EDWARDSVILLE — The longest-serving professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will donate $100,000 to his own department, and a laboratory will be named for him in gratitude.
Biology professor Ralph Axtell, 84, was one of the original faculty members at SIUE, beginning his service in 1960.
"I was here before there was a main campus," he said.
Axtell has the longest continuous service record of any faculty or staff member. A veteran of World War II, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees and doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1950s. Axtell joined the faculty when they were still teaching at the Shurtleff College campus in Alton in 1960, as featured in the SIUE history book, "After the Academy."
"Ralph is a faculty member who was here not only during the establishment of the current campus, but also the design and construction of the current science lab complex," said Aldemaro Romero, dean of arts and sciences. "Up until recently, Ralph's work schedule was typically seven days a week from three in the afternoon to three in the morning -- evidence that Ralph is a highly dedicated faculty member. ... This gift will carry on his legacy at SIUE for generations of future students."
Axtell served as biology chairman in 1965-67. His focus has been on herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles; mammology, the study of mammals; and advanced classes in biogeography. He has published more than 100 illustrations and peer-reviewed papers, including descriptions of eight new species. A species of lizard was named in his honor in 2006: Sceloporus poinsettii axtelli, found mostly in Texas and Mexico.
Now something else will be named after him: a laboratory in the new science building. The name comes along with Axtell's donation of $100,000 to the SIUE Foundation, creating an endowment that will fund teaching and research activities in the ecology and organismal biology teaching laboratory.
Axtell will present the check to Romero on Thursday afternoon in the lobby of the new science building, which was recently completed.
"I've always wanted to give the university something when I left," Axtell said. "I've always figured $100,000 was probably a good sound sum."
But don't count him out yet. Axtell is still teaching at the age of 84, although he admits he might retire in the next few years.
When asked why he hasn't retired yet, he said simply, "I love to teach."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2501.