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Alumnus of the Year Kelley, others honored at RLC Foundation Annual Dinner

It was a night of celebration and merriment at the 2017 Rend Lake College Foundation Annual Dinner with numerous surprise awards and announcements, starting with the 2017 Alumnus of the Year. The Annual Dinner was held Thursday, Dec. 7 at the Mt. Vernon Hotel & Events Center.

Kicking off the evening’s festivities was the biggest award of them all – the Alumnus of the Year honor – given to a standout alum for their dedication to the college. Because this year marks RLC’s 50th birthday, it was fitting that the Alumnus of the Year has been involved with the college for nearly as many years.

“Deciding who will receive the honors of the Alumnus of the Year is no easy task,” said RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron. “We knew it would be special for the honor to go to someone who was directly connected to the college’s 50th anniversary. In August, I listened intently during the anniversary celebration to a certain speaker who spouted off names and accomplishments. It was quite impressive. I introduced myself to the speaker afterwards and asked if he would be willing to share his speech with me.”

She continued, “As I learned more about Bob Kelley, the decision about our Alumnus of the Year became quite evident. Not only was Bob a part of the first class to attend Rend Lake College in 1967, but he is also the unofficial college historian. There are thousands of pages, and yes, I mean thousands, filled with information about the college that has been captured, collected, and compiled by a man who truly loves Rend Lake College.”

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Kelley was honored as the 2017 Alumnus of the Year at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7. Also pictured is Zibby-Damron, LEFT, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson, RIGHT.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

Kelley’s ties to RLC go much deeper than just a member of the first-ever RLC freshman class. During his youth, his mother was executive secretary to Dr. Howard Rawlinson, the first dean of RLC. He is a student and graduate who then returned as Communication Director for 27 years. In his 11 years of retirement, he’s stayed connected to the college as a member of the Sports Hall of Fame Committee and writer of the RLC History Book.

“Rend Lake College has played an important role in providing a pathway to future success. In my two years as a student, 27 years as an employee, and 11 years as a retiree, there are only three years in the last 50 where I haven’t had direct ties to the college,” said Kelley, who also includes the 10 years he was on campus with his mother.

Still completely dedicated to the college and always humble, Kelley noted during his speech at the Annual Dinner that he doesn’t see himself among the top ranks of other Alumni of the Year, which include law enforcement and politicians, business owners, NASA employees, and others.

“I came to Rend Lake College in the fall of 1967, and while I’m certainly not the most-accomplished, I am a representative of the 20,000 graduates who – by my calculations – will have received degrees this May,” said Kelley. “And tonight, I am the luckiest of those graduates.”

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An emotional Kelley accepted his Alumnus of the Year award among a standing ovation at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

Toward the end of his speech, an emotional Kelley expressed his utmost thanks to his family and friends in attendance, and to everyone in the room for being avid supporters of the institution he loves.

“Rend Lake College played a big part, along with family and church, in helping me get more out of my life than I deserve. There was never a day that I did not look forward to going to work surrounded by friends, colleagues, and work-related family,” said Kelley. “I could not find a finer institution anywhere that means more to me. The most heart-felt thank you to everyone here.”

RLC Foundation Special Awards: Mathew and Mr. A

After a standing ovation and boisterous round of applause for Kelley, Zibby-Damron reclaimed the podium for several other awards. She first honored RLC Foundation Board of Directors member Finny Mathew for his years of service. Mathew is stepping down from the board as he and his family are relocating to Oklahoma.

“We recently learned that one of our board directors, Mr. Finny Mathew, who is the CEO of Crossroads Hospital, will be leaving the area for a new opportunity,” said Zibby-Damron. “Finny has actively served on the Foundation board for the past four years. I have a great deal of respect for his attention to detail. Finny is always analyzing, asking questions, and examining the situation. He has also been a very strong advocate and supporter of Rend Lake College and our students.”

Mathew, upon receiving the surprise award, commented, “I wasn’t expecting this, but thank you very much. I have to say, if you look around the room, you see countless people who really care about this institution. It’s a powerful statement.”

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Before officially stepping down from the Foundation Board of Directors, Mathew, CENTER, met with Zibby-Damron, LEFT, and Wilkerson, RIGHT, at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

Zibby-Damron also had a surprise award for one of the Foundation’s newest donors – a local man who saw a need and did more than just rise to the occasion; he overcame it.

