Local resident receives distinguished alumni award

By Josh Beavers

The Webster Parish School Board wishes to congratulate Minden High School teacher John Dillon on being named the 2022 recipient of the Jimmy D. Long, Sr. Distinguished Alumni Award from the Louisiana Scholars’ College at Northwestern State University.  Dillon received his Bachelor of Arts in Humanities and Social Thought at the Louisiana Scholars’ College at NSU in 1997, earned a Master of Arts in Philosophy at Louisiana State University in 1999, and completed his teacher’s certification at LSU in 2002.  He has been an English teacher at Minden High School in Webster Parish since 2006 and founded the school’s Nature Club in 2007.   Dillon is the first teacher to receive the award.

According to the Scholars’ College website, the Jimmy D. Long, Sr, Distinguished Alumni Award was created in 2017 to “recognize alumni…who have exemplified the tradition of service shown by Jimmy D. Long, Sr. and/or distinguished themselves in their career.”  Dr. Becky Wilson, Principal of Minden High School, says of Dillon, “We’re so proud of Mr. Dillon, and we’re so happy the college chose him for this honor.  I know how much it means to him that teachers are recognized for what they do.  We throw a lot of responsibilities to Mr. Dillon, and he loves to be part of the team here at MHS.  He teaches three honors classes plus regular classes, he’s almost always part of the Leadership Team, he serves on our Graduation Committee every year, and he’s in charge of most of our ACT prep programs.”

In addition to his work at Minden High, Dillon is an active birder and field ornithologist.  He is President of the Louisiana Ornithological Society (LOS), the state’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the study of birds.  Since 2011, he has served on the Louisiana Bird Records Committee as one of nine experts in bird identification who review submitted records of rare bird species in Louisiana.  Additionally, he is a records reviewer for Cornell University’s eBird.org, the largest online database for bird observations.  Dillon’s expertise in birds and bird identification, as well as his expertise in native plants, also keeps him busy as a public speaker at many parish libraries, nature parks, garden clubs, and birding organizations outside LOS, having given “over 20 public lectures in the last 5 or 6 years,” he says.  He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Briarwood Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve in Natchitoches Parish.  

Dillon also has co-written a number of grant applications with Jill Waltemate, Executive Director of Center for Counseling and Psychological Resources in Ruston, for nationally competitive grants focused on mental health and teen substance abuse for Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, Morehouse, Sabine, and Union Parishes.  These grants have ranged from sources such as the US Department of Education to the Centers for Disease Control, and many also have come with impressive funding.  One mental health grant for Bossier and Caddo Parishes received total funding of $450,000, and two others for Bienville and Union Parishes were funded for $625,000 each.  This has also led to other work for Dillon, including speaking at a teen “Leadership and Prevention Conference” in Shreveport and leading workshops for teens involved with U-ACT, the Union Parish Alliance for Community Transformation.   

Dr. Curt Phifer, Professor of Biology at the Louisiana Scholars’ College and member of the selection committee for the award, noted that Dillon’s efforts “strongly reflect the dedication and service to Louisiana by Jimmy Long, whom the award honors.”  Dillon was nominated by Professor Emeritus Dr. Fraser Snowden, who taught him Philosophy during his undergraduate years at the Scholars’ College.  When asked about the work for which he is most proud, Dillon says it was publishing a lengthy article about the Minden High School Nature Club in the American Birding Association’s Birding Magazine in 2019.  “It was about how the kids worked with biologists from Audubon Louisiana to find and band Yellow Rails and Black Rails in the salt marshes along the coast in Cameron Parish.  Black Rails are now an endangered bird species, and they’re generally considered to be the most difficult to observe bird species in North America.  The fact that kids from Minden High helped biologists find and study those creatures still amazes me.  This is all about opportunity for these kids.  If you give them the opportunities, they’ll surprise you with what they can do, and I’m incredibly lucky to work with them.” 

Of the award itself, Dillon says, “I don’t want this to be about me.  This award is about service.  And my hope is that people take notice of these pursuits because they’re worthy of service.  People should look at Minden High and see the work that good educators provide there.  I want people to see the conservational stewardship of LOS and the cultural and environmental heritage of Caroline Dormon and Briarwood.  I want people to recognize the need for mental health awareness, especially in our schools.  I don’t do these things for myself.  I’m involved in these things because they’re worthy of good service, and that’s what this award is about.”  Dillon wishes to thank current and former students and others who wrote on his behalf in support of his selection.  He will be presented with the award at the Northwestern State University Homecoming football game later this fall.  

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