best men I knew. I had the pleasure of coming to know Dan and his beautiful wife Linda at the start of my career. Although I worked for Linda it was clear their style of leadership and kindness was shared. Dan was a kind, intelligent true professional who took me under his wing and taught me so very much. Later in my career I was fortunate enough to be hired again by Dan to work for him at Readmore. We kept in touch as the years went by and every time I had a victory or achieved success I would go to Dan to share the news. He was always supportive and continued through the years to provide the same love, support and guidance that he did while I worked for him. I will be forever grateful for all that this amazing man did for me through the years. He will be missed by so many but for those of us that had the pleasure and fortunate to call him our friend we will be forever grateful & forever blessed. God speed Dan – you meant so much to me and I am forever thankful & grateful for all that you did for me!  

Adrian Alexander, Dean, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa

When I first met Dan Tonkery, we were competitors in the old, print-based serials industry. I was at Faxon and new to the business; Dan was President of Readmore. As a result, I didn’t know him well for the first few years, but I learned quickly that he was a tough competitor. Through listening to him speak at NASIG and ALA conferences, I also learned that he was an innovative and inspirational leader in our industry, and in the world of libraries and publishing more broadly.

About 10 years after we met, he came back to Faxon as President, and we worked together closely for the next few years, before I left to become a library consortium director. We stayed in touch, of course, and for a while saw each other annually on a golf pilgrimage to the Southeast that included library deans and library vendors alike. Our goal on those outings, though, was to get away from all that and just be golf buddies who enjoyed the company of each other. We did a pretty fine job of that, I’m happy to say, and those times are my fondest memories of Dan. Our last time together was in 2014, at just such an occasion. On that last morning, Dan was to drive me to the airport, but both of our flights were in the afternoon, so we got up early and played nine more holes, just the two of us, on that beautiful South Carolina morning, before heading home. Thanks for the great memories, buddy…

Lynne Rosenberg

Dan Tonkery is just one of those people you meet and think to yourself “what a nice guy!”  I met Dan while working at Faxon.  I didn’t hold a prominent position in the company and Dan obviously was one of the executive members.  The special thing about Dan was that he made all of us feel important.  He took the time to spend time with you no matter what position you held.  This is not always the case with executives in an organization. 

When we left Faxon and went our separate ways, Dan friended me on Facebook.  I was just thrilled! I so enjoyed seeing pictures of his wife, children and grandchildren.  And especially Flof, the cat.  His movie reviews were spot on.  I’d announce to my husband “Nope, sorry we can’t see that movie – Dan said it’s a waste of time”.  His comments when he’d see a photo I’d post were always so sweet and just made you feel special.  Although I haven’t seen him in many years, when I heard the news of Dan’s passing, my heart honestly hurt.  I’m going to miss that “nice guy” 😥

Richard Kesner

In 1981, Sue, our son Henry, and I moved to Boston from Johnson City, Tennessee so that I could take up a new position at The Faxon Company.  It was there that we first met Dan who was serving as Faxon’s Vice President for Marketing and Sales.  My own role was much more modest but because I was responsible for most internal corporate services – facilities, purchasing, telecommunications, and the like – I regularly interacted with Dan and Linda.  What started out as a formal business relationship soon transformed into a warm and personal relationship between our two families.  Linda and Dan’s son Andrew as born just prior to our arrival in Boston; he and our son Henry became playmates.  We shared dinners, holidays and even Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets together.

My earliest and lasting memories of Dan are all about his playfulness and sense of humor.  For example, on the occasion of Henry’s fourth birthday Dan volunteered to be the ‘entertainment’ arriving fully outfitted in a full bunny outfit.  Needless to say, he owned the party from that point forward.  At work Dan was always warm and humorous even when deeply engaged in challenging work assignments.  But on corporate retreats, and in particular on one Outward-Bound excursion, Dan teamed up with Fred Gale and Joe Sollito to provide an entire evening of laughter…hysterical laughter…until dawn.  In my memory, I have never laughed harder or longer.  Dan loved life and lived it to the fullest, and he gladly shared this joy with the rest of us.

