Matt Jones, former Phi Theta Kappa National Officer, lawyer and lobbyist, is the 2008 recipient of the Board of Directors Alumni Achievement Award.
“I definitely feel humble, and somewhat daunted, to be in the company of the past recipients of this award,” he said. “These people have committed so much time and effort and have done so much – I hope I can match their accomplishments in time.”
“Matt has been an outstanding advocate for Phi Theta Kappa, as a member, a National Officer and as an alumnus,” said Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Rod Risley. “He has served on the alumni council, and has spoken at a past International Convention and at regional meetings. The Board is pleased to name Matt as the very deserving recipient of this prestigious award.”
Jones was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa at Illinois Central Community College in East Peoria, in 1984. He first heard of Phi Theta Kappa in an English class. “The chapter president was in the class and told me I should consider membership. Being a part of being a prestigious honor society sounded good.”
Jones accepted the invitation. Even before his induction, Jones told his advisor, Dr. Dick Nimz, that he planned to run for National Office. “I was inducted and three weeks later I was on a bus, by myself, for a 23-hour ride to Washington, D.C. – with my clothes, a game plan, 750 fliers and 250 homemade buttons.”
Jones remembers being somewhat disconcerted during the candidate orientation, when he realized Phi Theta Kappa’s then Executive Director, Dr. Margaret Mosal, was well acquainted with all his opponents, who were also supported by advisors and campaign managers as well.
“But I met Dr. Mosal, and she told me, ‘I think you are sassy.'” Never at a loss, Matt answered, “I think you are sassy too,” a response that pleased Phi Theta Kappa’s leading lady.
While his advisor and five chapter members came later, most of Jones’ campaign was “me running around and meeting people and talking to people. In those days, the key was the caucuses.” Rather than being filmed, candidates made brief appearances in regional caucus rooms.
Jones ran against four other candidates and won on the first ballot. He remembers his year in office as “phenomenal.”
“I was always interested in service and I learned so much – I gained self- confidence and a real sense of accomplishment. For the first time, my hopes and dreams had substance.”
At the end of his year in office, Jones won the Bierkoe Award, then presented to the most outstanding officer.
After community college, Jones transferred to the University of Illinois for undergraduate and law school. He remained involved with Phi Theta Kappa, and in 1994 was invited to speak to the International Convention, just before a debate between Edwin Meese and George McGovern. “That was a great moment, and so was getting to visit with Ed Meese, a true icon.”
One of Jones’ most memorable Phi Theta Kappa moments came when he was invited to a Florida Regional Convention. “Rod Risley introduced me to a member named Sandy Gallant. Our romance started there, and continued at the International Convention in Anaheim. I told her I was not coming – but then I led the group of former officers on stage, and blew her a kiss.” Matt and Sandy eventually married, and have a 16-month old son, Benjamin Ryan, who attended his first Phi Theta Kappa Convention in 2007.
Jones is currently with Kolkmeier Consulting, handling legislative, government and regulatory matters. His wife is a meteorologist with a local TV station. Both have received community “40 Leaders Under 40” civic awards.
Jones has also been Legal Counsel for the Illinois Senate Majority Staff, and has worked in the Peoria County States Attorney’s Office.
Active in community affairs, he serves on a local chamber of commerce committee, on the board of the Peoria Ballet and the Comstock Theater, is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Illinois and the Peoria County Juvenile Justice Council.
In addition to the “40 Leaders Under 40” Award, Matt has been included in the Illinois Jaycees “10 Outstanding Young People of Illinois” and in “Tomorrow’s Leaders of the Profession,” chosen by the Illinois State Bar Association.
He is quick to acknowledge Phi Theta Kappa’s role in his success. “There is a poem about the path less traveled making all the difference – and that is what Phi Theta Kappa means to me. I had always felt a little of out step – an optimist in a cynical world. Phi Theta Kappa gave me a feeling of place – emotionally and spiritually – a place where boundless optimism is celebrated.”
Today, he still relies on lessons learned from Phi Theta Kappa. “Law and lobbying can make you frustrated and cynical. “It takes a little bit of Phi Theta Kappa magic to right my compass.”
“The great things about Phi Theta Kappa are the opportunities, the kinds of experiences that usually only the very privileged students have, such as honors education, travel, leadership development, fellowship events,” Jones said. “Phi Theta Kappa opens up perspectives that community college students would not get otherwise. Truly, our Society is remarkable.”
Jones will receive his Board of Directors Alumni Achievement Award at 2008 International Convention’s Hallmark Awards Gala. He will serve as Keynote Speaker at the Convention’s Alumni Banquet.