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RLC Recognition Banquet honors retirees, outstanding faculty and excellent staff

Rend Lake College Board members, faculty, staff, and retired employees gathered in the Theatre last night to celebrate and distinguish several individuals for an exceptional academic year. At the annual Recognition Banquet, seven retirees and a handful of current employees were honored for their service, as well as the awarding of the Full-Time Faculty Excellence Award, the RLC Foundation Staff Excellence Award, the Assessment Award, and certificates of recognition for members of the Academic Council.


RLC has seven retirees this year with a combined 150 years of service to the college. They were recognized and honored with a plaque during the banquet.

Cindy Corn, Health and Physical Education Professor and Women’s Golf Coach

Not only will the Lady Warriors Golf Team be in need of a new head coach, but RLC is losing a veteran professor of nearly three decades in Cindy Corn, who is retiring at the end of the month after 28 years of service.

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Cindy Corn

The Mt. Vernon resident started working at RLC part-time as the Fitness Director in 1988 and was hired full-time in 1989 to replace the father of the fitness center, Wayne Arnold, who was himself retiring.

“One of my favorite memories would have to be getting hired here. Wayne wouldn’t stop exercising when I dropped off my résumé. I kept coming back and he hadn’t looked at it yet, but I was persistent,” said Corn. “He gave me a great opportunity to work under him for a year before he retired.”

For the first few years, Corn ran the fitness center and taught part-time, even trying her hand as the Assistant Coach for the Women’s Basketball team for a season. Eventually, she found herself leading the charge for a new team: Women’s Golf. The program started in 1999 with Corn as the Head Coach – a spot she’s only given up for one season in the past 18 years.

“With the golf team, I’ve traveled across the United States. I’m very competitive and it was challenging to start the program, but I love challenges and I love new things,” said Corn. “Fourteen of 18 golf teams have gone to Nationals, and this year is one of the best teams I’ve had. We’re currently ranked 6th in the nation, so I’m leaving the program in good shape. I want to make sure they continue to have success. I always want to see Rend Lake do well.”

In recent years, Corn has taken on new challenges as they passed through: learning RLC’s online Blackboard system and teaching dual credit courses. In the end, her goal was always to challenge herself and her students.

“You hope as an individual that you’ve had a positive influence on your students, and all students,” said Corn. “I feel like I’m connected to so many of them. Some of my favorite memories are with non-traditional students. They write me letters about how I’ve influenced them, and it makes me tear up. I did not mean to be a school teacher. I’m trained to be in fitness, a personal trainer, but I love where I’ve ended up.”

Other than the students, it might be the faculty and staff that have left a lasting impression on Corn – something she’ll remember for years to come.

“The college has done so much for me,” said Corn. “The best part of working here is the administration lets you do things on your own. They always gave me the opportunity to do or try new things. I get bored really easy, so I’m always trying new things that keep my interest. Ultimately, it’s what Rend Lake has done for me, not what I’ve done for the school. The faculty and staff are so amazing. They’re always welcoming and open. That’s what makes this a great place to work and a great campus.”

In her retirement, Corn said she’s headed home to Florida to spend time with her mother and brother. Though her children will still live in the area, Corn said she plans to go back and forth between the two states. In her spare time, she says golfing and flipping houses are on the to-do list. She suspects going back to work after a year or so will also lie in the future.

Tina Grounds, Early Childhood Education Professor

It’s hard to measure the impression a teacher has on a community, all the lives touched spreading out over the entire area to impact the lives of every youth to call the area home. So, it’s even harder to imagine the impact of the teachers’ teacher.

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Tina Grounds

Tina Grounds, of West Frankfort, has helped mold educators at every level as part of RLC’s Early Childhood Education program. Hired on full-time in October of 1991 as the Family Literacy Coordinator, Grounds eventually transitioned to the Math and Science Department and the classroom.

“I have had the opportunity to teach a profession that I believe is so important to our society. I have such a passion for this field because I know that teaching young children provides the foundation for their future learning,” Grounds expressed.

“I always encourage my students to strive to be an intentional teacher and provide a classroom where each child is viewed as an individual in their daily learning. Being a teacher and teaching future teachers has been professionally fulfilling. Especially when I see my students in a classroom utilizing active learning techniques and making a difference with the children in their classrooms.”

Grounds was recognized for her impact in 2013 when she received the Full-Time Faculty Excellence Award.

For her part, Grounds said her fondest memory from her 26 years of service was being part of the building and development of the RLC Foundation Children’s Center, a facility that both offers vital hands-on training for Early Childhood Education students and also provides quality care for numerous local youth.

