One mention of the name "Vincent Gutowski" and words of praise start flowing from Godson Obia's mouth.
"A stellar academic and a great person," Obia said of his friend and colleague. "Vince is such a giving person -- both to his students and to his department."
Kind words such as these and the truth behind them are what led to Gutowski being named the 2008 recipient of Eastern Illinois University's Luis Clay Mendez Distinguished Service Award, presented by the university's Faculty Senate.
The award, given annually since 2004, honors the memory of Clay, an EIU Spanish professor who died in 2003. Recipients must exemplify Clay's dedication via service to the university, their profession and the community-at-large (local, national and/or international).
Gutowski, a professor of geography at Eastern since 1983, will formally receive his award during the 2 p.m. commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 20, at Lantz Arena.
"I am pleased to be recognized for this award," Gutowski said. "People rarely have the privilege to know the individuals behind awards or scholarships. In this case, I did know Luis and this award is special to me because I knew his character.
"I first met Luis on the racquetball court, where he was the most aggressive, dominant player at the university. Luis was also a locker room philosopher. In more than one conversation with him, he explained how we should live our lives with 100 percent effort, whether at home, at work or at play. He was the type of person who practiced what he preached. He was tireless in all aspects of university duties and interactions with those around him.
"I have tried to take his advice and attitude and combine them with examples given by others who have positively influenced me over my lifetime. Life is short, live it to the fullest -- for your sake and for those around you who depend upon your actions. Thank you, Luis."
Obia, also a professor of geography and associate dean of Eastern's College of Sciences, said he and Gutowski met in 1994 when Obia arrived at the university. "Even then I saw the love he was putting into (Eastern's geography/geology) program," Obia said.
In fact, Gutowski has been credited for reviving the university's geography major, which had been eliminated just after his arrival to the school. The program has now grown to nearly 60 majors annually.
"And (Gustowski) has been instrumental in training some of our best students," Obia continued. "Every research project he does has student participation."
Obia further explained that Gutowski's research is the "quintessential university outreach."
Gutowski has participated extensively in local environmental issues, including serving on the Embarras River Management Association's board of directors and as chair of the council of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation 2000 Program. He has participated in several projects in Charleston, Coles County and Decatur, Ill., all while maintaining a strong career as a publishing scholar and an exemplary teaching record.
Obia added that Gutowski's teaching has extended beyond the traditional classroom as he has led students on field trips throughout the United States, including the southern Appalachians, the Coastal Plain and the Southwest. Multiple trips have been made to Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado .
"It's important that our students get hands-on experience in this field," Obia said. "And (Vince) has made sure they received it."
In addition, Gutowski has generously used personal funds made via his consulting work to buy equipment for student use in EIU laboratories. He's been instrumental in helping his students receive scholarships, and frequently, along with his wife, Pam, hosts students at his home or takes them out to eat.
"So much of what he does is for the benefit of his students," Obia said. "And he does not look for credit.
"He gives so much. When he retires from here in 2010, he will leave a big hole -- a BIG hole."