A true craftsman

Tyrone Turner’s carpentry is visible throughout campus. As he embarks on retirement, his personality has left an indelible mark, too.

Tyrone Turner stands behind a table-saw in the shop in the General Services Building.

Feb. 15, 2023
Contact: Marcus Wilkins, wilkinsm@missouri.edu
Photos by Hanna Caldwell

Tyrone Turner has made a career working with his hands. But in 30 years at the University of Missouri, the affable carpenter has made innumerable friends with his humor and heart.

His handiwork can be appreciated in just about every corner of campus — from intricate details on custom cabinetry to gleaming restaurant facades inside residence halls. When complimented, however, Turner deflects praise by bragging on his talented teammates in Planning, Design and Construction.

“This department could build a 747 if you asked them to,” Turner said. “I truly believe there’s that kind of expertise and talent in here.”

Roots, branches and lumber

Turner was born and raised in Columbia, as were his mother and father. Most of his family members worked with their hands, and Turner spent a lot of time as a youth on his dad’s family acreage just south of town. On his mom’s side, his grandfather owned farmland within city limits.

Turner’s family is well known in Boone County. His aunt, Linda Turner, has worked for MU Parking and Transportation for 28 years. His cousin, Nischelle Turner, hosts Entertainment Tonight and was recently inducted into the Mizzou Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

“My grandfather was a hard worker, and he made sure that we all had that trait, too,” said Turner, one of 48 grandchildren on his branch of the family tree. “He had a few old houses that he worked on, and construction was always something that came naturally to me. So, I took a building-trade class at Hickman High School in the late ’70s.”

So impressed was his teacher that he hired Turner as an apprentice after Turner’s high school graduation in 1979. Soon, Turner was running his own crew. He worked various construction jobs over the next decade-plus before finding his true home at MU in 1992.

Through his years working at Mizzou, Turner has also served as steward and chief negotiator for the Laborers’ Local 955 construction union and treasurer for the Columbia African-American Memorial Scholarship Association — helping raise more than $150,000 for local students in 10 years.

“It’s like a family here at Mizzou,” Turner said. “You get to know co-workers as they’re starting a life, then you get to know their kids on a first-name basis and watch them grow up. We go fishing and hunting together. It’s a rewarding atmosphere.”

Building relationships

Perhaps Turner’s signature project at Mizzou is the ceremonial mace created to commemorate MU’s 175th anniversary in 2014 — an assignment for which he volunteered. Turner used a lathe to shape the ornamental prop made from a wooden beam salvaged during the remodeling of Switzler Hall — the oldest classroom building on campus.

“It’s pretty neat to have had a hand in something that will be part of history here,” Turner said. “I worked on it for about three months — coming in late and on weekends. The spirit definitely moved me on that assignment.”

Turner is universally beloved in the General Services Building. As he kicks back in the break room next to the workshop — where he’s hacksawed, hammered and hand-planed over three decades — colleagues intermittently stop by to razz him about being a “short timer.”

His last day at MU will be Friday, Feb. 17, although the lifelong friendships he has formed will continue well beyond.

“Tyrone has been a great employee, and he’s also been a great friend,” said B.J. Kempf, construction services maintenance supervisor and Turner’s boss. “He is one of the best problem solvers we have ever had, and he never complains about any job I’ve put him on. I have really enjoyed coming in every day and making him laugh — and he certainly has a distinct laugh.”

Although Turner is hanging up his carpentry tools on campus, he’s still putting his hands to use at home. Turner — who has two children and four grandchildren with his wife of 37 years, Sandra — has nearly completed construction of his dream home on the family property down south. He looks forward to perfecting its details, and he looks fondly back at his career at the University of Missouri.

“I always say I retired when I started here 30 years ago,” Turner said. “Carpentry has been really good to me and my family, and Mizzou has been a great place to spend my career.”

Subscribe to

Show Me Mizzou

Stay up-to-date with the latest news by subscribing to the Show Me Mizzou newsletter.