February 12, 2004

Howard A. Peters III to receive service award

by Pete Rosenbery

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will honor long-time public servant Howard A. Peters III with the Distinguished Service Award during the graduate school commencement ceremony in May.

The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees approved the honor today (Feb. 12).

Peters, who earned his master's degree in guidance and educational psychology from SIUC in 1971, has a long history of public service that includes two Cabinet positions under former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.

Peters is currently serving as senior vice president of the Illinois Hospital and Health Systems Association. In that position, he is working in Washington, D.C., Naperville and Springfield to ensure that hospitals receive the kind of support they need, particularly as it relates to providing services to poor and uninsured persons.

A Memphis, Tenn., native, Peters was raised primarily by his mother and grandmother in a public housing project. In spite of those circumstances in his youth, Peters earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Tennessee State University, along with his master's degree.

In 1991, Peters became the first African-American to head the Illinois Department of Corrections. His more than 22 years experience in the corrections department included serving as warden at Pontiac, Sheridan and Centralia correctional centers, and as superintendent of the Illinois Youth Center at St. Charles, the state's largest juvenile facility.

From 1995 through June 1997, Peters served as deputy chief of staff to Gov. Edgar, and was responsible for overseeing operation of the state's human services, public safety and government administration agencies.

In 1997, Edgar selected Peters as the first person to lead the Department of Human Services. A massive reorganization consolidated programs formerly administered by a half-dozen agencies with about 20,000 employees under single management. He was the point person for implementation of welfare reform, and 120,000 families moved from welfare to work during Peters' tenure. After Edgar's retirement, Peters continued at the agency under former Gov. George Ryan.

Peters delivered the 2001 commencement address at the law school, and in September 1998, he gave a major speech at a Public Policy Institute symposium on alternatives to building prisons.

The Board of Trustees recommendation noted that whenever called upon "to enrich symposia and other programs, he has made time in his busy schedule to contribute."