Over the years, we followed Dan’s career, his real estate ventures, and his entrepreneurial activities with great interest.  Since Sue had, until her recent retirement, remained in the publishing and intellectual property management world she and Dan had much to discuss. Just a few months before Covid grounded us all, Sue and I took a short vacation to Ashville where we went out to dinner with Dan one last time.  He was, as ever, full of stories and plans.  We are grateful that in his last days he was surround by family and working on his farm where he was happiest and content.  Others may miss Dan for all of his many business accomplishments.  I will miss a man of wit, humor, energy and kindness.

Sue Kesner

Dan was always a ‘presence’ at Library and Publishing conferences – surrounded by his many fans and followers.  Still – he always had time for me and quizzed me each visit about Richard, each of our sons, and later our grandchildren.  Dan hired me twice – once as a contractor at Faxon to analyze the Latin American serials and once at RoweCom. Both times, I was impressed with Dan’s business acumen, his love of our industry and his loyalty to his customers. That was my impression in 1981 when we first met and was my impression 40 years later over dinner in Asheville.  He was a special man and will be missed by many.

Kit Kennedy, Walnut Creek, CA – Zucchini, a Green Dodge and a Straw Wrapper:  Remembering Dan Tonkery  

Let this tribute begin with attributes.  Dan Tonkery was a mentor, innovator, risk taker, an articulate man of ideas and opinions, raconteur, a fierce competitor, an inspiration, a force, a friend.  Remembrance, though, is enriched by specifics, for in the detail are the jewels.  So, three glimmering facets.   

I remember arriving one of the first mornings I worked at Faxon (decades ago), my desk looked like a farmers’ market, laden with gargantuan zucchinis.  I asked a colleague from where these gifts came.  Oh, it must be Friday; the veggies are from Dan’s garden.”  I thought what a job!

Also, at Faxon, I vividly remember several colleagues routinely piling into Dan’s large green Dodge Van en route to lunch.  Anyone sitting in the back seat maneuvered around a kid’s truck or plane.  No, these were not Dan’s play toys.  At lunch we’d talk library shop perhaps gossiping a bit for Dan was not opposed to buzz.  Sometimes the conversation turned personal.  I recall the topic of fathers arose.  Dan regaled us with a trip to his West Virginia roots.  At a family gathering at a local restaurant, Dan’s Dad ripped the top of a straw in preparation of sipping a soda.  Nothing unusual to that act. To Dan’s astonishment and delight, his father blew the wrapper at his young grandson.  Laughter erupted.  Dan said, “I didn’t know my Dad capable of that playful spontaneity.”

As the nature of the library-vendor business morphed with companies buying competitors, I had the privilege of crossing paths with Dan many times.  He was always a go-to mentor.  

Of course, many of us might remember that NASIC where President Dan gave the opening welcome.  Dan confidently bounded on the stage in sunglasses,  surfboard and, yes, spandex.  Well, I guess you had to be there.

I’m not the only one grateful to have been there, to have learned and be inspired by Dan Tonkery.  

P.S.  Dan, please psychically text me some golf tips.  Once again, I’m in need of a mentor.  

Lois Bacon, Needham, MA

Three thoughts:

1. Dan promoted me to my first managerial position when we both were at Faxon. 40 years later I retired from the serials subscription business.  Thanks to that promotion I had a long, productive, and interesting career.

2. Amira, Dan, and I attended the Canadian Library Association meeting in Winnipeg, Canada in the early 1980’s..  This meeting was not well attended and Dan decided it was time to leave.  He whipped out his handy OAG Pocket Guide and realized that we could not easily leave since there were only a handful of flights and all went via Minneapolis no matter what route he looked at.

