May 12, 2004

Midden wins prestigious award for public service

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - A Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor described as "a champion of community service" is the winner of the 2004 Lindell W. Sturgis Memorial Public Service Award.

Karen S. Midden, a professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems, received her award during a luncheon today (May 12) at the Student Center.

Midden, a Carbondale native, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from SIUC and a master of landscape architecture degree from the University of Georgia. A certified landscape architect since 1991, Midden is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. She joined the SIUC faculty in 1985 as an instructor in plant and soil science in the College of Agricultural Sciences. She became an assistant professor in 1988, associate professor in 1994 and full professor last year.The Sturgis Award, given annually by the SIU Board of Trustees since 1980, recognizes SIUC employees for public service unrelated to their jobs. It carries a $500 cash prize and is named after a Metropolis native who served on the SIU Board for more than 30 years. Sturgis chaired the board from 1969 until his retirement in 1971. He died in 1972.

Her numerous awards include the 2001 Community Service Award from the Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Midden is "flattered and honored" to receive the Sturgis award.

"Most of the services I'm involved with I do for the environment or for people in the environment, and I find that very satisfying in itself," she said. "To be honored for that is quite rewarding."

She also finds it flattering to join the list of other winners, which includes her eighth grade science teacher, Arthur Aikman, and Glenn Poshard, chairman of the SIU Board of Trustees. Poshard will present Midden with her award at Wednesday's lunch.

Midden shares her time and expertise on projects and endeavors across campus and with communities and schools in the region. She has served as a member of the Carbondale Recycling Committee since 1988, has been executive director of Carbondale Clean and Green since 1986 and has been a member of the advisory board for SIUC's Child Development Laboratories since 1992. Since 2001, she has been manager of one of the Sting Soccer Club's girls' teams.

"I'm pretty energetic," Midden said of all of her activities. "I just try to use my energy in a positive way. I also have good family values, and some of the things I do are tied into my family ­ they give me time to be with my family and enjoy their activities."

Midden and husband Chris have two daughters: Lonzie, who is graduating from Unity Point School this year; and Nyssa, a sixth grader at Unity Point.

In a letter nominating Midden for the award, visiting professor and former interim chancellor John S. Jackson refers to her various efforts to improve the campus, including land use planning, development of the Dorothy Morris garden near Faner Hall and the redesign of the parking lot in front of the Arena.

More recently, Jackson chaired the Carbondale mayor's committee that reviewed the landscape and design for the downtown area. The committee reviewed a number of previous plans, and Jackson noted that one Midden helped develop was the most influential in the committee's final recommendations.

"Her work was clearly professional, but it was also essentially donated free of charge to the City of Carbondale as an act of good citizenship," Jackson wrote. "I am convinced from having been around this community for a number of years that Karen does a lot of these pro-bono type services and that she gives a lot of her time and talent to make the university and the city better places to live."

In fact, Midden's touch can be found at the Welcome to Carbondale entry sign plantings, the Town Square plantings and the plantings around Carbondale's city hall/civic center, among other locations.

William P. McMinn, director of SIUC's Office of Intramural-Recreational Sports, notes in his letter that Midden's extensive work with his office dates to 1985. Projects include Frisbee golf courses, picnic areas and outdoor landscaping at the boat dock, beach house and law school tennis courts. In 2000, McMinn's office presented Midden with its Outstanding Service Award for her involvement in the design, installation and maintenance of the Woody Hall Planter Garden Flower Project for students with disabilities.

Midden is currently working with McMinn's office, Plant and Service Operations and the Southern Illinois Laborers on a system of planters at the south entrance of the Student Recreation Center.

"Our department and many others on campus have benefited in so many ways from Karen's service," McMinn wrote. "Quite frankly, her contributions are immeasurable from my perspective."

Mary Jo Diamond, curriculum director at Unity Point School south of Carbondale, describes Midden's service and outreach as "second nature to her personality."

Diamond notes that in addition to her work with Unity Point teachers and students, Midden and her SIUC students provide assistance to other area teachers and students.

"At Egyptian School in Tamms, they worked together to develop an appreciation for wetland plants," Diamond wrote. "After I recommended the De Soto superintendent call her at SIUC when he needed a landscape plan for his new school addition, she did their plan as service to the area. They had a limited budget and no expertise available. The area community Superblock (in Carbondale) tree planting plan is her product as well."

Diamond describes Midden as "a quiet, effective expert who is not intimidating to elementary students, teachers and parents who we call upon to work collaboratively with her on plans and projects. Karen has a wealth of knowledge, but more importantly she has a desire to share that knowledge with children to affect positive attitudes toward the world around them."