Chicago Alumnus Donates $5,000 to the Saluki Food Pantry

Scott Moller ’85 presented Tena Bennett, director of the SIU Student Center with a donation of $5,000 to benefit the Saluki Food Pantry. LDP director, Bruce DeRuntz and junior Tamara Keene were also present for the check presentation at the Saluki Alumni Plaza.

Tena Bennett, the director at the SIU Student Center, home to the Saluki Food Pantry, recently received a $5,000 donation from alumnus Scott Moller ‘85. Bennett says that since March, they have given 1,000 emergency food bags to students in need and that this donation will go a long way to continue supporting this important initiative.

“The Saluki Food Pantry is 100 percent funded by private donations and we rely on those funds to purchase supplies and keep the doors to the pantry open,” said Bennett.

Moller is committed to solving hunger insecurity and contributes his time and donations to several food pantries in Illinois.

“Students here really need the help, especially in this time of living through a pandemic,” said Moller. He estimates his gift will provide 200 food bags to students who find themselves in need.

Moller, a member of the SIU Alumni Association and SIU Foundation boards, is encouraged by the efforts of the Leadership Development Program (LDP). The RSO recently did a food drive in front of the Student Center on October 15 and received over 630 food items that they donated to the food pantry. Bruce DeRuntz, professor of technology who leads the LDP, said the program truly transforms these students into leaders who give back to the community.

“SIU has a tradition of giving back and I am proud of the LDP students who donate their time and effort to help their fellow Salukis,” said DeRuntz.

If you would like to learn how you can give to the Saluki Food Pantry, learn more here:

SIU School of Law Alumna Gives Love and Hope Through Free Lunches

By Rebecca Renshaw

Life, at least for now, has changed dramatically across the United States as we face the coronavirus pandemic along with the rest of the world.

The shelves at our grocery stores often stand empty. Our favorite restaurants and entertainment venues are either closed or operating in much different ways than before. Our arenas are quiet and the crowds are gone. Around our interstates and neighborhoods, we’re spotting signs and messages that remind us of really just how different life feels now.

But, in St. Louis, if you are paying attention, there’s also a lot of love and hope being extended. From teddy bears in windows and messages of hope written in chalk on sidewalks, although we’re apart, we’re finding ways to remain deeply connected.

Beth Boggs, ‘91 SIU School of Law alumna, and a partner of Boggs, Avellino, Lach & Boggs, has committed to such love and hope by making sure students in North County School District in St. Louis receive free lunches and facemasks each week.

Boggs says she has sponsored and helped a food pantry in St. Louis, Ritenour Co-Care, for several years. One of her colleagues, Angela Gabel, serves on the pantry’s board of directors. Boggs and Gabel had a meeting in early March where they determined they had to do something for the pantry as it began to face higher demands for food. From that day forward, they have seen an incredible coming together in the community.

Through her connections in St. Louis business and civic affairs, Boggs encouraged others to join their efforts. Wallis Oil Company agreed to put their commissary employees to work making lunches. Wallis also agreed to transport donated meals to area drop-offs each week. Boggs soon got The Orchards Golf Course kitchen staff to make lunches. The owners of JJ Twigs Pizza were able to bring back some of their employees to pitch in and make lunches for students.

“Besides all of those volunteers, we also now have a minor league team who pitches in and helps make meals,” said Boggs.

She says what is remarkable is that through these efforts, some small businesses are now able to pay their staff and put them to work.

“Through a charity that my husband, Darin (SIU School of Law ’90) and I formed in 2005 called Step It Up, we give these businesses the food to make the meals and the wages to pay their staff,” she said.

Boggs was also impressed by the generosity of her fellow alumni from SIU Carbondale. “Each spring, we host a charity golf tournament to raise funds for SIU. While several of my participants and sponsors had already paid their entry fees, not one of them asked for a return of their money when the tournament had to be cancelled. When they heard of our efforts, they collectively donated the $13,500 in fees to the University Scholarship fund. That’s the Saluki spirit that makes SIU so strong,” she said.

While the North County School District does provide one free lunch drop-off a week, many of the students can’t find the transportation to get to the drop-off point.