3. Years later Dan and I are working at EBSCO.  Dan meets me and says “Where have you been? I look for you at every EBSCO Sales Meeting and you aren’t there!”  That’s when we both realized that another Lois Bacon worked for EBSCO.  She was a sales representative and it was she who was at the meetings.  We laughed and I told him it was nice to know someone was looking for me!

RIP Dan. 

READMORE:

Tom Gallina

I met Dan in 1986 when he took over Readmore Publications.    Dan and I immediately clicked and our friendship began.   Over the next 10 years we worked closely together at Readmore and forged an everlasting friendship. Under Dan’s guidance and leadership Readmore and I blossomed. Dan was more than a mentor to me he was a second father.  We eventually left Readmore, and Dan got me a job with Faxon in Illinois. After a few years Faxon closed, and I found a job in Pennsylvania and was moving back from Illinois.  Dan told me until I sold my house I could live in his house in New Jersey and work my new job in Pennsylvania.  That was the kind of person Dan was, always giving and never asking for anything in return. 

Dan was the reason I took up golf, I do not know if that was a blessing or a curse. If you golf you know what I mean.  Dan and I golfed for many, many years (and yes he always beat me).  These were some of my best (and sometimes worst) memories with Dan.  I am smiling as I write this thinking of smoking a cigar and after the round getting lunch or dinner a single malt scotch (Dan’s favorite drink) and talking about the round and making plans for the next round.  In over 20 years of friendship, the only time I remember Dan ever getting angry was on the golf course, but that is what golf does to the best of us lol). 

Through good times or bad one thing about Dan, he was always there for anyone that needed support, a job, a friend to talk to.  He was a GREAT GREAT Man. I am proud to have known him and even though he is gone, I will always have the wonderful memories of working and playing with Dan.  So many great times with Dan and Linda.  

I loved him like a father and will miss him terribly.  Until we meet again Thomas Daniel Tonkery.  

Dan Stevenson

The first time I met Dan Tonkery it was the late 80s when he was introduced to me as the new CEO at Readmore, a company to whom I was providing IT services. My first thought was how young he looked to be a CEO. He was youthful and enthusiastic. He loved technology and his early adopting of it along with his other creative ideas quickly spurred growth and chaos into our lives. It was the fun kind of chaos which stems from rapidly piling on new customers and growing the business from ten million dollars to three hundred million dollars in just a few short years. It was hard, but it was an adventure. 

Nobody ever just worked with Dan, we joined a family and Dan was like our father. Dan was larger than life. I was in awe when he spoke publicly. His delivery was calm and his voice soothing. He seemed to always be out of town, travelling around the world regularly to speak at conferences or to win new customers. He was world class.

Dan’s impact on my life was profound and immeasurable. In 1990, when I told Dan I was going to start a tech business, he enthusiastically got behind me, which enabled a successful launch with a sixteen-year run, including five years on the Deloitte Fast 50 list; a ride of a lifetime with Dan to thanks without whom none of it could have happened. 

Later, when we no longer worked together, I could always count on Dan for an amazing job reference, as a fun golf partner and as someone who always took an interest in my life. Anytime I posted junk food on Facebook, you’d soon see a comment from Dan, “You shouldn’t be eating that. Your body is a temple. Take care of yourself.”

This past Christmas we talked about my coming to his farm, Tonkfarm when the pandemic lifted. But soon after, I experienced a sudden, serious health issue and Dan was one of the few people to whom I divulged my situation. Dan continued to check in on me, asking how I was doing right up until the time of his own accident. 

Years ago, I was on the golf course with Dan soon after he lost his father and he said, “Losing your father happens quickly, quicker than you expect.” We’ve lost a father in Dan, and true to his words it certainly came quicker than we expected and far quicker than we were ready for. 

I will continue to aspire to Dan’s qualities, I will miss him, and I will always be grateful to him.

