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Emeritus professor chronicles SIU School of Law’s 50-year history as a ‘labor of love’

Frank G. Houdek poses with a book in front of a building on campus.
Russell Bailey
SIU News

Frank G. Houdek has been affiliated with the Southern Illinois University School of Law for nearly 80% of a storied history that is now in its 51st year.

In piecing together “Celebrating the First Fifty Years of Southern Illinois University School of Law,” Houdek, an emeritus law professor who during his tenure was law school library director, associate dean for academic affairs and interim dean, said the work provided perspective.

“For me it was like going back and remembering all these things and being reminded of all this great stuff,” he said. “When you are in the heart of an enterprise, most people I think tend to identify all of the issues or problems. But by stepping out of the middle and getting the big picture as I was putting it together, I was reminded that we have done a lot of impressive things with resources that at times were robust but at a lot of other times weren’t so robust. But what we managed to do with a small group of very dedicated people — faculty, staff and students — was to accomplish a lot, and we continue to accomplish a lot.”

The commemorative book, whose genesis started in fall 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, is part of the law school’s 50th anniversary celebration. The book will be available for purchase at the law school’s gala on March 23 at Southern Illinois Airport’s Hangar One Event Center, in the Law Library merchandise store and online through SIU Press.

“As we turn the pages of this commemorative book, let us remember the countless individuals who have contributed to our success and reaffirm our dedication to educating the next generation of legal scholars and practitioners. Here's to the next 50 years of legal innovation and commitment to excellence,” Dean Camille Davidson said.

Full of photos and ‘firsts’

The 164-page book includes over 200 photos and is stocked with information and interesting facts, along with many “firsts” in the law school’s history, such as the first class on Sept. 4, 1973, was taught by Professor Edward J. “Ted” Kionka. Divided in two parts, the book breaks down the highlights and accomplishments by decade, including the leaders, faculty and staff during each period. The second part is devoted to photos featuring law school life and activities, along with faculty and staff through the years.

“I tried to identify either important events in the law school’s history or special people in the life of the law school — students, faculty and staff,” said Houdek.

Hiram H. Lesar’s continuing impact

Houdek came to SIU in January 1985 and worked alongside Hiram H. Lesar after Lesar’s retirement as founding dean in 1980. Lesar continued to teach a class or two each semester before his death in 1997. Houdek said before researching for the book he “probably didn’t understand how much” Lesar accomplished in building the law school upon Lesar’s arrival in 1972. Houdek said he hopes others are able to recall fond memories or learn more about Lesar’s vision, noting that the law school’s mission to serve the public good and improve available legal services and attorney access in the region remains. Lesar also twice served as SIU Carbondale’s interim president (now chancellor) while law school dean.

“We’ve had eight permanent deans and each one of them has brought something to the table,” Houdek said. “Each one of them contributed to the development and growth of the law school. As I was trying to identify what was important in a particular time period, I would see the imprint of those deans.”

Desires for the book

Houdek hopes readers “can gain or regain an understanding of what the school has been able to accomplish, not only for the university but especially for the region.” He pointed to the law school’s legal clinic and health law program as a “huge part of what we have done for the region and community to provide that kind of legal assistance.”

When he came to the law school nearly 40 years ago from Los Angeles, Houdek notes he had never lived in the Midwest, never lived in a small town and “never lived where there was humidity.”

“I stayed and never regretted that decision. For me, this book was a labor of love.”

Pete Rosenbery — arts and design, architecture, automotive and aviation, humanities, journalism and mass communications, law, public policy, social sciences.

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