“The problem with the school district free lunch program is that they only drop off lunches in an area where the students would be forced to take public transportation to get to the food,” said Boggs. With the help of the school libraries, Epworth Charities and the NAACP, they now are delivering 10,000 meals to multiple locations across the county five days a week.

Boggs says she and her behind-the-scenes volunteers are not doing this for publicity. “It’s simply the right thing to do. If we can give this food with no hardship to us, then it would be wrong to ignore this major need in our city right now,” said Boggs.

Boggs said they also give out 10,000 face masks to the students and their families along with their meals.

“Of all the positive COVID-19 cases in St. Louis, 70 percent are in these hard-hit communities of color. I am so thankful for the help of NAACP’s St. Louis County president, John Bowman. While we have the resources of money and food, Mr. Bowman has the connections to get to the people who need help the most,” said Boggs.

Boggs is amazed at the touching outpouring of humanity she has witnessed during the last month.

“I recently had to go to Chicago to visit my brother who is battling leukemia. His young daughter is quarantined due to his illness and said she wished she could help. I told her that she is wonderful at baking bread, so maybe she could make a loaf and send it to the food pantry. A week later, she shipped us 25 loaves of bread. She is a shining example of spreading love and hope with whatever resources are available,” Boggs said.

Boggs and the group of volunteers will continue to give 10,000 meals and face masks each week to students through the end of May. While Boggs was reluctant to draw attention to herself, she does so only to encourage others, especially Salukis, to get involved and give back to others during this time.

“I absolutely loved my years at SIU and I found the grit and determination of the students there remarkable. I am sharing my story only in hopes that others who call themselves Salukis will join me and extend love and hope to others as well,” she said.

Many former Salukis have donated funds and time to help.

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Banterra Scholarship Opens Doors to Opportunity

Danielle Lorentz

Danielle Lorentz

by Rebecca Renshaw

Danielle Lorentz’s heart bleeds maroon. A senior majoring in communications with specializations in interpersonal and organizational communication, Lorentz refers to herself as a “townie.”

“My mother worked at SIU, so I grew up in Carbondale. We attended tailgates, football games, you name it, we were there. It just felt natural that I would attend SIU. I could not be prouder to be both from Carbondale and be a Saluki,” she said.

In her junior year, Lorentz says, she stumbled upon a study abroad program through the College of Business that would apply toward a minor in international marketing while studying in Grenoble, France. However, she was concerned about the expenses involved with the program and decided to take one of the campus prerequisites to see how she liked the material.

At the same time, Lorentz learned she was a recipient of a Banterra Bank scholarship.

“Knowing I had the funds to study abroad allowed me to continue to pursue my interest in marketing. It was as if a door had opened up and exposed me to a whole new side of the business world. If I hadn’t received the scholarship, I would never have pursued a new path in marketing,” she said.

As it turned out, Lorentz discovered she enjoyed the class and the content. She felt earning a minor in marketing would pair nicely with her communication degree and give her an opportunity of a lifetime to study abroad.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lorentz did not get to realize her dream of studying in France. However, she said the excitement the scholarship gave her and the new path it presented made all the difference.

“I want to thank Banterra Bank for its generosity and its willingness to positively impact students’ lives in ways that didn’t even seem possible. I have already been so fortunate in what SIU has given me and this scholarship added even more,” she said.

Jeff May, president of Banterra Bank, said the Banterra Scholarships were part of an agreement to name the Banterra Center on campus.

“Ensuring that a scholarship program was set up as part of our naming-rights agreement was a key requirement for us to move forward with our SIU partnership,” May said. “Being able to assist with education needs of our youth as well as grow enrollment for one of the region’s largest employers is incredibly important to Banterra.”

When Lorentz heard the scholarships being announced at a SIU basketball game, she felt pride sitting in the stands knowing she was one of the recipients.

“That amount of money can make or break a student’s opportunities. It gives young people like myself the freedom to pay for books or pay for a program or get certified online,” said Lorentz.

“I also want to express to potential donors out there that even though they are giving a monetary donation, for students, it is so much more. Not only does it provide opportunities, it is also a sign of encouragement for students to keep moving forward,” she said.

