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Lawrence Tech receives $2.5 million donation

Release Date: February 4, 2009

Southfield, Mich. - A Memphis, Tenn.-based alumnus and entrepreneur has donated $2.5 million to name the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Lawrence Technological University.

The donor is A. Leon Linton, the founder and CEO of Southern Systems Inc. (SSI) of Memphis, which designs, builds and installs custom conveyor systems for manufacturing and distribution facilities. He received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Lawrence Tech in 1962.

"The education I received at Lawrence Tech has been the backbone of all the activities I have done throughout my working life," Linton said.

"We are delighted that our Department of Mechanical Engineering, one of the university's largest departments, will now be further distinguished by carrying the name of one of its most successful graduates," said Lawrence Tech President Lewis N. Walker.

Linton was born in a rural Mississippi town on the Tennessee River about 90 miles from Memphis. His family moved to Michigan when he was 12 after his father - a World War II veteran returned from Okinawa - took a construction job in Milford. After his father was transferred to another construction project, Linton finished high school in Ypsilanti.

While still in high school, Linton began a millwright craftsman trade apprenticeship and worked the night shift at a Lincoln-Mercury assembly plant. He expected to be called by the Army to serve in the Korean conflict following high school graduation, and in the interim worked in the millwright trade on the construction and installation of conveyor systems, machinery and automation equipment. When the Army call hadn't come after two years, Linton took the advice of his mentors and enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at Lawrence Tech.

Continuing to work full-time, he took Lawrence Tech classes at night and on some Saturdays. By the time he completed his bachelor's degree at the age of 28, he was a project engineer for Jervis B. Webb, now based in Farmington Hills, working on conveyor system installations in automotive plants.

"My evening courses at Lawrence Tech started paying real dividends very quickly," Linton recalled. "My ability to make physics calculations and solve basic problems expanded significantly to more complex issues. Other courses were teaching me about exciting materials and new methods that could be used in various equipment design applications."

After college graduation, Linton persuaded his employer to let him return to Tennessee and open a one-man office in Memphis. Five years later he went out on his own, and SSI quickly developed a niche market for the heavy-duty conveyor systems utilized in the manufacture and production of heavy trucks, construction equipment, military tanks, oil field pipe, aircraft, furniture, appliances and package handling. 

The Bulk Handling Division of SSI operates as a general contractor in many states, from California to Florida, and is one of a very few companies in the United States capable of slipform, continuous-pour concrete construction of massive silos and related equipment associated with ethanol production, cement manufacturing, pet food processing and coal handling and storage. 

Linton said he is confident Lawrence Tech will continue to thrive by maintaining its "theory and practice" approach to education, which he finds just as valuable in today's manufacturing environment as it was when he graduated. 

"Lawrence Tech has always been mindful of and catered to serving the needs of industry by providing a top flight education for graduates in the meaningful disciplines needed for industry to stay competitive and move forward," he said. 

A prior honor for Linton was receiving the Lawrence Tech Alumni Achievement Award in 1968.

Lawrence Technological University, ltu.edu, offers over 80 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes 75 years ago, and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech's 102-acre campus is in Southfield, with education centers in Lansing, Livonia, Clinton Township, Traverse City and Petoskey. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.