Thomas Iivari, ’67, MS ’76, 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient
“In my work with older Boy Scouts, I very often recommend Kent State’s Department of Geology as a potential university for those interested in a career in geology, earth sciences and related conservation and environmental fields.”
Thomas Iivari, ’67, MS ’76, spent his professional career improving the quality of numerous bodies of water and soil in the U.S. and around the world as a staff member at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Services, (NRCS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He retired from the NRCS in 2001 after 31 years of service. He then accepted a fellowship position with the EPA and served in this role for six years.
During his esteemed career, Thomas provided detailed environmental and engineering technical assistance to more than 1,000 individuals, small units of government, soil and water conservation districts, and other state and federal agencies, conducting geologic investigations, assessing safety standards and evaluating damages from large natural disasters.
“Thousands of miles of streams and rivers show marked water quality improvement associated with my efforts,” said Thomas.
As part of the ODNR-Northeast Ohio Water Development Plan at Kent State University, he worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to locate pollution sources in the Cuyahoga River Basin. During this project, 100 pollution sources were located, described and mapped. The Cuyahoga River was infamous for catching fire in 1969 and burning or destroying several bridges in Cleveland. This fire catalyzed the creation of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Clean Water Act and Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Information from his work was used by city, state and federal agencies to reduce industrial waste and city sewage discharge in the river, prompting a noted comeback that included the creation of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Ohio Scenic River.
In 1988, President Clinton announced a major new clean water initiative to speed the restoration of the nation’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The initiative later became known as the Clean Water Action Plan-CWAP, and Thomas was appointed by senior officials of the USDA to be their representative on the task force. “For my efforts, I was bestowed the President's prestigious CWAP Award at a special ceremony,” he said.
His on-site conservation work and instruction duties took him to 49 states and 10 countries including Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, China, Taiwan, Estonia and Czech Republic, where he provided geologic, engineering and environmental assistance.
In addition to his professional career, Thomas has served for more than 60 years as a member of the Boy Scouts of America, first as a Scout and later as an adult volunteer, helping Scouts earn their coveted Eagle Awards as well as Geology, Soil and Water Conservation and Environment Sciences Merit Badges.
“In my work with older Boy Scouts, I very often recommend Kent State’s Department of Geology as a potential university for those interested in a career in geology, earth sciences and related conservation and environmental fields,” he said.
Thomas visits the Department of Geology regularly to meet with former professors and current faculty members, and he is currently working with a group of KSU faculty and geologists from the U.S. and Utah Geological Surveys who are mapping and preparing extensive geological reports about the world’s largest ancient landslide located in East Central Plateau, Utah.
One of his favorite memories from his time as a student was his summer field camp experience. “We went to the Black Hills in South Dakota and learned so much about geology and mapping and more,” he said. “It was great to see things live and in person, not just in textbooks, and to visit national parks and historic sites as part of our experience.” He also recalls being one of the founding members of Kent State’s Sigma Gamma Epsilon earth science honorary fraternity as one of his fondest memories.
Thomas met his wife Joyce Szymanski Iivari, ’68, at Kent State, and they were married in 1972. They live in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and have two children, Christian and Samantha, as well as two grandchildren, Genevieve and Teddy.