October 05, 2020

Vela and Gerdes families are SIU’s 2020 Families of the Year

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The Jaedyn Vela family and the Alexander Gerdes family are the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Families of the Year for 2020! The university is celebrating Saluki Family Appreciation Week Oct. 5-10, and that includes giving special recognition to both families.

This year, New Student Programs is honoring one legacy Family of the Year – that’s a family in which at least one parent or legal guardian is an SIU Carbondale graduate – and one non-legacy Family of the Year.

Gerdes are legacy winners

The Gerdes Family of Rock Hill, Missouri, is the legacy Family of the Year. Alexander Gerdes is a freshman planning to major in music. His father, John Gerdes, is a double alumnus of SIU, earning his bachelor’s in music in 1983 and his master’s in music theory and composition in 1987. His mother, Lea Gerdes, is a University of Missouri graduate. But the Saluki legacy extends further into the family as Alexander’s sister, Becca, is a 2017 SIU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in cinema and photography. The family also includes Alexander’s sister Josie, a high school sophomore.

The Gerdes’ SIU family tradition extends deeper into the family tree though, according to the creative, photo-filled entry submitted for the contest. It all began when Emma and Earl Tally moved from Mounds, Illinois, to Carbondale, where Earl began a new job so their five children could earn college degrees. Earl worked at the university until 1981.

While attending SIU, their daughter Jerrie met John Gerdes, and they married in 1960. She gave birth to their oldest son, John II, just two months after graduation. All three of Jerrie and John’s children are SIU alumni and were members of the Marching Salukis, staying active in the Saluki Alumni Band throughout the years.

On the contest entry, Alexander Gerdes said he is impressed with the efforts SIU is making to keep its students safe and healthy during the pandemic and said he feels “educationally nourished and encouraged about his future.” He’s also proud to be the 10th member of the Earl and Emma Tally Saluki legacy.

Velas are non-legacy winners

The Vela family of Collison, Illinois, is the non-legacy Family of the Year. Jaedyn Vela is a freshman majoring in languages, cultures and international studies. She is a first-generation student and part of the University Honors program. In addition, she is president of the Schneider Hall Council.

Jaedyn entered the contest on behalf of her mother, Jennifer Chestnut-Vela, and also credits her two older siblings, Jamie Glazik and Jordan Vela, for being a huge part of her support system.

In submitting her contest entry, Jaedyn wrote that she is proud to be part of the Saluki family because, “Being a Saluki isn’t just a word, nor a type of dog or mascot, but about being part of a family and a university that does not back down, even in the face of COVID-19. Creativity, diversity and determination comprise SIU, and at the heart, SIU is a huge community of talented, hardworking and friendly people who are my family. ‘Proud,’ right there, is just a word, but proud in this pack of Dawgs is about being part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re in this together.”

Prize packages for winners

Each of the families will receive a prize package that includes Saluki swag, a two-night stay at the Hampton Inn in Carbondale redeemable at any time through April 30, 2021, a special visit with a campus administrator, special recognition, and more.

Join in the Saluki Family Appreciation fun

Everyone is welcome to enjoy Saluki Family Appreciation Week, featuring a host of special activities, many of which are virtual. The Office of Student Engagement has planned a wide variety of activities on campus for students and virtually for students and families. The schedule includes a Virtual Escape Room game, the Saluki Shuffle Virtual 5-K, a spirit store filled with Saluki family apparel, a virtual tailgate and historic football game and a variety of other activities.

Find the complete schedule of events and additional information about Saluki Family Appreciation Week at familyweekend.siu.edu

Vela family

Jaedyn Vela and her family from Collison, Illinois, are the 2020 SIU non-legacy Family of the Year. (Photo provided.)

Gerdes family

Alexander Gerdes and his family from Rock Hill, Missouri, are the SIU 2020 legacy Family of the Year. (Photo provided.)