To Sir, With . . . Ties: Resurrecting the Sam Tidwell Tradition

Hollywood has created many movies about dedicated and inspiring teachers. From To Sir, With Love to Mr. Holland’s Opus, we have seen how teachers have changed the lives of students in countless ways. Michigan Tech’s School of Business and Economics has its own teaching legend. Although his story will likely never appear on the silver screen, memories of Accounting Professor Sam Tidwell continue to echo through the School’s halls. Tidwell died in 2002, but his legacy lives on in each student who came into his classroom.

A native of Mississippi, Tidwell was often referred to as “Gentleman Sam” for his southern drawl, dry sense of humor, and sophisticated presentation. He was interested not only in making the world of accounting more exciting and accessible, but also in teaching his students, many of whom were “rough around the edges,” about manners and professionalism.

Former student Ed Robinson ’66 recalls Tidwell with great affection. “I switched out of engineering and moved to business and accounting because of Sam. . . . He was a student’s professor. His whole interest revolved around the students. I remember spaghetti dinners at his home, his hospitality. He maintained contact with all his students, and that didn’t stop after graduation. He extended himself tremendously. If anyone could be held up as a model teacher, it would be Sam Tidwell.”

Paula (Kauppi) Seiter ’70 was the first woman to pass the CPA after graduating from Michigan Tech. “I found Sam Tidwell’s enthusiasm for accounting contagious, and it inspired me to pursue a career in accounting,” she says. “I have fond memories of Sam: the enthusiastic professor, southern gentleman, and all-around great person.”

“I still have hanging on my office wall a letter, a full page, before word processors, that he sent me at the completion of my freshman year,” says Dan Greenlee ’74, Michigan Tech’s chief financial officer. “He recognized my good grades and encouraged me to continue within the accounting major. He also invited me to stop by his office anytime and discuss where the accounting field could take me. His closing line always reminds me how he supported and encouraged his students: ‘I believe that you have all the material necessary to make a significant contribution to the business world, through accounting.’”

Not only did Tidwell make an impression on his many students, he made an impact on the accounting teaching profession. “He was a leader in the field of public school accounting,” says Robinson. “He put on seminars at Michigan Tech every summer for school administrators and caused a massive improvement nationally in public school fund accounting.” Tidwell authored four editions of the first textbook in the field.

Soon after coming to Michigan Tech in 1956, Tidwell started his red tie tradition. He requested that each student send him a red tie after he or she had passed the CPA exam. He then wore the tie, the more garish the better, to class and told his current students about the former student’s success.

Tidwell retired from Michigan Tech in 1984. In 1999, the School of Business and Economics established the Tidwell Center for Business Excellence. The Tidwell Center consists of endowment funds to support accounting scholarships and direct student services, such as counseling, tutoring, and mentoring. In addition, the student lounge and study center was remodeled and now carries his name.

In memory of Sam Tidwell and his dedication to students, the School of Business and Economics is resurrecting the red tie tradition (see above). Once again, each accounting graduate who passes the CPA exam will be asked to send in a red tie.

“A teacher like Sam Tidwell is rare,” says Dean Darrell Radson. “We want to continue to honor Sam and to keep connected with our alumni. We are resurrecting and reinvigorating the tradition to help inspire a new generation of accountants.”

Tie One On—For Sam

The School of Business and Economics is announcing the start of the Tidwell’s Ties Campaign. Alumnus Ed Robinson has agreed to chair the campaign for the ties and for more financial support of the Tidwell Center endowment, as he has done in the past.

The Tidwell’s Ties Campaign will use modern technology to create a virtual display of past and future ties online. This will allow more people to have access to the collection, which is already too large to be physically displayed in the current space. There is also discussion of organizing a “Red Tie Reunion” for alums.

“I am thrilled that Dean Radson has asked me to head the Tidwell’s Ties Campaign,” Robinson said. “Through these literal ties, we, as alums, will continue to strengthen our figurative ties to our School and to each other. It promises to be not only a fitting tribute to Sam Tidwell but a means to ensure that his legacy lives on in the pursuit of educational excellence at the School of Business and Economics at Michigan Tech.”

Alums should look forward to more news from Ed Robinson about the Tidwell’s Ties Campaign in the near future.

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