Mr. Nance grew up in the Depression years, but emerged with great ambition, hope and determination that served him well in his professional career and on into retirement. Having a passion for museums, he and his wife, Colleen, opened a new educational window into the art, culture and people of Asia and the Middle East through the Nance Museum in 1985. Although they recently closed the museum, their relationship with Central Missouri State University has ensured that this window remains open for generations to follow.
After graduating from the University of Missouri - Kansas City, Mr. Nance pursued graduate studies and later completed advanced management courses for senior executives at MIT. He gained several years of personnel experience with the Corps of Engineers and United States Army, then moved to Saudi Arabia in 1952 to work for the Arab American Oil Company (ARAMCO). In 1962, he was assigned as director of the Company Build School Program and the Scholarship Program for ARAMCO, which provided schools for the children of the company’s Arab and Muslim employees. During that time, he became a champion for the education rights of girls and women, who previously had limited opportunities in Saudi Arabia. He climbed the executive ranks, and held the positions of Manager of Organization and Industrial Engineering and Director of Policy and Planning, prior to his retirement in 1983.
With more spare time to pursue his passion, in retirement, Mr. Nance worked with his wife to establish a museum that – through art and artifacts – would build cultural bridges between the Arab and Muslim world and the United States. What began as a modest undertaking grew, with nurturing and commitment, into the nation’s largest collection of Saudi art and artifacts on continuous display. It featured materials collected from the Nances’ 30-plus years of travel to more than 50 countries. They incorporated traveling exhibits with titles ranging from “The Arab Woman” to the “The Chinese Silk Road,” and began sharing them with Central’s Archives and Museum in 1993. Although many of these exhibits have traced the natural history of the land they came from, they have also provided a deeper understanding of the long-standing historical relationship that has existed between the Middle East and the West. In recognition of the outstanding contributions to education and cultural understanding that have made him an inspiration to others, Central Missouri State University proudly confers its highest honor, the Doctor of Humane Letters, upon its worthy and deserving friend Paul J. Nance.