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2009 Distinguished Alumni Award

John Hallwas

The outstanding accomplishments of John Hallwas were recognized Saturday, May 16 when he was presented the Western Illinois University Distinguished Alumnus Award at the Spring 2009 Commencement Exercises.

The Distinguished Alumni Award, given since 1973, recognizes alumni who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and have brought credit to the University and themselves through their professional accomplishments or community service at local, state, or national levels and have extended meritorious service for the advancement and continued excellence of WIU.

Hallwas, a 1967 and 1968 graduate in English, served as an English professor and archivist at Western for 34 years, retiring in September 2004.

Hallwas came to Western in the early 1960s from the small Illinois town of Antioch, on the Wisconsin border. He was a NDEA (National Defense Education Act) Fellow (1968-1970) in the English doctoral program at the University of Florida, where he earned his Ph.D. (1972) with a specialization in medieval literature. Two years before he completed his dissertation, Hallwas accepted a call from his alma mater to teach British literature.

In 1979 Hallwas assumed added responsibilities as director of regional collections at the University Archives, a unit of the Western Illinois University Libraries, which complemented his emerging focus on American studies. Since the 1970s he has also lectured widely in Illinois and the Midwest.

Hallwas is the most widely published professor in WIU history. His most recent book, "Dime Novel Desperadoes," is focused on Illinois' most noted outlaws. He has written and edited more than 20 books and monographs, most of them focused on Midwestern literature and history. His 1998 book "The Bootlegger: A Story of Small-Town America" was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. He has also won a variety of awards for his teaching and community service, including the WIU Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award and the Macomb Citizen of the Year Award.

The author of "Macomb: A Pictorial History," Hallwas was also commissioned to produce "First Century: A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University" for Western's Centennial Celebration (1999-2000). Those and other books have made him a well-known academic figure who symbolizes the University's commitment to the people and values of the western Illinois region.

Since retirement, Hallwas has served on several University boards, including the WIU Foundation. He and his wife Garnette are major donors and have made a variety of gifts to the University. Western's annual liberal arts lecture was renamed the John Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture following his retirement. Hallwas was chosen to present the inaugural Liberal Arts Lecture in 2003.