Michigan native devotes time to helping inmates and their families

Sam Deleeuw sits on his living room couch and watches the end of an NFL game.  The retired professor and head of the civil engineering department has spent his last fifty years in north Mississippi, yet he still does not like grits.

Sam Deleeuw sits on his living room couch and watches the end of an NFL game. The retired professor and head of the civil engineering department has spent his last 50 years in North Mississippi, yet he still does not like grits.

Luke Jenkins

It’s been almost 50 years since Sam Deleeuw left Michigan, and yet he still finds himself mixing up the name of the town he lives in.  The lifelong educator who is known for his humor has spent many years providing service to those in need.

Deleeuw is from Grand Rapids and obtained all three of his civil engineering degrees from Michigan State University.  He has spent the past 50 years working with and for the University of Mississippi and the city of Oxford.

A former head of the civil engineering department, Deleeuw, 80, retired 18 years ago, but his his contribution to the educational advancement of the town continue.

Deleeuw is now in charge of the General Education Development program at the Lafayette County Detention Center.  Working with two other men and three university honors college students, Deleeuw helps inmates obtain their GED diploma.

According to Deleeuw, about 50 percent of the program is mathematics.

One of the men Deleeuw works with is retired NASA researcher and administrator Harv Scholl, who has been with the program since it began almost three years ago.

“He’s a gentleman,” Scholl said. “He’s very interested in the educational well-being of the prisoners.”

According to Deleeuw and Scholl, the students are all interested and engaged in the program. The problem is that the detention center mostly holds people who are awaiting trial and then get transferred to another institution.  Despite the constant turnover, Deleeuw said that they have been able to help 15 to 20 prisoners obtain their GED diplomas.

Deleeuw is also still active with the Mathcounts program.

Mathcounts, according to Deleeuw, is a program targeting middle-school aged kids to help them become more interested in mathematics at an early age through competition.

The students compete across the country to create a state team. Then, they compete at a national level. When the program started in Mississippi, Deleeuw was the one picked to lead it.

He believes he was selected by his peers because he had been running a model competition for a few years where students would make models out of balsa wood and then run them through a series of tests.

Deleeuw was in charge of the entire Mississippi chapter for five years, beginning in 1983.

“I was able to get other people to take charge of the state after those five years,” he said, “but I stayed with the regional competition throughout the years.”

The program is now primarily run by the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, but Deleeuw still helps out with it.

“They kind of do most of the work for it, but I still work with them in an advisory role,” he said.

Deleeuw’s volunteer contributions to the community are not solely educational.  He is now entering his third tenure as the president of the Lions Club.

The main focus of the Oxford branch of the Mississippi Lions Club is helping with eye-wear.  The club helps pay for eye exams and glasses for those who can’t afford them.

“We have a limit on how expensive the glasses can be of course,” Deleeuw said.

The Lions Club is also in charge of organizing the annual Christmas parade held on the first Monday of December. Deleeuw said it’s a lot of work getting everything coordinated.

He also helps with The Angel Tree: Prison Fellowship. Angel Tree is a ministry where people buy presents for the children of inmates who are in need.

Deleeuw, as usual, is in charge of this at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. A long time church member, he helps organize the ministry through The Brotherhood of St. Peter.  Last year, he had a special encounter with the children for whom he was providing gifts.

The children he was supposed to buy gifts for moved from Oxford to Holly Springs. When Deleeuw found them, he learned there were two other children living in the house who also needed gifts. He decided to would deliver the gifts himself on his way to Memphis to see his family for Christmas.

“They gave me directions to that little kind of shack, and I could see that the people were very grateful, and that was a very rewarding thing to do then,” Deleeuw said.

One of the men Deleeuw works with in many of his ministries is fellow St. Peter’s parishioner and member of The Brotherhood of St. Peter’s, Dick Boyd.

Boyd, who also spent his entire career teaching, says that Deleeuw is conscientious of everyone he works for and with.

Deleeuw modestly said most of his leadership roles have come from not being quick enough to step back off the line when volunteers were asked to help lead.  His peers however believe otherwise.

“The thing about Sam is that he has a wonderful attitude towards helping others,” Boyd said.

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