Altgeld Hall

SIU System President Dan Mahony, SIU Board of Trustees Chair J. Phil Gilbert and SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin Lane congratulate the 2024 Lindell W. Sturgis Award recipients Michael Ruiz and Tracy Lake. (Southern Illinois University Carbondale photos)

April 11, 2024

SIU’s 2024 Sturgis Awards for community service go to accountant, law school leader

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Two longtime Salukis at Southern Illinois University Carbondale were honored for their commitments to their communities today (April 11) at the SIU Board of Trustees meeting.

Michael Ruiz, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid with the Simmons Law School, and Tracy Lake, an accountant in the Office of Student Engagement, received the 2024 Lindell W. Sturgis Award for their extensive involvement with a variety of campus and community organizations.

Presented by the SIU Board of Trustees since 1980, the award recognizes SIU Carbondale employees for public service unrelated to their jobs. The award honors the late Lindell Sturgis, a Metropolis native who served more than 30 years on the SIU board.

Here are Ruiz’s and Lake’s stories.

Ruiz works to find solutions to issues 

By Pete Rosenbery  

Ruiz has an affinity for working to find solutions when problems arise. 

mike-ruiz-455-sm.jpg“It is difficult to say no when you know that you are a very lucky person,” Ruiz said. “When you fall into that category, you feel like you should give something back.” 

Now affiliated with nearly a half-dozen distinct professional and community-oriented organizations, Ruiz said he enjoys being around others who are trying to solve problems. 

“Many of these groups, that is what they are doing; they are working together, trying to do something or get something done,” he said. “That’s a lot of fun, for me, at least. It allows me to use the skill sets I have to actually bring about some positive change. I think that is why anyone does service for their church, their kids’ school or softball team or band is because ‘this is how I can help.’ And these are ways I can help.” 

A 1987 graduate of Murphysboro High School, Ruiz, who lives in Herrin, saw the impact community involvement could have while in high school when he and another student chaired the school’s Key Club toy drive. “It had a big impact on me,” he said.  

Ruiz graduated from SIU Carbondale in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and earned his law degree in 1993 at University of Chicago Law School. He returned to the region to work as a staff attorney for Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, and he also joined Kiwanis International. 

Ruiz’ numerous volunteer efforts with nonprofit organizations include being a board member and past president of Friends of WSIU, Murphysboro Apple Festival board member and past chair, and board memberships with the United Way of Southern Illinois, the revamped Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois and START (Specialized Training for Adult Rehabilitation). Ruiz was involved through the Illinois Judicial Conference to modernize existing service of process statutes, rules and procedures, and he has also been honored for his community work by the Illinois State Bar Association. 

Andrea Russell, office manager in the law school’s Office of Admissions and Alumni Relations, noted in her nomination that Ruiz, one of six children, “knows the importance of getting along with, and working collaboratively to accomplish a goal. He knows the value of investing time, energy, and resources into serving the needs of others.” 

Ruiz’ calendar makes it “very clear that public service is an integral part” for Ruiz and his wife, Alicia, Russell said. “He does not call attention to himself, but humbly volunteers his time, knowledge and resources.” 

Susan Tulis, past president of the Friends of WSIU, noted in her letter that Ruiz suggested WSIU’s “One Region All Neighbors” initiative, which recognized people and groups who contribute to the quality of life in the region.

“It is extremely important for our viewers and listeners to have access to public broadcasting, and Mike is leading the WSIU Friends Board to make sure that happens,” Tulis wrote. 

Regina Glover, board development committee chair for the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois, noted that the organization had to temporarily close last summer, and that a fundraising campaign to reopen locations in Carbondale and Marion, along with a search for a new CEO, is underway. 

“The board in many ways is starting all over, and yet Mike did not hesitate to say, ‘I think I can help,’” Glover wrote. “Mike has hit the ground running both on the Resource Development Committee and the board. He easily shares ideas and suggestions from his work on other boards. His comments make it clear that we need to provide services for the children in Southern Illinois.” 

One of Ruiz’s most recognized affiliations is with the Murphysboro Apple Festival, a commitment that spans more than 20 years, including serving as festival general chair for four years.

“Mike is not only a valuable resource for advice on legal matters but also a volunteer who goes above and beyond to ensure the festival’s success,” said Shawn Stearns, Apple Festival general chair and president. “His willingness to do whatever is needed, coupled with his passion and commitment, make him an invaluable asset to the festival.” 

