The Rend Lake College Foundation celebrated success in many different ways during the Annual Dinner Thursday night at the Holiday Inn in Mt. Vernon. With the honoring of the Alumnus of the Year, four outstanding donors, and a special student, the evening was full of thankfulness and cheer to start the holiday season.
Kicking off the event was Terry Wilkerson, RLC President, who spoke to attendees via video. After thanking everyone for attending, Wilkerson celebrated the success of the college, faculty and staff by mentioning two independent studies that ranked RLC the number one community college in Illinois.
“I want to thank everyone for being here tonight, and I want to recognize our faculty and staff who help me day in and day out,” said Wilkerson. “In the last year, we’ve ranked first in the state for our completion and retention rates, and I’m very proud of that. It’s our faculty and staff who, every day, make sure our students have every opportunity.”
One of those staff members is the new RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron who was hired over the summer. Zibby-Damron echoed Wilkerson’s words about the culture and community at RLC in her first address to the audience.
“It is such a privilege to be here as the new Foundation CEO,” she said. “I love the college, the faculty, and the staff, and I appreciate how warm and welcoming everyone has been. From the short time I have been here, it’s no surprise that RLC is ranked number one in the state.”
Zibby-Damron then told the story of how she and Wilkerson traveled down to Black Diamond Harley-Davison in October to tell co-owner Rodney Cabaness he would be named the 2016 Alumnus of the Year.
Cabaness is a 1990 graduate of RLC whose business is well known for its charitable contributions and community events. From giving away an entire house, to donating to local food pantries, to donating land to Habitat for Humanity, the list goes on and on of the positive impact Cabaness and his team make on the area.
“For years I’ve heard great things about Black Diamond Harley-Davidson and their owners, Rodney & Shad. When I came to RLC, I learned that they provide 12 annual scholarships to RLC students. That alone is quite impressive,” said Zibby-Damron. She continued to say, upon first meeting Cabaness, the Alum of the Year immediately began talking about his desire to do more for RLC. “I will never forget Rodney’s reaction when we told him were not there to ask for anything, we were simply there to tell him we wanted to honor him as our Alumnus of the Year. I knew then we had made a really good decision.”
Cabaness responded with a joke, “I’d rather give them some money than come up here and give a speech.”
The Sesser native and his business partner receive approximately seven to 10 requests for support from Black Diamond Harley-Davidson daily from various businesses and individuals across Southern Illinois. Cabaness says these donations are just part of the values everyone at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson has toward others.
“Our philosophy is that it’s not about the commodity; it’s about the people and the relationships,” Cabaness said. “That’s what is important to us. We wouldn’t be anything without our customers and our community. That’s what makes this such a tremendous honor. Thank you Rend Lake College.”
He continued by relating his company and daily job to the theme of the night: celebrating success. Cabaness also thanked his wife Karen, a fellow RLC graduate; their four sons; and his business partner Shad Zimbro for their love and support.
“I was quite surprised when they showed up at the dealership. I’m very glad for the continued support we can give to the college and this is quite an honor for me,” he said.
Zibby-Damron also focused a portion of the evening on celebrating the success of donors and sponsors to the college and the Foundation. One of those big sponsors is the late Marjorie Farrar who passed away at the end of November.
Farrar made a $100,000 donation in the fall of 2014 to completely fund an addition to the RLC Foundation Children’s Center. Now called the Skill Development Room, the addition officially opened in August with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. But her involvement goes back several decades. Farrar was one of the catalysts for the RLCF Children’s Center when she made the lead donation of $100,000 in 1995 to start the process of building.
“Marjorie had such a passion for the Children’s Center. The addition is a great blessing and a great asset to the center, and we are forever grateful,” said Zibby-Damron.
Four level donors were also honored with plaques during the Annual Dinner. The newest member to the Platinum level is Hamilton County Telephone Co-op for having exceeded $100,000 in donations through scholarships and event sponsorships. Over the last 25 years, the business has continued to give back to RLC in many ways.