“As the Foundation CEO, I have the privilege of working with some incredible individuals who keep me in awe of their generosity, their desire to help others, their efforts to build a stronger community, and their hopes that what they do just may make a difference,” she said. “I’d like to tell you about one of those individuals.”

“In March, I met a gentleman who told me about his desire to do something that would help RLC students who graduated from Benton High School who might need a little boost. We talked about some options. A few weeks later, he called to let me know that he was thinking about starting an endowed scholarship. Much to my surprise, he arrived in my office in early May with an even larger gift than we discussed.”

She continued, “Two months later, he called me back and said he was going to stop by in the afternoon, and he did, with another generous gift to increase his endowed scholarship. Fast forward one month later and guess what? This gentleman calls me again with an idea. Because we have to wait one year for the endowed scholarship to earn interest before we award, he wanted to give a few one-time scholarships this year. When it was all said and done, this gentleman provided 18 scholarships that were awarded to 18 deserving students.”

“One of the greatest joys and blessings this past year has been getting to know Mr. Gene Alexander, who is fondly referred to as Mr. A. He is truly a ray of sunshine in an oftentimes cloudy world,” said Zibby-Damron.

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A proud Mr. A posed with Zibby-Damron after the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

Mr. A – a common face to be seen at elementary schools and libraries in Benton – is also known for drawing maps across the area. To date, he has painted over 370 maps for children in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri. He expressed his thanks to the Rend Lake College for embracing him and welcoming him into the family.

“Thank you very much. I hardly need to say anything, but it’s such a privilege to be here and be a part of Rend Lake College, and be a part of the Rend Lake family,” said Mr. A. “So many people have helped me to be where I am today, and it’s such a privilege to give back and help others. Thank you all and God bless you.”

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Mr. A spoke about the importance of giving back to his community at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

RLC Presidential Awards: Kern and Gesell

RLC President Terry Wilkerson also had two special awards to present during the dinner. The Presidential Awards are given to those who display exceptional performances during the year on behalf of the Foundation.

Wilkerson said, “We really appreciate the turnout. It’s really great to see friends, colleagues and guests. We’re here to help our young people and we appreciate the partnership. I can’t tell you sincerely enough or enough times how much it means that you all show up and support our students.”

The two honors were awarded to RLC Foundation Board of Directors for their help with settling the new Foundation staff in the past year. Zibby-Damron and her team were all new to the college during the 2016-17 academic year. Pat Kern, former RLC Foundation CEO, and Brad Gesell, current Board of Directors Chairman, were tapped for their efforts to keep the Foundation running smoothly during the transition.

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Gesell, SECOND FROM LEFT, and Kern, SECOND FROM RIGHT, met with Foundation CEO Zibby-Damron, LEFT, and Wilkerson, RIGHT, after receiving their Presidential Awards at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

After receiving her surprise award, Kern said, “Everybody in this room is a friend of Rend Lake College, and because of that, the magnitude of the number of people we help is unbelievable. Thank you to the people who have made the Foundation great, because it’s you. There’s nothing more that you can do in your community than to help a student become a better citizen, and you can do that. Thank you all for supporting and giving to help us do what we do.”

Gesell, who was also unaware of the honor, added, “We all work together as a team. Thank you all for coming out tonight. It’s a great time. Thanks again.”

In Memorial: Caldwell, Pericolosi, Rubenacker & Crawford remembered

Toward the end of the Annual Dinner, Zibby-Damron took a few moments to remember four individuals who have made lasting impacts on RLC and the Foundation: Millie Caldwell, Larry Pericolosi, Jody Rubenacker, and William Crawford.

Caldwell, a former RLC Foundation Board of Directors member and scholarship donor, was remembered for her years of dedication to the college and Foundation – a legacy her daughter, Cindy Caldwell, RLC Mathematics Professor, continues both inside and outside the classroom.

“Millie was a strong supporter and long-time advocate for Rend Lake College. She generously provided scholarships for many years, and the Caldwell Family Scholarship continues to help our students,” said Zibby-Damron. “She served on the Foundation Board and was a recipient of the Presidential Award in 2006. Because of her dedication to RLC, Millie was also featured this year as one of the 50 Influencers of Rend Lake College. We are grateful for Millie’s love for RLC and her community.”