The nomination for the Sturgis Award was a “nice surprise,” said Ruiz, who will retire from SIU Carbondale in August, after 27 years in a variety of capacities. He thought the telephone call informing him of his selection was to instead inquire if he knew of anyone to nominate. Ruiz adds he knows other SIU employees who give back to their communities. 

“Any time the university singles out one or two people, the first thing you know is there are many people there deserving of the award, and you hope they take some small part of it,” he said. “It’s not really an award for one person, it’s an award recognizing the work that everyone is doing because I’m certain there are hundreds of people on campus who could have gotten this award. I was just lucky enough to be chosen.” 

Lake serves in Boy Scouts and other organizations

By Christi Mathis 

Community service and helping others has been a way of life for a quarter of a century for Lake. 

tracy-lake-453-sm.jpg“The Sturgis Award is an honor, but I don’t serve for awards,” Lake said. “In Scouting, we teach our leaders about the concept of servant leadership, and I truly believe in that concept. I joined Future Business Leaders of America in high school and had a mentor who fostered in me a natural ability to be a leader, and it has all gone on from there.” 

Lake spends a great deal of her spare time helping others, said Kyle Lake in the award nomination for his wife. “Her weekends are filled with camping trips and outdoor adventures with Scouts who range from the age of 5 up to 18 years old. When not outdoors, she can be found teaching merit badges and mentoring Scouts to become leaders.” 

He said she also works with adult Scout leaders, has served on seven national training staffs to help train future generations of Scout leaders, is the chair for the annual fundraising campaign and is district commissioner over all Scouting for the Carterville/Benton/Harrisburg/Creal Springs area. 

“Her evenings are a sporadic array of meetings and events for various organizations, including college student groups, mission work, church work, soup kitchen work, grant administration and so much more,” he wrote. “It is very rare to ever find her sitting still for long. Even an activity like watching TV usually comes with a laptop and paperwork and emails.” 

Tracy got involved with Future Business Leaders of America as a high school student, and for nearly 25 years, ever since graduating from SIU, she has served as the adviser for the university’s FBLA student group. During that time, she has mentored many Salukis, giving 10 hours a week or more of her time, and seen dozens win state and national awards. 

When her son joined Boy Scouts of America about 16 years ago, there was a need for leadership, so she and Kyle both got involved as volunteers at the local and district level. Her role grew and evolved until she was one of three people in charge of all Scouts and units in the Egyptian District. In the past five years, she has trained leaders at the local, district and council areas and led the annual financial campaign to raise money to help ensure those without sufficient income can afford to participate in Scouting. She’s also a merit badge counselor, Family Friends of Scouting chairperson and camp staff member and has earned numerous awards, including the Egyptian District Award of Merit, the highest district award, and the Silver Beaver, the highest council award. 

A decade ago, she began serving as the volunteer bookkeeper for the Hands of Hope Foundation, a mission-based organization that provides medical and educational services in the United States, Thailand and Liberia. In addition to keeping the books, she also helps collect medical supplies, pack for mission trips and assists with fundraising and event planning.  

“They had a need for someone who was organized, who could manage a large level of paperwork and documentation, who had some computer skills, and who could deal with people,” she said. 

Lake added another volunteer role three years ago when she became assistant director of the AmeriCorps program at the Herrin House of Hope. The all-volunteer organization serves thousands of meals annually to people in need while also providing clothing through the thrift store and additional food through the food pantry along with other community programs.  

Lake said it is hard to fathom the amount of time she dedicates to her community service, especially when one considers how many years she has been giving her time and energy. Boy Scout meetings alone take about 50 or more hours each month, not including the additional activities, responsibilities and camps, she admits.  

“It is easily over 100 hours a month, and during the summer at least twice that, and I have been doing this since my son was 5, so for almost 16 years,” she said.  

Add in at least 10 hours a month for FBLA, 40 hours for Hands of Hope, about 80 for House of Hope and a full-time job at SIU, where she’s worked for 25 years, and you can see why her husband says Tracy is constantly doing something.  

“I like to stay busy and keep my mind active, and these activities have fulfilled that need,” she said. “Most of my spare time is taken up with volunteering in some way, especially as my son has gotten older and into his own things. My husband, Kyle, is an SIU retiree, and my son, Jaden, is a senior at SIU this year. I volunteer because I can, and I really enjoy it.”