EBSCO:

Katy Ginanni – Memories of Dan Tonkery

 In February of 2001, I attended a meeting of EBSCO’s Asian sales team in Vietnam. During the meeting, Dixon Brooke (then president of EBSCO Information Services) announced that Dan Tonkery would be joining EBSCO. I knew of Dan because he had been president of NASIG and also because he had worked for EBSCO competitors, but I had never even met him, much less spent any time with him. Dan sort of famously did not smile much for photos, and he could look pretty dang grumpy, and this is what caused me to ask Dixon, during a break in the meeting, if Dan was a nice person. “Well, of course he is, Katy,” Dixon replied. “I wouldn’t have hired him if he weren’t!”

Over the course of the next few years, while both Dan and I worked for EBSCO in Birmingham, I came to know and admire him. We lunched together from time to time, and I learned that he was a great raconteur. More than once, I overheard him giving advice to younger colleagues both in person and on the phone, and I’ve heard anecdotes from some of the recipients of his advice about how very helpful he had been. 

In 2005 I went to spend some time in EBSCO’s office in South Africa. When I came back to the U.S. in 2007, I found myself on the receiving end of Dan’s advice as I navigated the job market. I ended up taking a job at Trinity University in San Antonio, where Dan and his wonderful wife, Linda, had a home. They had a home there, I learned, because one of Linda’s sons and his family lived nearby. It was during this time that I came to understand just how important family was to Dan. 

I left San Antonio for the mountains of western North Carolina in 2010. I got to visit with Dan and Linda a couple of times in the following years because it turned out that one of Linda’s oldest friends lived in nearby Waynesville, and the Tonkerys visited often. And then they up and moved to Asheville! I was able to see them a few more times before I moved home to middle Tennessee in 2016 to be closer to my aging parents. I always enjoyed spending time with Dan and Linda, and especially hearing what Dan was up to. He always had something interesting going on. I regret that I never got to visit his latest venture: a farm in Burnsville, NC!

The loss of Dan is felt by many folks of different stripes and professions, I’m sure, but none more keenly than the family that was so important to him, and especially his darling wife, Linda. Dan Tonkery was, it turned out, a very nice person, indeed.

CLIENTS AND COLLEAGUES:

Cindy Hepfer

I met Dan Tonkery in the late 1980’s at Readmore, the subscription agency he then served as president/ceo, but it was at the NASIG conference at Scripps College that we became friends. We strolled around campus, talking about business and our families. In addition to sharing an interest in serials, we learned we each had a librarian spouse and a young son. For three decades, we saw each other a few times each year. Most of the time, Dan would arrange a dinner for us, plus several friends and colleagues (and wife Linda when she attended the conference). He enjoyed catching everyone up on projects and businesses he was involved in, relating the latest news about our professional community, and updating us about Linda, Andrew, and  his beloved New Jersey farmhouse. Since Dan had a wicked sense of humor and was a terrific story teller, those dinners were among my very favorite things about conferences. On the two occasions when I won ALCTS awards, Dan even hosted a special dinner in my honor.

Although I never figured out how Dan effortlessly juggled so many endeavors simultaneously, I didn’t hesitate to add to his to-do list by inviting him to serve on the Serials Review editorial board. The board met semi-annually at ALA at 7:00 AM Sundays. In spite of his innumerable business commitments and the early hour that the board met, Dan invariably arrived chock full of energy, ideas and good advice. His contributions were invaluable.

NASIG added immeasurably to our bond. Dan was treasurer (an absolutely vital function in an all-volunteer organization) during my presidency. My conference was held at the University of Vancouver, but dealing with two currencies was no problem for a subscription agent! A few years later, at Carnegie Mellon University, to honor Scotsman Andrew Carnegie, president Steve Oberg donned a kilt. Not to be outdone, the following year at UCSD (home of Scripps Institution of Oceanography) president Dan kicked off his conference with a bang by showing up at his opening session in a wet suit carrying a surf board! That wicked sense of humor was on full display.