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A Lasting Legacy: Future farmers, teachers to benefit from former professor’s gift

Jim and Sue Legacy

Jim and Sue Legacy

By Rebecca Renshaw

Jim Legacy’s passion for agriculture started at an early age. Now, he and his wife, Sue, are sharing that passion with others.

The Legacys donated $1 million from their charitable trust to the SIU College of Agricultural Sciences. Per their wishes, 80 percent will help fund scholarships for SIU students who participated in Future Farmers of America, and 20 percent will go toward faculty.

Jim Legacy came to SIU in 1977 as professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. He retired at the end of 2001.

“The most enjoyable experience of my life was being a professor,” he said. “As an instructor, you have these 18-year-old kids who come ready to learn from your knowledge. They carry a great deal of respect for a professor, and you end up playing an important and often extended role in their lives.”

During his tenure, he had multiple students come to his home for dinner and attended many of their graduation ceremonies and even weddings.

Legacy participated in international agricultural projects that took him all over the world.

“SIU gave me so many memorable experiences that I will never forget,” he said. “I traveled to Africa, China, Jamaica and Western Samoa to do meaningful work. It definitely enriched my life.”

Hard work & education

Born on a dairy farm in upstate New York, Legacy’s first agricultural experience came when he was 10 years old and his grandfather gave him 50 chicks to raise. As he neared high school, he received land from his father, and he milked 15 cows every day for nearly four years.

“I took math and science and vocational agriculture at Franklin Academy High School, and those classes furthered my interest in getting higher education degrees in agriculture,” Legacy said. “I had an agriculture teacher who encouraged me to go to college and get a degree in agriculture. I listened to him.”

Using the money he saved milking cows, Legacy attended Cornell University, earning his doctorate from Cornell in 1976. He was quickly hired by Purdue as an assistant professor of agriculture. After one year there, he began searching for a university that would give him the freedom to be his own person.

“SIU was a perfect match for me and my family. SIU allowed me to teach students how I wanted and run my program the way I saw fit,” he said.

An investment in the future

The Legacys strongly believe in the value of the FFA, which made it the clear choice for financial support.

“The FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of high school students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success,” he said. “There are over 700,000 student members in grades 7 through 12 who belong to FFA chapters, and what is surprising is that most of them are not farm kids.

“It provides students with a huge structure. It teaches them how to speak in public, gives them direction and shapes them into leaders.”

Legacy said there aren’t enough instructors to teach all these students. Last year, Illinois universities graduated 28 individuals who received an Agricultural Education Teacher Certification. However, there were 97 open teaching positions throughout secondary schools in the state. He’s hoping more scholarship opportunities will encourage more agriculture majors to obtain a teaching certificate.

“Most high schools have abandoned vocational programs. Agricultural programs like the FFA are the few that still exist,” Legacy said. “It’s a program that can make so many young kids shine. My hope is that this donation will help SIU and further the mission of the FFA.”

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Feeding the Saluki spirit

Alumnus, high schoolers donate 2,700 meals to food pantry

John and wife, Marcia Kabat

By Rebecca Renshaw

As the nation grapples with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saluki spirit continues to shine. The kindness and generosity of one SIU Carbondale alumnus is one powerful example.

John Kabat ’84, ’85 is the president of the SIU Agriculture Alumni Association. After retiring last year from a 34-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Township High School, he continues to teach part-time in the Cooperative Education Program as well as agriculture-related classes. He also serves as the national Future Farmers of America advisor for Mount Vernon’s FFA Chapter.

Recently, he and his students packaged, delivered and donated more than 2,700 meals to the SIU’s Saluki Food Pantry to help students in need due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A desire to help

The 2,700 meals were part of Kabat’s larger effort to feed more than 10,000 people in his community.

Kabat got the idea when he encountered an organization called Meals of Hope at a national FFA convention in Indianapolis last fall. While there, he met with volunteers from the charitable organization, based in Naples, Florida. Its mission is to empower communities to come together to end hunger.

That mission resonated with what is dear to his heart: feeding people who suffer from food insecurities.

