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20 January 2008

Anniston Star Names JSU President Meehan
Citizen of the Year

JSU President Bill Meehan accepts the Anniston Star Citizen of the Year award from Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers on Friday during the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

By Dan Whisenhunt
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Meehan is everywhere: From JSU to YouTube to the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce

Meehan has led the university since 1999. People who know him well say he's done a good job of it.

With his stature and his profile, he's hard to miss. And so are his accomplishments.

His multiple contributions to the community, including charity work and leading the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, make him this year's Anniston Star Citizen of the Year.

The selection is made each year by The Star's editorial board and officers.

"We could have selected this citizen any year for the past several years, and probably we should have," said The Star's publisher, H. Brandt Ayers. "He has been so omnipresent in so many ways, with such understated leadership skills that it's a case of overlooking the obvious."

The honor was announced at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting Friday.

"I'm very honored," Meehan said as he received the award. The community has "been home to me since I came here in 1968," he said. "I appreciate it and every one of you."

After the dinner, Meehan said he was "totally surprised," by being named Citizen of the Year. "It's very flattering," he said.

Joe Serviss, vice president for institutional advancement at JSU, has known Meehan since 1989. Meehan's service on local and regional boards has upped the profile of JSU, he said.

"He's really put JSU out front and on the minds of many people," Serviss said.

Meehan rose through the ranks at the university.

Originally from Connecticut and Texas, he graduated high school in Birmingham.

According to the JSU Web site, he enrolled at JSU as a freshman in 1968, completing his Bachelor of Science in biology in 1972.

After getting his master's in that subject in 1976, he returned to the school as a biology instructor in 1977. He completed his doctorate of education at the University of Alabama.

Meehan worked in multiple top positions at the school before becoming president.

Then there's his nonprofit work. He's served as a member on the board of directors for The United Way of East Central Alabama, worked with the Boy Scouts and the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

Meehan and his wife, Elizabeth ("Beth"), have a daughter, Carol Grace, and twin boys, Drew and Will.

As president, Meehan has looked to expand JSU's reach beyond its campus, using distance education.

"He authorized an associate vice president of distance education," Serviss said. "That was the first time we've had (one) That's how important he feels distance education is."

Meehan is also a familiar face among students, known as someone who's not afraid to step out of his office and mingle.

Pete Conroy, the director of JSU's Environmental Policy and Information Center, said Meehan has lived up to the university's motto of being "the friendliest campus in the South."

"All the years I've known him, he's always friendly, always approachable, and I think he's the kind of guy who I don't think has met a stranger," Conroy said.

Last May, a video popped up on showing a female graduate bumping chests with a laughing Meehan and then giving him a big hug as he hands over her diploma, much as athletes congratulate each other after a big play. As of Wednesday, it had 718 views.

"I think that's just marvelous that a university president can have that much fun and still maintain such a well-respected and serious role in running the university," Conroy said.

Ayers said Meehan has made "cumulative contributions" to the economic, cultural and social life of northeast Alabama.

Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce President Sherri Sumners said she's often surprised Meehan can keep such a busy schedule. She compared him to the star athlete whose performance elevates the rest of the team.

"He's everywhere," Sumners said. "There are a lot of activities he's involved in he could very easily not be involved in or pass to someone else, but he takes a very personal interest in so many things."

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt covers K-12 schools and higher education for The Star.

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