One of my favorite memories of Dan is the time that we, Linda, our sons Andrew and Jon and their ladies, and Susan Davis had dinner in Anaheim. The “boys” in touch with each other afterward in Los Angeles, where both worked in the arts.

Dan and I remained connected after we retired. Once my husband and I visited him and Linda and got to see the New Jersey farm house that they loved so much. We all kept up afterward via Facebook and email. I loved seeing pictures of Dan as “Famer Tonk”! He clearly lived a great and happy life with Linda and Andrew in North Carolina.

I cannot begin to get my head around a world without Dan Tonkery. He was a kind, generous, knowledgeable, caring, and simply wonderful man and friend. I miss him.

Susan Davis, University at Buffalo, Former Faxon customer, Fan of Dan

It is still hard to process the news about Dan. Please excuse all disjointed jumping around from story to story as I realized that my awareness of Dan goes back to the first months of my professional librarian career. He was far too young and full of ideas for new ventures to leave us.  We’ll have to be content knowing that Dan is right now hitting the perfect drive, pitch and putt, or driving that lawn tractor mowing verdant grasses or pushing piles of snow, or watching all the Oscar-nominated films and offering critiques as he compiles his list of predictions.

My first encounter with Dan was from afar in September 1981.  I was less than three months into my first librarian position at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.  My library director wanted me to attend this LITA Institute on Serials Automation at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (later site of a NASIG conference—how’s that for serendipity?). Dan was the keynote speaker. I remember being very impressed because Dan was brilliant.  However, he had a way of explaining issues that made it all perfectly clear to his audience.  I later learned, no surprise, that he had been a teacher before becoming a librarian. You could ask Dan to explain any aspect of our industry and he would give you a tutorial.  I learned so much from him.

I cannot specifically remember the next time our paths crossed. Probably at an early NASIG conference (he was not at the 1st conference in 1984). My colleague Cindy Hepfer knew Dan because the Health Sciences Library used ReadMore as their main serials vendor, and Dan was president.  I definitely recall Dan at the NASIG Conference at Brown University (1993). In  those days NASIG conference were held on college campuses and attendees stayed in dorms. One of the dorms we used at Brown did not have an elevator (imagine that today!), and arrangements had been made for Brown hockey players to assist with luggage.  Somehow the hockey players were never around when luggage needed to be schlepped.  Dan added porter to his resume and helped several conference attendees with their bags.  President of a subscription vendor, yet there Dan was carrying suitcases up several flights of stairs.  There is also a story about a pink NASIG t-shirt that will have to wait until an in-person gathering.

I remember meeting Linda for the first time at a Faxon suite during an ALA Midwinter.  One of the Faxon reps mentioned that the football playoff game that day would be on in the suite. I wandered in (this was before the Bills Super Bowl run) and there was Linda and baby Andrew among the Faxon folks.

Dan and I overlapped on the NASIG Board.  I’m not looking up dates and such. I was Secretary and he was Treasurer. I was NASIG President in 1986, Dan in 2000.  We both presided over large conferences, the 2000 conference at UC San Diego being the largest.  There was a short stretch where NASIG Presidents donned regalia as part of the conference opening.  Dan came out resplendent in a wet suit and surfboard.  Dan was a good sport and willing to go along with these hijinks, naturally outdoing everyone! Or close to it.

Dan came from a humble background.  His rural roots never left him.  TonkFarms, his last venture, speaks to those days of childhood when not all modern conveniences were installed in the family home.  Dan cared about people.  Many will share stories of his mentorship. He kept me in chocolates during breaks at NASIG Board meetings! He would email Cindy and I when there was a big storm in Buffalo to make sure we were ok. He and Linda treated you like members of their family. It was so easy to spend time with them, especially since they knew where the best ice cream could be found!  They were real people who told wonderful stories, loved their children, loved their pets (Flof on FB was all Dan) and clearly loved each other. I could go on but am already over budget on space.  Dan was in many ways larger than life, yet modest about his many accomplishments and a genuine teddy bear with great empathy and concern for his fellow human beings. I always expected to see you and Linda down in Asheville sometime.  When I do, it won’t be the same without you, Dan.

