2011 Distinguished Alumnus award winner
Sylvester Neal, '78, '83
Sylvester Neal, the son of Willis and Imam Lee Neal, the sixth of nine children, was born and raised in rural Texas near Austin. He graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1962, which at the time was only recently integrated. After witnessing his house burn down, Sylvester chose firefighting as a career; he joined the Austin Fire Department in 1965. In 1968, Sylvester enlisted in the Army and was sent to Ft. Wainwright. He started working for the Fairbanks Airport Fire and Police upon leaving the service in 1970. The next chapter in Sylvester’s life involved the university: in 1978 he completed an associate degree in police administration and in 1983 he received his bachelor’s degree in Justice.
Sylvester's professional career includes 26 years of service in firefighting, airport security and industrial safety. He served as a fire and police chief at Fairbanks International Airport and was appointed to two terms as the state fire marshal for Alaska. He chaired the Alaska State Fire Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, served on the board of Alaskans for Drug Free Youth and two community college boards. He volunteered with United Way, Special Olympics and was a chairman of the Alaska Fallen Firefighters Memorial fundraising committee. He is an ordained deacon in his church and recipient of the Citizen Volunteer Award from the Anchorage School District.
Kiwanis is the true highlight of Sylvester's career. During his tenure at Kiwanis Club of Fairbanks, Sylvester served as club secretary, club president, lieutenant governor and Alaska Yukon governor. Upon moving to Anchorage, he joined a local club. He currently is a member of Kiwanis Club of the Valley in Auburn, Wash. He served as governor of the Pacific Northwest District for Kiwanis in 2002 - 2003. Sylvester quickly ascended the Kiwanis International ranks, serving as trustee, vice president and president-elect. In June 2010, at the 95th Annual Kiwanis International Convention in Las Vegas, Sylvester was elected president of the 600,000 member Kiwanis International organization.
Before joining the international board, Sylvester served on numerous district and international committees: Children’s Miracle Network Telethon, membership diversity and new-club building and membership growth -- North America. Sylvester held a position as honorary chair for the Pacific Northwest District Kiwanis/SIGN project. SIGN stands for Surgical Implant Generating Network and addresses the need for neglected fracture care in more than 40 developing countries of the world.
Outside of Kiwanis, Sylvester owned a consulting company for two years which specialized in diversity and special events coordination. He loves reading and writing poetry. He is also in the process of writing an autobiography he hopes to complete after his presidential term.
Sylvester Neal is a life member of Kiwanis International and a Diamond-level George F. Hixson Fellow of the Kiwanis International Foundation. His clubs recognized him as Kiwanian of the Year four times.
Sylvester and his wife, Doris, are parents of five children and have seven grandchildren.