Don Smith has helped put Pittsburg State University international students on wheels.

Don Smith has helped put Pittsburg State University international students on wheels.

For this, Smith, a Campus Christians minister, will receive the Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award during the annual Apple Day convocation, slated at 3 p.m. Thursday in McCray Recital Hall.

He will be sharing the honor with Donald Holsinger, Pittsburg physician, a PSU graduate who has been involved with almost every aspect of the PSU community.

The award, established in 1991, is named for the late Ralf J. Thomas, longtime PSU faculty member who volunteered his service to the PSU Alumni Association for 22 years. Thomas was the first recipient of the award.

Nearly 15 years ago Smith recognized that one of the biggest problems new international students faced when they arrived in Pittsburg was getting around in a city that then had no public transportation.

“So many of them don’t want to buy a car for the one semester or one year that they’re going to be here, because of the cost and also having to sell the car when they leave,” Smith said.

To solve this problem, he established a program through Campus Christians to loan bicycles to international students.

“The bike gets them to the PSU Recreation Center or the Technology Center or Walmart,” Smith said.

He said that bikes for the program are donated to Campus Christians.

“We have quite a few donors,” Smith said. “If people leave their bikes at dorms, they are moved and kept for a month. If they are not claimed, they are given to us.”

He and several helpers do any repairs the bikes may need, then loan them out.

“We sell the metal of bikes that we can’t repair,” Smith said. “We send as little as possible to the dump, so it’s kind of a green deal, too.”

He provides free maintenance on the bikes as well as locks for them.

“In cooperation with the International Students Office we administer a bike safety test to help students understand as much as they can about how to ride safely,” Smith said.

Students pay a small deposit, which is given back when they return the bike. That doesn’t always happen.

“We do have a significant number of bikes, around 20 to 25 percent, don’t come back,” Smith said. “Some apartment owners in the area have called me and said they have bikes that were left. Sometimes I go to the Pittsburg Police bike auction to see if they have any of our bikes there. If they do, they let me take them.”

He said that, since August, bikes have been loaned to around 200 students.

“Some students brought them back in the fall and we’ve loaned them out again,” Smith said. “I think the demand has been a little above average this year because the weather has been so warm and the students want bikes for spring.”

He does other volunteer service in the community, including taking a student group to Sunset Manor, Frontenac, every week to present a program for residents. Smith has been doing this for the past 33 years and sometimes includes international students in the visits.

During a 2009 interview, Smith said that the Campus Christians organization tries to do things for international students that the university can’t do, so they will feel that PSU is the best place they could come.

“We’re very proud of PSU and want to be a little cog in the great machine it is,” he said.

Smith said he is humbled to receive the Ralf J. Thomas Award, but feels that it’s not really about him.

“The award may establish a tribute to God who arranged for me to be at Campus Christians,” he said. “The honor is really due to all who have made it possible for me to be in this position or contributed to this happening. The bike program is pretty much of a community effort, and without people donating it wouldn’t be possible.”