Eleanor Cook, Interim Head, Music Library, East Carolina University – a remembrance of Dan Tonkery

Dan Tonkery was a professional colleague, mentor, and friend. His death is a sad occasion for me to be asked to remember him, but I am honored to do so.  I don’t remember being a librarian without knowing Dan Tonkery. Dan joined Faxon about the same time I entered librarianship as a professional, so shortly around 1982 we likely became acquainted. 

A few of my memories: 

  • I credit Dan for warning me about the imminent demise of the Faxon Company.  This corporate failure caused anguish for everyone in the library world. Many libraries were left holding an empty subscription bag when their prepayment accounts disappeared.  Fortunately, that did not happen to my library, thanks to Dan’s advice.  
  • I often ran into Dan at conferences and in the evenings, there would be an entourage of his employees, clients and associates following him to some restaurant rendezvous. “Papa Dan” was like a daddy duck followed by his fledglings!  I occasionally was honored to be part of the group.  
  • I have fond memories of the time we served on the NASIG Board. Dan again gave me important advice during this time that fortunately I didn’t need to act upon.  In 2003, when I was NASIG President, ALA’s summer conference (which was right before NASIG that year) was held in Toronto, Canada and the SARS outbreak had reached Toronto.  Dan raised the alarm concerning librarians attending ALA and then traveling to Portland, OR to attend NASIG. What precautions were we preparing for this?  I spent considerable time worried about it, but fortunately, no one carried SARS to NASIG as far as we know. That was my first brush with pandemic preparation! 
  • No one will ever forget the outrageously fun “Surfer Dan” outfit Dan wore at the opening session when he was NASIG President at the 2000 San Diego conference.  
  • As a member of the Against the Grain editorial board, I was honored to attend the Fiesole Retreats in Fiesole, Italy several times. Dan and his wife Linda were also in attendance and my husband Joe and I got to know them at a more personal level through these events. In fact, when Joe and I married in 2001, we had a reception in Fiesole and Dan and Linda were part of the group that helped us celebrate at a special dinner.  I cherish that memory.
  • Dan was such a wonderful mentor to so many people. Over the years he and I had countless conversations that made a difference to my career. I once had a job interview where they happened to be living, and he graciously showed me around, and I stayed with he and Linda ahead of the interview. Thanks to Dan, I developed a better overall strategy about what was important to long-term career progression.  He was always willing to share his valuable business acumen with colleagues. 
  • Dan’s ability to see ahead and make predictions on industry trends was phenomenal. Any time I wanted an informed opinion about a particular trend, Dan was a go-to. 
  • Dan could be depended upon for entertaining, instructive stories – both about his life and about his experiences in the library/vendor world.  Recalling his upbringing in West Virginia was always humbling.  
  • Dan could be a curmudgeon, but he was a kind, considerate gentleman. He was someone you could trust. In these days of “me too” and racial and political strife, Dan stood above the fray. He had impeccable ethics and manners. His attitudes were enlightened beyond his time, yet, he did not suffer fools, and was “old school” in many ways. He told it like he saw it.   

I was in touch with Dan regularly up to the end. Joe and I expected to visit he and Linda post-pandemic since they had relocated nearby to Asheville, NC.  I am disappointed that this is not going to happen as planned. I also hoped to interview him for a Charleston Conference documentary that was postponed due to the pandemic. This is just one more reason we must live each day as it may be our last.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed! 

Thank you, Dan, for everything you did for our profession.  You made a difference to so many people. I am really going to miss you. 

Helen Henderson, Kirkcudbright, UK

I will so miss Dan’s company and the laughs we used to have – mostly at other people of course – we shared a wicked sense of humour and would frequently both burst into laughter at something that nobody else would understand. This was particularly difficult in the many business meetings we shared.