Pericolosi, and his wife Mary, were honored for their involvement with two major campaigns with the Foundation: the creation and fundraising of the Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus, and the renovation of the outside of the Dr. Allen Y. Baker Administration Building on the Ina campus, officially called the “Pathway to Success” campaign.

“Larry and his wife have been actively involved with Rend Lake College over the past decade. They were both strong supporters of the Murphy-Wall campus in Pinckneyville and the Pathway to Success campaign, plus they have provided annual scholarships to many deserving students,” said Zibby-Damron. “I know how much he is missed by his family, his friends, and his community.”

Rubenacker, the matriarch of the Rubenacker family, was remembered, not only for her generosity to the Foundation, but also for the impact she and her family have made on the legacy of Rend Lake College.

“Though I never had the opportunity to know Jody, it’s quite evident that she did one heck of a job. Several of our 50 Influencers were recognized for their multi-generation legacy, impactful return, or enterprising spirit, but Jody and her family were recognized for all three,” said Zibby-Damron. “Jody, and her husband Richard, were recognized in 2004 for their $25,000 lead gift to the RLC Foundation Challenge Grant II Campaign and the establishment of the Rubenacker Family Scholarship. Rend Lake College is very grateful for Jody and the Rubenacker family.

Crawford was honored for his selflessness and dedication to the betterment of RLC students and countless others in his community. A magnificent fundraiser and supporter, Crawford was heavily involved with the Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus.

“I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Crawford shortly after arriving at RLC. He was a very strong supporter of Rend Lake College, just as he was of many community endeavors, but you probably would not have known it, and that exactly the way he wanted it,” said Zibby-Damron. “Bill provided the lead gift for the construction of the Murphy-Wall campus in Pinckneyville, and only agreed to name the campus after the bank, not himself. He was deeply committed to his family, his community and to the bank – he gave them the glory.”

In his true spirit, Crawford wasn’t done surprising the RLC Foundation. Zibby-Damron continued, “A couple weeks ago, quite to our surprise, we learned that Mr. Crawford’s commitment to Rend Lake College was even stronger than we had known. In his true form, quiet and unassuming, the Rend Lake College Foundation received a check for $100,000 from Mr. Crawford’s trust. I find it very fitting that Mr. Crawford’s name will be the first added to our recently-unveiled Legacy Society. His legacy will remain very much alive on our main campus and at the Murphy-Wall campus for generations to come.”

Endowed scholarships increased

As Crawford surprised the RLC Foundation, it was the Foundation’s turn to surprise donors and students in attendance. Zibby-Damron announced plans to increase the awarding amounts of all endowed scholarships during the 2018-19 academic year.

“I am very pleased to announce that the Board of Directors has decided to make a one-time distribution of an additional one percent on all endowed scholarships in the upcoming academic year,” said Zibby-Damron. “All of our endowed scholarships will award six percent of the principle to very deserving RLC students. As the cost of education rises, coupled with the uncertainty of financial assistance from the state, I am grateful that the Foundation is able to help so many students.”

One of those students, Heath Ramsey of Valier, shared his appreciation for the Foundation and the donors in the room. Ramsey is a nontraditional student who returned to the classroom for a new career with a family and small children in tow. The nursing student said he’s looking forward to helping people in new ways, thanks in part to the help he’s received.

“I’d like to welcome you and thank you for being with us this evening. I’m 38 years old and was in corporate sales for many years before I decided to go back to college,” said Ramsey. “I figured I’d been helping people for the past few years, and now, I’ve decided to help people in a different way. I decided I needed to get back into college, even as a nontraditional student. When I received a letter in the mail from the RLC Foundation saying I’d been awarded the Howard L. Payne Nursing Scholarship, I knew I’d made the right decision.”

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Ramsey shared his journey to Rend Lake College with members of the RLC community at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

The RLC Foundation Annual Dinner was sponsored by Hamilton County Telephone Co-Cop and subsidiaries, and People’s National Bank – both of which have been sponsors of the event for over a decade. The invocation was provided by Eric Black, RLC Board of Trustees Secretary, and live music was provided by Hannah Fullerton on piano.

To learn more about the RLC Foundation, contact Zibby-Damron at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1214 or [email protected].