Southeast Missouri State University

Dr. Walt Lilly


Imagine being blown down an embankment, along with your camera and tripod, by a steam locomotive speeding by at 65 mph as you try to capture just the right photo. Walt Lilly can do more than imagine it – he’s experienced it. A biology professor at Southeast, Dr. Walt Lilly’s fascination with trains began when he was a kid. Lilly has photographed and ridden trains all across the United States. He usually spends a couple of hours each week watching the Union Pacific and BNSF trains that travel through the region.

“It’s developed into a great father/son activity that lasted through high school to this day,” he says. “We’ve been doing these things together since he (Lilly’s son) was very small.” 

When he’s not teaching or tracking trains, Lilly stays true to his life philosophy of keeping busy by enjoying a multitude of other activities, including eating at Japanese restaurants, frequent traveling (during which times he often rides and photographs trains – much to the chagrin of Diana, his spouse of nearly 30 years – and eats at Japanese restaurants), and remodeling old houses.

“I get great pleasure from remodeling older houses, although my family often questions my definition of pleasure,” he says. “I’m on my second one now, and I do almost all of the work myself.”

He also has a considerable interest in history and politics, has served on several committees for Cape Girardeau public schools and volunteers with the Cape Central Marching Band. Lilly’s involvement with CHS Band began when his daughter, now a Southeast graduate, and his son, now a freshman at Southeast, performed with the band.

Although his children have moved on, Lilly stayed involved as an equipment volunteer and Web master, having developed the CHS Marching Tigers band Web site,, into one of the longest continuous-running high school band Web sites in the country.

Considering his many personal interests and pursuits, it’s easy to wonder where he finds the time to teach. But Lilly’s numerous awards and publications prove that not only does he find the time to teach; he finds the time to do it well.

He originally joined Southeast in 1982 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. Lilly was then promoted to associate professor in 1985 and to professor in 1989. In addition to serving as a research advisor for nearly 50 undergraduate and 10 graduate students, revising and developing courses, publishing numerous articles in professional journals, presenting research at professional meetings, and receiving more than $700,000 in external research grants, he also serves as the University’s Radiation Safety Officer. Lilly has received the College of Science and Mathematics Pride Award, the Alumni Faculty Merit Award and the Governor’s Award for Meritorious Teaching in recognition of his professional accomplishments.