stone art installation

December 07, 2023

SIU Board of Trustees approves honorary degrees, Distinguished Service Awards

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Larry H. Dietz, former vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at Southern Illinois University Carbondale before becoming president at Illinois State University, will receive a Distinguished Service Award following approval by the SIU Board of Trustees today (Dec. 7). Dietz is one of four individuals recommended by SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin A. Lane for honorary degrees and distinguished service awards.

The board also approved honorary degrees for Crystal A. Kuykendall, an educator, human relations expert, legal analyst, attorney and author, and C. James “Jimmy” Wright, an internationally known painter and pastel artist, as well as a Distinguished Service Award for Paul E. Echols, who spent more than 40 years as a police officer and higher education criminal justice instructor.

All four honorees are SIU Carbondale alumni, who will be honored at commencement in May 2024 or at a future ceremony.

Larry H. Dietz, Distinguished Service Award

Dietz grew up in rural De Soto and graduated from Carbondale Community High School and SIU Carbondale before embarking on a 50-year career year in higher education “rooted in service to students, colleagues and the community,” the nomination letter states. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SIU in 1970 and a master’s degree in higher education and personnel and a doctorate in professional studies, both from Iowa State University. He was in leadership positions at Iowa State for 13 years and spent nearly 15 years at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, rising to vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management prior to returning to Southern Illinois.

Dietz returned to SIU Carbondale as vice chancellor in April 2000 and “provided servant-leadership to the SIU students by joining them at several of their own projects where he encouraged and interacted with them to show that university administrators respected the student involvement activities and were approachable people to engage in conversation.” A 2007 recipient of the Lindell Sturgis Memorial Public Service Award, Dietz worked with public service organizations, including the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale, the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau, Rotary International and Leadership Carbondale.

Dietz left SIU Carbondale in 2011 to become vice president for student affairs at Illinois State and was named the university’s president in March 2014. He retired as president in June 2021. While at Illinois State, Dietz was also involved in the community, serving on numerous local nonprofit agency committees, along with his wife, Marlene, for organizations, including the American Red Cross, Easter Seals, the March of Dimes, Illinois Symphony and Marcfirst.

Crystal A. Kuykendall, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree

Kuykendall, an educator, human relations expert, legal analyst, attorney and author, is a Chicago native who received her bachelor’s degree in political science from SIU Carbondale in 1970. A former elementary and secondary school teacher, Kuykendall also taught at Seton Hall University, Montclair State University and Strayer University.

She is former executive director of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, director of urban and minority relations for the National School Boards Association and director the Citizens Training Institute of the National Committee for Citizens in Education. Kuykendall was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Advisory Council on Continuing Education, which she chaired, from 1979 to 1981. In 1979, she was named by editors at Ebony Magazine as one of the “50 Leaders of the Future.”

Kuykendall has served on numerous boards, commissions and task forces, including the board of directors of Health Power, Inc., the Congressional National Youth Leadership Conference advisory board, the education task force of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change and the National Education Task Force. She is the author of several books, including “The Crystal Pumpkin” (published earlier this year), “Developing Leadership for Parent/Citizen Groups,” “Improving Black Student Achievement through Improving Self Image” and “From Rage to Hope: Strategies for Reclaiming Black and Hispanic Students.” Her company, Kreative and Innovative Resources for Kids, provides long-term technical assistance and consulting services to numerous national and international clients.

She graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from Montclair State University and a Master of Divinity from Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology from Virginia Union University. She also earned a doctorate in educational administration from Clark Atlanta University and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.

C. James “Jimmy” Wright, honorary Doctor of Arts degree

Wright, an internationally known painter and pastel artist, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from SIU in 1971. Works by Wright and another SIU Carbondale alumnus, the late Arch Connelly III, are part of an exhibition that runs through Dec.15 at Sharp Museum on the SIU Carbondale campus.

Born in Union City, Tennessee, and raised in rural Kentucky, Wright’s career spans more than 50 years. His art resides in the collection of many leading museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as private collections and galleries around the world. After entering SIU’s graduate program, Wright earned his MFA despite losing nearly all the art he had completed to that point in a 1970 house fire.

The nomination notes that Wright settled in the Bowery, New York City in 1974, “where he used the vibrant nightlife as a source of inspiration for a series of paintings.” Wright was named a National Academician of the National Academy of Design in 2018, and he has been president of the National Pastel Society since 2013.

Wright earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967 and studied with renowned painter Ray Yoshida. While he was at SIU, Wright was an organizer of the university’s first LGBTQ+ organization, one of the earliest in the nation (now the Saluki Rainbow Network).

Paul E. Echols, Distinguished Service Award

Echols, a two-degree SIU Carbondale graduate, spent more than 40 years as a police officer and higher education criminal justice instructor. Along the way, he “doggedly pursued justice on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves, fostered a network of law enforcement officials with a strong investment in SIU, educated students preparing to serve as change agents within the criminal justice system, and financially supported many students through his fundraising and scholarship efforts.”

A native of Cairo, Echols was a member of the Carbondale Police Department from 1981-2009 starting as a police officer and rising to the rank of investigations commander. Utilizing new procedures to test old evidence, Echols’ work on cold cases included the identification of an incarcerated inmate as the serial killer responsible for nine murders, including in Southern Illinois, and the 1982 murder of an SIU student. Echols co-authored the 2011 book, “In Cold Pursuit: My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir,” which detailed the investigation, arrest and sentencing. Proceeds from the book went to establish the Nine Angels Memorial Scholarship for students pursuing degrees in criminal justice.

Echols assisted a sexual assault victim in advocating to change the statute of limitations for the offense, and the three-year statute of limitations for numerous sex crimes in Illinois was removed in 2019. He also worked with the Illinois Innocence Project to secure a posthumous exoneration for a man convicted of murder in Mount Vernon, Illinois, receiving the organization’s 2018 “Defender of the Innocent” award. A former member of SIU’s Saluki Patrol, one of the oldest university student law enforcement groups, Echols has worked to build an alumni group that provides scholarships for SIU students. He also shared his experiences by teaching criminology classes at both SIU Carbondale and Shawnee Community College for about 15 years.