Simon O. Roberts
59BA

Achievement 2001

Simon O. Roberts, 59BA, former director of Adult Education at Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois, has spent a lifetime opening doors for African Americans and other minotities traditionally shut out from educational and employment opportunities. An ambassador of goodwill throughout his distinguished career, Roberts has shared his leadership skills and humanitarian compassion with his community and with the University of Iowa.

As a student-athlete, he became the first African American to win an Iowa high school wrestling championship when he defeated then two-time state champion Ron Gray. Such athletic prowess also earned him a four-year Big Ten Scholarship to the UI, and, in 1957, Roberts became the first African American to win an NCAA Individual Wrestling Championship. After graduating from the UI in 1959 with a degree in sociology, Roberts went to work for the U.S. Postal System in Davenport. In 1966, he received his teaching certification from Saint Ambrose University and began teaching and coaching at Alleman High School in Rock Island, Illinois. As the school's varsity wrestling coach, Roberts became the first African American head varsity coach in the Quad Cities area.

In 1968, Roberts began a 16-year career as a part-time television producer and on-air personality at WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois. Through his Opportunity Line program, he kept the community informed of local educational and employment opportunities. Through his Like It Is and other public service programs, Roberts helped disadvantaged and disenfranchised parts of the community gain access to public airwaves. He helped to further strengthen the battle against economic inequity when he became founding director in 1968 of Project Now, a small social service agency that grew into the Community Action Agency that today assists low-income families in three counties.

In 1973, Roberts began a 22-year career at Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois, as director of Adult Education. Roberts knew that higher education could be a road to success for minorities and other special needs groups, and he helped give many adults that opportunity.

Roberts has generously shared his leadership skills and resources with the UI. He has worked tirelessly with the UI Black Alumni Association since its inception in 1963, and his efforts through the years have helped provide many scholarships and other forms of support to the UI's African American students. In 1968, Roberts became the first African American president of the UI National Letterman's Club (now called the Varsity Club), and he served on the UI Athletic Department Advisory Board from 1985 to 1989.

Roberts is a member of the UI Alumni Association.