Sometimes it feels like Dan and I played golf in most of the States in the US, and whichever of his homes he was living in at the time – and there were many. Whenever we had an opportunity, we would sneak away from a conference or a business trip and play a round, many times with colleagues. These were always competitive, no more so than when we were paired with a couple of strangers from the mid-west who would try and impress us with their long drives (nearly always into the rough or trees). Dan and I would frequently play on leaving them searching for their balls. Once we ended up five holes ahead of them. The course at Dan’s condo in Florida was a favourite, apart from the alligators that usually ended up in front of his lanai and had to be forcibly removed. (In Florida you get a free drop from an alligator.)

I remember one such day in New Jersey when I was up working in New York and staying in their lovely house in Morristown. I played with one of Dan’s many sets of clubs (he could never resist an eBay deal and luckily, they had a capacious cellar in the Morristown house). We were playing with a couple of guys from Minnesota who were showing off how far they could drive. Dan and I worked steadily down the course and I one-putted each green. As the round went on, they were trying to buy the putter (Dan had picked this up for $19) and Dan was bidding them up. I think we got to about $250 by the end, but Dan decided that it was too good to sell and ended up using it for the next 10 years. 

Iris L. Hanney, President, Unlimited Priorities LLC

Dan Tonkery and I met some 40 years ago at various times in our information industry career – you could almost say we grew up together.  His uniquely untimely death has really saddened me beyond belief.  Our relationship was a special one – we did business – we competed – we compared notes – we were always in touch in some form.  He had actually sent me a very lengthy FB (where we were always in touch) private message detailing all of the events of NLM activities and Cambridge and Proquest business deals – it was as if he wanted to make sure the history was preserved.  Our relationship evolved far beyond the information industry – we shared many of the same interests and hobbies and also vehemently disagreed on many political items and OMG – he had just recently shared that he disliked Nicole Kidman – one of my favorite actresses.  Dan and I were in touch every day – sometimes it would be about movie reviews for which we both had a passion – he promised me he would catch up on the Golden Globe films – a promise very sadly – he can’t keep.  We both loved home renovation projects and he provided amazing insights to me from his many real estate holdings and the farm – his latest passion.  He hated long winded anything – movies, people, politicians – anything.  Get to it and be done!!!  There is a gap so large in my heart I don’t even know how to begin.  He was a mentor, a supporter, a dear friend – simply a kind and generous human being.  Nothing nothing nothing meant more to him than his family and their well-being.  He was never shy about speaking his mind – sometimes that went well sometimes not so much.  Dan Tonkery – I look for your comments every day on my FB page.  I click on memories and your comments are everywhere.  You had private messaged me that there had been complications after your fall – and then the dreaded news.  I want to be so mad at you – you are gone so very way too soon – I want to shake you and wake you up and pray this is just a nightmare.  Quite simply – life without Dan Tonkery in it will never be the same – but thanks for years of wonderful memories – and with that I will end before you start editing me from Heaven!!!!

Fred Heath, Emeritus librarian, University of Texas

My relationship with friend, colleague, and mentor Dan Tonkery spanned 4 decades.  As is usually the case with close friends, we shared common traits.  We swapped tales about his early years in the foothills of West Virginia and mine in the sandy farmlands of the deeper rural South.  Our careers tracked improbably from those modest beginnings into our overlapping times in academic publishing and research universities.  His fervent commitment to liberal values of life, liberty, and equality of all bound us closer together.  Over time, shared values and interests led us to design opportunities for annual golfing outings with other likeminded colleagues.  In those settings, Dan’s skills as raconteur and storyteller came to the fore.  I learned much about his childhood, his path into librarianship and publishing, and his love of family. As the years passed, the eagerly anticipated outings were far more about camaraderie than golf. Dan Tonkery’s career was pivotal. Through the vendor agencies that brokered publisher’s wares, Dan played a leading role in preparing the transformation of academic publishing and research libraries from print into the information age.  In the final years of my own time in the profession, Dan served willingly and ably on my Advisory Board at the University of Texas, helping guide our libraries through those technologically convulsive years.  Godspeed Daniel Tonkery.  You were the best among us.

