Former SMSD board member Craig Denny receives top honor from Iowa State Alumni Association

Dr. Craig Denny, center, received the Iowa State University Alumni Association Medal Award last month. Photo courtesy Iowa State Alumni Association.

The Iowa State University Alumni Association recently bestowed one of the college community’s top honors to Lenexa’s Craig Denny, who served as the SM West representative on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education for more than two decades.

Denny, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Iowa State, was back in Ames in October to receive the Iowa State University Alumni Association Medal Award. Given each year since 1948, the medal honors a former Iowa State student “for long, loyal,
and outstanding service to the university through alumni-related activities.”

A native of Des Moines, Denny arrive in Ames not particularly focused on his classes.

“You could safely claim that my greatest interest the first couple years was in social activity, not academics,” Denny recalls.

But somewhere along the line, things clicked for him at Iowa State. Under the mentorship of a professor named James Hoover, he developed a keen interest in the field of civil engineering. He signed on with the firm Terracon in 1973, and did stints in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines before being tapped to head up the geotechnical engineering division of the operation at its new Lenexa office in 1985.

When they moved to Johnson County, Denny’s wife Terry, who passed away in 2014, started working as a para in Shawnee Mission Schools, which started the couples’ involvement with the district. Denny ran for school board for the first time in 1997. As the SM West rep on the board, he had the privilege of handing high school diplomas to his two eldest daughters as they crossed the stage.

With his early involvement in Terracon, Denny had been able to purchase company stock that had grown significantly in value by the 2000s. When Hoover, his college mentor, died suddenly of a stroke, Craig and Terry decided they wanted to do something to honor his legacy. They endowed a professorship, the James M. Hoover Chair in Geotechnical Engineering.

“And one of our requirements for that seat is that it goes to someone who believes strongly that mentoring students is important,” Denny said.

They also created scholarship opportunities in the college of human sciences that are available to students who either have learning disabilities or who want to go on to teach students with learning disabilities, a nod to Terry’s work with such students in Shawnee Mission.

Those generous gifts, and several more, were among the good works the association cited in giving Denny the honor this year. He was accompanied by his three daughters, fiancée and Terry’s brother-in-law, among others, for the ceremony.

“I think astonished is probably the word that comes to mind when I learned I had been named for the award,” Denny said. “I started my life and professional career there, but so did thousands of other people. There have been so many alums who have gone on to do great things. To be considered among that group was really amazing for me.”