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Retired professor remembered as dedicated artist, compassionate friend

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Retired Texas State theater professor Daniel Hannon died July 22, leaving behind friends, family and thousands of inspired students.

The award-winning set designer drowned in the San Marcos River while tubing with his family.

Hannon was reported missing at 11:14 a.m. after his sister-in-law and nephew waited for him for about 15 minutes downstream on the bridge to the island at Rio Vista Park, according to a university press release.

San Marcos police officers, firefighters and park rangers conducted an initial search of the river but did not find Hannon. A diver from the San Marcos Recovery Team found Hammond’s body at around 12:40 p.m. caught in underwater debris.

Hannon came to Texas State in 1981 where he established the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Design and Technology. The program, which trains students to become theater designers and technicians, is an essential part of the Department of Theatre and Dance, said John Fleming, Dean of College of Fine Arts.

Hannon has taught and mentored “thousands” of students, simultaneously building set designs and lasting relationships, Fleming said.

Texas State graduates with degrees in Theatre Design and Technology are employed across the nation, Fleming said.  Graduates can be found applying their skills in traditional fields like radio and film and more exotic careers onboard cruise ships and underneath circus tents, he said.

Michelle Ney, professor of Theatre Design and Technology, remembers Hannon’s uncanny passion for art, a characteristic which led him to create extraordinarily detailed sets and models. Ney described his work as “meticulous” and “intricate,” she said.

“He just loved what he did,” Ney said. “He was one of those people you just go ‘wow.’ I don’t think he ever went home.”

Jay Jennings, professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, said he remembers witnessing Hannon’s tireless dedication to detail first hand.

It was common to find Hannon making last-minute changes to his designs even an hour before the curtain rose, Jennings said.

Their last collaboration, a 1996 production of The Tempest, featured a towering stone staircase with natural greenery underneath the night sky of an outdoor amphitheater, Jennings said.

Sheila Hargett, professor of Theatre Design and Technology, said his designs were “spiritual.” He was a “brilliant designer” who “admired beauty.”

Hargett said, although students and faculty recognized Hannon’s genius, he always remained humble. She said she can’t remember a time when she saw Hannon angry.

“He was the nicest person I’ve ever met,” Jennings said.

After retiring in 1998, Hannon maintained a zeal for drama and design, regularly stopping by to visit friends and students in the Theatre Center, Fleming said.

“He was such a modest unassuming man, I didn’t know where he was in in his fame,” Hargett said. “People knew about him from all over.”

Critics and collectors have recognized Hannon’s work across the nation, Hargett said. The Tobin Theatrical Design Collection at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio is currently featuring some of Hannon’s work.

Hannon and his achievements have been formally recognized by numerous other organizations, including the Texas Educational Theatre Association, the Southwest Theatre Association, the American Theatre Association and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.

In 2006, Hannon was awarded the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre.

Follow Jon Wilcox on Twitter @thrilcox.