J.C. Pool, Chairman of Hamilton County Communications, Inc., accepted the award and said of the Annual Dinner, “It’s a great event to help the kids and their education.”
Kevin Pyle, RLCF Board Member and Hamilton County Telephone Co-op General Manager and Executive Vice President, added in a sponsor message, “We’re proud to be a co-sponsor of this event and it’s our pleasure to be part of a monumental event. Education is the key and we’re lucky to have Rend Lake College. We hope you share in the pride we have for such a successful organization.”
Two donors were awarded with Silver level plaques. The first was the RLC Physical Plant Department for donating approximately $28,000 over 16 years through scholarships and activities. Recently, the Physical Plant established an endowment to ensure scholarships will be available to RLC students for years to come.
Donnie Millenbine, Director of the Physical Plant, said, “On behalf of the Physical Plant Department, I accept this award. We have great group of people who are giving their money and their time to RLC students. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Randall Shively (retired Director) who started this scholarship years ago.”
Also reaching the Silver level was AMVETS Sad Sacks #10 for donating over $25,000 in scholarships to RLC nursing students, dating back to 1978.
Joe Norris, Sad Sacks #10 Representative and 1968 RLC graduate, said, “We’re a small group and very proud to receive this award. Our main objective is to provide scholarships to nurses and we’ve given 48 scholarships in the last 38 years.”
Eric and Linda Black of Mt. Vernon were also honored with the Bronze level plaque for donating about $10,000 to the college. The couple recently donated to the RLCF Children’s Center addition, along with other donors, to fully fund the project. Eric Black, owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Mt. Vernon, also serves as the RLC Board of Trustees Chair.
He said, “I have to thank those whose shoulders I stand on. We’re very thankful to be able to give back, and that’s only possible because of the people around us.”
Zibby-Damron added, “We appreciate Eric’s leadership and the Blacks’ involvement, belief, and commitment to Rend Lake College.”
The final celebration of success during the event was a personal one from an RLC student who, when faced with striking challenges, didn’t give up on her dream to attend college. Zibby-Damron said she was captivated with the student’s thank you note to her scholarship donors that made her reach out to an outstanding student.
“I was impressed with this young lady before I even met her,” said Zibby-Damron. “She reminded me about all the things our faculty and staff provide to our students, in addition to an education.”
During her address to the audience, Mt. Vernon’s Deborah Loucks spoke about her journey to be a first-generation college graduate, all while struggling to support her daughter as a young, single parent.
“I’m honored to be here with you this evening. I want to talk to you all about the importance of scholarships,” said Loucks. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college. I started in 2012, but I soon had to quit when I became a 19-year-old mother. At times I was homeless and went without food so I could provide for my daughter. I gave up on school, because I thought it would be too hard.”
As the recipient of three scholarships this year, Loucks said her continuation in RLC’s Music and Theatre departments would not have been possible without the monetary support. Not only do the scholarships help, Loucks said it’s the emotional backing from faculty and the ability to have her daughter attend pre-kindergarten class at the RLCF Children’s Center that is making her dream to become a teacher possible.
“The scholarships I received this year have helped me go back to school,” she said. “The support and encouragement from faculty has renewed my confidence in myself and I now know what I want to do with my life. I’ve changed my major four times at RLC, and I was so afraid of what was coming next. I know, I want to become a college theater professor. I’m so happy and proud to be an RLC Warrior, and I also know, I am prepared and equipped to face my fears.”
Zibby-Damron concluded the event with a word of thanks to everyone in attendance. The Annual Dinner was sponsored by Hamilton County Telephone Co-op and Peoples National Bank. Jim Muir, the 2009 Alumnus of the Year, was the master of ceremonies and performed the invocation. For more information about the Foundation visit www.rlc.edu/foundation; call 618-437-5321, Ext. 1214; or email [email protected].