RTC:Rural co-director Dr. Tom Seekins was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Public Health Association (APHA). The award “is presented to a person who, over the course of his or her career, has made a major contribution to the improvement of health and quality of life for people with disabilities through research, teaching, advocacy, or practice.”
To see a captioned video of Dr. Seekins’ acceptance speech, click on the embedded video below.
Dr. Seekins was also honored at the 2017 Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) conference in Spokane for his support, involvement, and contributions to the Rural Independent Living and Disability Rights Movement.
Honoring Tom Seekins
The following is reprinted from the 23rd APRIL conference program with permission.
“Dr. Tom Seekins was one of the very first people I met when I began my work with APRIL. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He, along with Dr. Devva Kasnitz and Linda Gonzales wrote our Rural Transportation Demonstration grant through the Department of Education which allowed APRIL to finally hire staff, i.e. me!! Tom is such a genuine and gentle soul. His soft-spoken manner and kind face represent home to many of us. He is not only a steadfast supporter of APRIL but a trusted and respected voice and scholar in the Rural Independent Living field and for People with Disabilities as a whole. His dedicated life’s work has helped us all understand the distribution of people with disabilities throughout our country and our communities and also highlights the continuing struggles that people with disabilities in Rural America deal with in trying to access services. His contributions are invaluable.
Tom Seekins is the kind of person you would want around in a crisis. He has a calming effect and a grounding energy that is so valuable and rare. It has been my sincere honor to have worked with him for 17 years. I am a better, more thoughtful person because of it.”
– Elissa Ellis, Director of Operations, APRIL
“The impact of Dr. Seekins’ career has been felt by many, most of whom do not know his name. Over the past four decades, people with disabilities who would have been isolated at home have gotten out using a Transportation Voucher system developed by Dr. Seekins. They have started small businesses based on vocational rehabilitation policy and training programs developed by Dr. Seekins and they have avoided serious illness due to health promotion skills they learned from programs he developed. Every day, thousands of rural adults with disabilities receive services from agencies that recognize the importance and uniqueness of rural environments thanks to their membership in the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living, an organization Dr. Seekins was instrumental in developing. The lives of these people would be very different were it not for the career of Dr. Tom Seekins. Few people have the opportunity to see science in action making the world a better place as I have over these past 28 years.”
– Dr. Craig Ravesloot, RTC:Rural Director.
“It was one of my first conferences at the CDC and the retiring director of the CDC’s Disability and Health Branch, Larry, was getting ready to give his farewell presentation to a packed room. He had painstakingly put together tons of photos of funded states, projects, colleagues, and community partners from over the years to share with everyone. Pulling this type of powerpoint presentation together was quite a feat 15 years ago, and of course, there were technical issues when the time came to project the slides. There was a lot of build up to this retirement presentation so when the technology failed, it felt like, ‘now what’? Everyone just looked at Larry with blank faces; the silent response to his request for help was palpable. Then Tom gets up and walks to the front quietly and in his suit and cowboy boots proceeds to crawl under the table to work on the computer/projector set up. Not a word seemed to pass between the two. I remember a silent exchange of trust and appreciation. Larry visibly relaxed as Tom approached. Larry told marvelous stories about his tenure with the program while Tom worked silently under the table to reconnect cords and get the powerpoint working. As Tom walked quietly back to his seat, I thought of my German teacher’s explanation of the word, ‘mensch’— a simple translation is ‘person’ but there is no simple translation for when someone is purposefully called a ‘mensch’. It is about recognizing someone to admire, someone with a rare blend of honor, integrity, dependability, and realness —someone who is striving to fulfill the potential of being human– ‘you’ll know a mensch when you see one’, my teacher had said. In that moment, I understood. Since then, there are countless memories I have like this, and I may even be beginning to understand the moral foundation from which he operates—but above all, Tom is incredibly kind and supportive—and always, if he can, will have your back. He’s a real mensch”.
– Dr. Meg Ann Traci, Director of the Montana Disability and Health Program
You will always be an intricate part of the APRIL fabric and our history. Thanks for all you have done.
– The APRIL Family
Congratulations Dr. Seekins! We all thank you for your dedication to RTC:Rural and the field of disability research! We are fortunate to have such an esteemed leader and colleague.