About John Y. Simon

By Gus Bode

John Y. Simon taught courses on the Civil War and Reconstruction at the university for 44 years.

He brought the Ulysses S. Grant Association to SIUC with him in 1964. Before he came to Carbondale, Simon received a master’s degree and doctorate in history from Harvard University, where he met his wife of 51 years, Harriet. He also taught at Ohio State University.

Simon’s graduate assistant and friend, Sam Wheeler, described him as “the guy that made a lecture hall of 80 people just burst into laughter, every lecture.”


“He could talk about historical figures like he knew them, like they were real people, like they didn’t just live in the library in pages of books,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler remembered Simon as funny, caring and quick to compliment his students.

Simon edited “The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant,” 28 volumes of which were published by the Southern Illinois University Press. Nos. 29 and 30 were slated for publication this year. Simon was working on an annotated version of Grant’s autobiography when he died, Wheeler said.

He wrote more than 100 articles, essays and book chapters; wrote, co-wrote or edited nine books; and received numerous awards, including the lifetime achievement award from The Lincoln Forum, the Award of Merit from the Illinois State Historical Society, and the $20,000 Lincoln Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Foundation.

Sen. Dick Durbin paid tribute to Simon on July 25 by reading an account of his life into the U.S. Senate records.

“By spending his entire career to give us a clearer picture of ‘The Hero of Appomattox,’ John Y. Simon also performed a great service for our country,” Durbin, D-Ill., said. “He brought honor to my state and a deeper understanding to us all.”

Though he contributed heavily to the world of Civil War scholarship, Simon gave immeasurably to his students as well, Wheeler said.


“His past students are spread out all over the country and they’re paying it forward today. They’re in universities, telling the stories he taught them and actually caring about their students,” Wheeler said.

“To me, that’s the front-page story.”

Allison Petty can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 252 or [email protected]