Kabat came back to Mount Vernon and began identifying organizations that could benefit from food donations. He and a small team assembled and donated more than 8,800 lunches to nursing homes, shelters and senior citizen centers throughout southern Illinois.

“When I heard that SIU’s Saluki Food Pantry had been gathering food to fill emergency bags for students who find themselves in need, I knew where I needed to focus my remaining efforts,” Kabat said.

With the help of 22 parents and students, who are involved with the FFA chapter, 2,700 meals were assembled in about three hours. The idea wasn’t entirely Kabat’s; several of his students expressed the desire to help feed those in need.

Instilling a love of giving back

“I try to instill a spirit of giving back in each of my students and, in this project, I feel I succeeded,” Kabat said. “Even though I run a farm that feeds about 4,000 people yearly, my priority remains with the 250 kids I teach each year. I want to show them what it feels like to help others, show kindness and give back.

“If I can encourage them to go forth and multiply good deeds of their own, then I will have done my job well. God has blessed me with a sound mind and body. He’s also blessed me with my family and the farm. I never have taken any of this for granted, and I have enjoyed living my life that way,” he said.

Kabat graduated from SIU in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and double minors in agricultural mechanics and animal science. He received his master’s degree from SIU in 1985 in agricultural education.

“I loved my time at SIU,” he said. “SIU showed me the beauty of diversity and learning from people and their cultures from all over the world. It showed me that we are all equal and we are all in life together.”

The impact of the donation

Tena Bennett, the director at the Student Center, home to the Saluki Food Pantry, called Kabat a truly great man and said the food donation came at a critical time.

“These meals will provide hundreds of our students with food during an unprecedented time in our world. The Saluki Food Pantry was completely stocked before the pandemic and has been nearly wiped out as we supply emergency food bags to our students, many of whom had community jobs that have been suspended during the ‘stay-at home’ order,” she said.

“These meals were provided at a key time that allows us to continue to support our students with food from the pantry,” Bennett added. “The generosity of the students at Mount Vernon High School under John’s direction is a true demonstration of servant leadership,” she said.

If you would like to join Kabat in supporting the  Saluki Cares Student Emergency Fund, please visit and learn how you can give back to SIU and its students.

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SIU Credit Union Kicks Off the Donations to the 2020 SIU Day of Giving


Giving is in the DNA of those at the SIU Credit Union, and local charities have regularly been the beneficiaries of their benevolence. This year, the SIU Credit Union kicked off the Day of Giving with two gifts. The first donation of $20,000 will benefit SIU’s New Student Services and the second donation of $10,000 will go to Touch of Nature’s programs.

The SIU Credit Union was represented by Mike Lantrip, CEO, Mark Dynis, Marketing Director and Kim Babington, Vice President of Community Outreach.

Chancellor John M. Dunn received the donations from the group and said that the SIU Credit Union has been a good partner to SIU for many years.

“These gifts are generous and they represent a number of gifts they’ve given across the years for many endeavors,” he said.

Lori Stettler, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs says the support of the SIU Credit Union is priceless.

“The investment they made reaches far beyond New Student Programs and the University.  The work done by the team in New Student Programs impacts not only our students, but our community through the economic impact families make in our city and our region. We are grateful for their donation, their commitment and the time they invest in us each semester. The funds will support the annual Saluki Start Up and Weeks of Welcome programs, which help new students as they begin their Saluki journey,” she said.

“We are so proud to be a part of the SIU Day of Giving,” said Babington.

“This is such an important day and we want students to know they have a financial institution they can depend on,” she said.

Babington said that three years ago she did not know much about SIU’s Touch of Nature, but a colleague took her out to their facilities and introduced her to the many programs Touch of Nature offers. She knew then that SIU Credit Union had to play a part in their efforts.

J.D. Tanner, Touch of Nature’s Director, appreciates the ongoing support from SIU Credit Union.

“It’s important to have a community organization like SIU Credit Union to recognize what we do with students and the community,” he said.