Darrell W. Gunter, Gunter Media Group

I first caught a glimpse of Dan Tonkery at the 1996 MLA meeting.  I had just joined Elsevier, and this was my first scholarly publishing industry conference since leaving the financial industry.  As a newbie, I was making my way around the conference, and I could not help but notice this gentleman who was a very tall, imposing figure who had a crowd around him at all times.  He was shaking hands, making gestures, having engaging conversations, and commanded a pleasing smile.  I asked a colleague about the larger-than-life person, and then I was introduced to Dan.

I found Dan to be thoughtful, insightful, and somewhat guarded.  Well, the years went by, and I would see Dan at every conference, and we would trade pleasantries.  It was very interesting that while we engaged in brief, polite questions, we did not take our relationship any further.  Even though we had a mutual friend, Rush Miller, the Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Library, we just did not develop friendship beyond the industry friendship.

Then it happened.  Dan had retired and was attending an ALA meeting in Chicago.  We saw each other on the exhibit floor and struck up a conversation as we usually would do, but this time it was different; the conversation went beyond the standard industry stuff. We began to talk about non-industry things, family, friends, golf, etc.  I don’t know who invited who to lunch that day, but we left the McCormick Center and found a hamburger joint to enjoy a meal together.  At that time, an actual friendship emerged.  From that point on, we engaged in profound, thoughtful conversations with Dan.

He enjoyed discussing his family, his property in NJ, and the bear, deer, and wild turkeys.  He was beaming one day we met in NJ, showing me a video of his son doing some extraordinary tricks on his skateboard.  He treasured his marriage to Linda and always had the gleam in his eye when he would speak about her.  

I will miss his counsel and his frank but polite feedback on questions that I would ask him.  Dan was always a straight shooter whose values were old school.  His word was his bond, and you could always count on him.  I will also miss our messenger chats where I would ask Dan for advice.  Now I will ask myself what Dan would do in this situation.  

Rest in peace, my friend; you have certainly left a massive footprint in our industry. God bless.

Leah Hinds, Executive Director, Charleston Library Conference

Like many of my colleagues, I was saddened to hear of Dan’s passing two weeks ago. He was a source of great knowledge and insight in the publishing and information world, and his contributions to the industry were innumerable. I remember his steady participation in the Charleston Conference preconferences that were organized by Buzzy Basch each year up until 2018, and of course he spoke in many other panels and presentations at the conference. One in particular that stands out was in 2014, just after Swets had filed for bankruptcy. The program had already been finalized, but Dan put together an excellent late-breaking update on the situation. We tried moving things around as best we could to fit him into the schedule, and ended up having to put him in a room that held 75 people in the Courtyard Marriott Historic District. The session was full and overflowing into the hallway, so we added a camera crew to livestream the session and record it for later viewing. There were people standing in the hotel lobby watching his presentation on their phones and tablets since they couldn’t get into the room! Dan will be missed greatly, and my prayers and condolences go out to his wife Linda and the rest of the family.

N. Bernard “Buzzy” Basch, Concord, NH

Dan and I started our professional relationship in the early eighties when he joined Faxon. For four decades his support has been constant: at Faxon and its New York subsidiary Turner, at Basch Subscriptions and, most frequently, at the Charleston Conference where his insightful commentaries were a highlight of my annual negotiating and publishing workshops. On a personal level, Dan’s kindness and consideration were equally constant. His passing will leave a gap. Thank you, Dan.

1 Comment

  1. KATINA STRAUCH

    What a wonderful group of tributes!! Thank you!

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