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Pizza & B.E.E.R.: Iconic duo spur Day of Giving donation

By Rebecca Renshaw

Greg Horrell of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, had not been back to SIU since he graduated in 1991. It was only when the Carbondale in the ’80s and ’90s (the B.E.E.R. group) was established on Facebook that he reconnected with his alma mater.

“It was all the old stories in the group about how much fun we all had that pulled me back in,” Horrell said.

During the 2019 SIU Day of Giving, members of the group made 1,100 donations totaling more than $50,000, enough to endow two Balancing Education, Experience and Reality scholarships. The group earned a trophy for having the most individual gifts made for a non-academic unit.

Horrell made the trek from North Carolina to Carbondale last spring to participate in the trophy presentation. He took home a weekend full of memories, a Quatro’s cup and a koozie from the SIU Alumni Association.

“Every time I pull in the garage and see that cup, it reminds me of the good times at SIU and makes me smile,” he said.

Last September, Horrell started dropping his change into the Quatro’s cup for the B.E.E.R. Scholarship. Eventually, the cup overflowed, and he added two red solo cups to contain the six months’ worth of coins.

“My daughter took the coins to the bank machine and texted me that it was a perfect coin dump at $187 dollars,” he said. “I started in 1987. I’ve been asking myself, ‘What are the odds that it would be $187 even?’” Horrell said.

Fellow group member Jim Raffensperger recently challenged donors to add their graduation year onto any gift they make during this year’s SIU Day of Giving, which is Wednesday, March 4.

Horrell already planned to throw in an extra $100 to the $187 he saved in his Quatro’s cup.

“Jim made me want to add $.91 more, so count me in for $287.91,” he said.

Horrell has a new challenge for the rest of the group between now and the Day of Giving in 2021.

“What if just 40 percent of the group put their loose change in their Quatro’s cups for the next year? Could we raise $500,000 for B.E.E.R.?” he said.

That may sound like a lofty goal, but if the B.E.E.R. group has proven anything it’s that its members’ love for SIU, Carbondale’s iconic pizza joints and giving back shouldn’t be underestimated.


Support the Balancing Education, Experience and Reality scholarship on SIU Day of Giving March 4 at:

An Accomplished Alumnus with a Heart for Helping Others

thomas murrayBy Rebecca Renshaw

Tom Murray is a man of many accomplishments. From 1967 through 2007, he was employed at Sargent & Lundy, a global consultant to the electric utility industry. From 1993 through 2007, Murray was a senior vice president and an owner of the firm.

Murray completed a full two-year engineering program at Purdue University Calumet Campus in 1964 and became an engineering graduate at Southern Illinois University in 1967. He devoted more than 40 years to Sargent & Lundy before retiring in December 2007 as an executive vice president, owner and director of the company’s Power Delivery Services Business Group. He traveled extensively domestically and to the Middle East and Pacific Rim.

Murray is a registered professional engineer in many states and a member of several professional organizations.

As Murray neared the end of his company career, he and his wife, Jan, decided it was time to give back to others.

“We chose to focus on two areas – SIU and Special Olympics Illinois,” Murray said.

Since 2004, Murray has participated with the Special Olympics of Illinois. He served as chairman for the organization in 2008. He is a member of the board and serves on the executive and development committees.

At SIU, Murray serves on the Industrial Advisory Board of the College of Engineering. In 2012, he was awarded the SIU Alumni Achievement Award.

In 2008, the Murrays decided to establish a scholarship for students pursuing an engineering degree.

“We do not determine who should receive scholarship funding. We only care that the funds get into the hands of those students who deserve the help,” he said.

His desire to help others in need came from his early years at SIU. Times were hard financially.

“When I arrived on campus, it was bursting at the seams. There was not a single room available, so I ended up sleeping on a cot out at a farmer’s house outside of Murphysboro for a while,” Murray said. “I eventually found a space at the Tau Kappa Epsilon house.”

Murray said he thoroughly enjoyed his time at SIU, participating one year as a lifeguard at Campus Lake and working at The Club on the strip in Carbondale.

When he graduated from SIU, the country was at war in Vietnam.

“After graduation, I remember I submitted my application to Sargent & Lundy, but I didn’t hold much hope. Typically, you’d have to have many years of experience before you could be considered for a job at that company but, since many graduating candidates were in process to the Armed Forces and the company was under expansion, I got a chance to have an interview.”

Murray recalled that his interview took a full day filled with back-to-back interviews.

“The owner and the electrical department head of the company was the last to interview me. He looked at my résumé and said I have a question for you,” Murray said. “I see you took a transmission line design class at SIU. Are you familiar with the Maxwell-Boltzmann equations?”

Murray remembered his German professor at SIU explaining those equations so he gave him the answers he was looking for.

“He hired me on the spot and that started a 40-year career. I have reflected on that interaction many times. I am grateful for my education at SIU and how it prepared me for a great career at Sargent & Lundy,” Murray said.

The Murrays have given back, donating $230,000 over the last 10 years to SIU. The Murrays have significantly funded a unique annual scholarship mandating full distribution of the annual donation within five years. The couple has committed to donating $125,000 for the next five years.

Dean John Warwick of the College of Engineering said Murray’s commitment and generosity to SIU are commendable.

“These funds have and will support many accomplished and well-deserving students in our College of Engineering,” Warwick said.

Murray’s advice to students is simple and direct.

“Never give up,” he said. “If you develop a set of goals and a direction in mind, map out your path. As long as you stay committed, you will find success at many levels.”


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The Value of Yes

Sunil and Rupali Sinha

Sunil and Rupali Sinha

Dr. Atmesh Sinha brought his family to Carbondale in the early ‘70s to start the department of mining engineering at SIU, and retired 25 years later before moving to St. Louis, where he and his wife, Chinta, still reside.

Sunil, the eldest of their three children, spent many summers in Carbondale while attending school and college overseas and was able to experience small-town life revolving around family, community and helping others. As he grew up and pursued his dream of getting a medical degree, he never forgot the community that raised him.

Sinha and his wife, Rupali ’96, have recently established a five-year pledge at $10,000 a year to support the College of Business.

Upon completing his internal medicine residency in Chicago, he returned to Carbondale and began his career with the Carbondale Clinic (now the SIH Center for Medical Arts) as an internal medicine physician, where he practiced for five years.

“There was a particularly challenging weekend of being on call where I covered for multiple colleagues, which served as a tipping point for me,” he said. “I determined I had to do something else besides patient care, so I set out to get my MBA. Although at the time, it wasn’t clear how the MBA would help, I was confident that it would open a few more doors in my career.”

Prior to the start of each semester he recalls sitting down with his staff and working out his patient schedule to allow him to take the required courses for the MBA program at SIU’s College of Business. The challenge was to make Sinha’s course schedule work with his patient schedule for the two years needed to complete the degree. With the help of his staff and support of his family, he managed to balance both.

Upon completion of his MBA, Sinha accepted a job as the director of primary care with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Marion, Illinois. His work there opened the first of many doors in the field of administration, performance improvement and healthcare policy.

He next served as the director of managed care at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs health system in Maryland, and had the additional responsibility of chief quality officer for his network of hospitals covering Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Various opportunities allowed him to subsequently work for the United States Department of Health and Human Services at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington and as a Medical director for public health policy with Pfizer in New York and Washington.

He returned to clinical medicine first as the vice president for medical affairs at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, then as the chief medical officer for Chenmed for its operations in Virginia and back to his midwest roots as the vice president and chief medical officer for the BJC medical group in St. Louis.

Though he left southern Illinois in 2001, he maintained ties to the area through family as well as with SIU as a life member of the alumni association and as an external advisory board member for the College of Business administration.

“Getting my MBA from SIU was the foundation for the many changes over my career which have allowed me to experience and positively influence multiple facets of healthcare,” he said.

Sinha also remembers advice he received during his time at SIU that he says he has applied to every career move he has made. He recalls a guest speaker from Chicago came to speak to his class about career advice.

Unlike most of his classmates, Sinha already had a successful career, so he was doubtful he would learn much from the presentation. However, the speaker shared about his first interview and how he hoped to get a job in finance but the job offered was in human resources. But, he knew he wanted to move to Chicago and this was a path to get there. So, he said yes to most of the questions and landed the job in Chicago.

“The advice he gave was something I never forgot. He said if you feel strongly about accomplishing something, the answer is always yes and the rest you will figure out,” Sinha said. “In my career, every position has been new and something I had not done before, but I always knew I could figure it out. And I have – just by saying yes.”

If you would like to join Sinha in supporting the College of Business, visit

A Lesson in French

Joseph FrenchBy Rebecca Renshaw

Before the sun rose on Joe French’s first day in the world, he already had several strikes against him.

Born in the Bronx during the 1950s, French grew up in the midst of racial tension and dramatic demographic shifts. Born to a bipolar mother, French himself suffered from dyslexia. French’s father determined his son would leave the east coast upon his high school graduation and enroll at Southern Illinois University during the late 1960s.

“I actually never applied to any other university except SIU,” French said. “As a third-generation family member to attend SIU, no one even considered sending me anywhere but Carbondale.”

French’s grandfather attended SIU when it was known as Normal University

With his one-way ticket to the Midwest, French boarded a plane and arrived on campus. Carbondale turned out to be a great home for French, who knew he would be headed in the wrong direction if he didn’t go west to SIU.

“It was the late 60s and early 70s, and there was the flower power movement and all kinds of drugs. New York and the East Coast were embracing that movement, and when I came to Carbondale, that pace slowed,” he said.

“SIU was this wonderful place to decide who I was going to be and how I wanted to be perceived. I wasn’t somebody’s son; I was just a student along with thousands of other students. I got a great education at SIU, and my degree in psychology helped me throughout my life understand people and what makes them tick.”

French’s SIU education contributed to his success as an entrepreneur. He became a millionaire before the age of 30.

“Psychology came in handy on my very first job. I was the first black kid to be hired at a Jaguar dealership,” he said. “In less than six months, I was their number one salesman. I learned that people wanted knowledge about cars, and I also learned that knowledge was powerful.”

From an early age, French honed his entrepreneurial skills and even put them to use at SIU while he worked on his degree.

“I used to travel back and forth to New York and buy these fancy sports cars and drive them back to southern Illinois where people didn’t have access to such vehicles. Those cars sold like hotcakes,” he said. “Right before graduating, I spotted a tractor trailer bed selling waterbeds. I seized the opportunity and bought them all. In a few days, I resold them and made a quick $16,000.”

For graduation, French received a camera as a gift. He went back to New York City, opened an art gallery and started hanging out with budding photographers such as Paul Caponigro and Ansel Adams.

“We would trade photographs and sell them for about $100 to each other,” French said. “I remember I used to get so mad at Ansel because he was the only one who made us pay $250. I thought he was playing dirty until much later when I sold one of his photographs for $50,000.”

When the art market took a huge dive, he decided to go into corporate art, which led him to his ultimate destination of commercial leasing and real estate brokerage.

Elliot Porter's limited edition portfolio called "Trees"

French published a limited edition portfolio of Porter’s photographs called “Trees.” French donated one of the 25 sets to the Morris Library’s Special Collection.

During his time selling art to corporations he worked with a number of artists including Eliot Porter, a photographer known for his richly colored images of the natural world. His photographs of nature from the forests of New England to the deserts of Mexico became the iconography of the conservation movement. Today, his works are held in the collections in museums as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

French published a limited edition portfolio of Porter’s photographs called “Trees.” French donated one of the 25 sets to the Morris Library’s Special Collection.

“I want students to know who Eliot Porter was, especially if they have an interest in photography. I also wanted to give back to the university that set me on the path to success,” French said.

Morris Library’s dean, John Pollitz, says that SIU photography classes have already visited the collection.

“We plan on displaying it in the University Museum this fall where everyone can see these masterpieces,” Pollitz said.

When French was asked about the advice he would give to today’s students, he said he would tell them that they don’t have to be a rap star to succeed.

“What you need to do is figure out what you love and if it can support you in a lifestyle you can live with,” he said. “You have to be realistic in your dreams. You need to be willing to go hard and when doors are shut, see if there is another door that can be opened.”

French has a written a book about his life, “French Lessons,” which will be published in late 2019.


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