When asked how she plans on spending her retirement, the answer was easy.

“I will be spending time with my three favorite human beings – my grandchildren,” she said.

She also plans to help in her daughter’s store, travel with her husband, learn to play guitar, and work in foreign and local missions with her church.

“I’m excited to see what the future holds for this next journey in my life,” she said.

Grounds will officially retire from RLC at the end of the month.

Kevin Weston, Architectural Technology Professor

The Architectural Technology program will have a different feel after Kevin Weston retires at the end of the month. Weston, a native of Elkhart, Ind.; graduate of Zeigler-Royalton High School and current resident of West Frankfort, will leave his position after 25 years of service.

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Kevin Weston

Initially hired as an instructor for the program in August of 1992, Weston said the position went above and beyond his expectations.

“I have truly been blessed to have a career that has challenged me to improve every day,” he said. “Being able to watch my students grasp an understanding of architecture, continue on with their studies, and develop into young professionals, has been very rewarding.”

Of his time at RLC, Weston has served on RLC’s Academic Council serving as Chair for seven years and was honored with the Full-Time Faculty Excellence Award in 2012. In 2006, he was named to a joint task force of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session to study ways to improve the Illinois Community College System. He has served as President of the Illinois Community College Faculty Association which represents all 20,000 full-time and adjunct faculty to the Illinois Community College System and currently serves on the executive committee.

He has also served on the Illinois Community College Boards Finance Advisory, Program Advisory and Presidential selection committee, three years on the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Faculty Advisory committee, and as a member of its community college caucus.

In his little spare time, Weston serves as a contest supervisor and writes the problem for the annual Illinois SkillsUSA Architecture Drafting competition. He also currently serves as executive member of the IDEA (Illinois Design Educators Association) and was elected President in 2012. Through this past spring, Weston also served as the Regional Director for the IDEA’s annual Drafting & Design competition, held on RLC’s campus for local high school students. In 2015, he was named the R. Tim Phillip Teacher of the Year by the IDEA.

Weston said some of his favorite memories at RLC come from a particular group of faculty and staff.

“The camaraderie we shared in the old AAA (Agriculture, Architecture, and Automotive) Department in the North Oasis,” he said. “Replacing former instructors Fred Bruno and Rueben Hawkins after they retired from teaching in the Architectural Technology program for twenty years was a little tough at first with the others in the department, but having [now President] Terry Wilkerson’s office next to mine for his first five or six years here at the college was very interesting.”

In his retirement, Weston said he hasn’t worked out a “master plan” yet, but plans to do more traveling and volunteering.

Therese Melena, Art Professor

Looking back, it’s not the art that Professor Therese Melena will remember about her 23 years at Rend Lake College. She says it’s the connections she’s made that will stick with her through her retirement years.

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Therese Melena

“It meant connections. Connections to my students, all students. Connections to the faculty, and connections to the community,” said Melena.

The 1986 graduate of RLC and resident of Ina was hired full-time in the Art Department as an instructor in August of 1994. However, it was before that when, as a student, she first made one of those connections with then-Dean of Liberal Arts, the late Stephen Tietz.

“I was a student here, in the library doing research. Steve came walking by and said to me, ‘I don’t want to see you for another four years,’ and I was heartbroken over that,” said Melena. “But what it was, he wanted me to get out of here and get my degree so I could come back and teach for him. He was an amazing boss and I always respected him.”

With one semester left before her retirement in December, Melena is also saying goodbye to the numerous projects and events she’s started or helped with, including fundraising, student-oriented projects, and campus-wide events.

For the past few years, Melena has worked closely with The Amy Center in Mt. Vernon, raising funds to support the agency, and spends much of her free time at her church, West Salem Trinity United Methodist Church in Mt. Vernon, offering free painting workshops to get the community interested in taking classes at RLC.

For the students, Melena was an integral part of the creation of the Halloween Party to celebrate all students. The Art Department also offers unique options every year at their booth during Fun Fest – a welcome back to campus event for all students in September. She also has a hand in helping with the Student Art Show.

But maybe most importantly, Melena has volunteered her time for the past several spring musicals to design, construct, and paint sets. In her retirement, Melena said she hopes to carry on that tradition.

“I’m hoping to work more with my art and work more with my church. If I’m lucky, I’ll get the chance to work with Sara [Alstat, Director] and her musicals,” said Melena.

Though Melena’s main focus in the art realm is painting, she also spends her time drawing, creating stained glass, and sculpting. At RLC, she would always pass along commission-based job opportunities to her students, but next year, she plans to begin working once more.

Wendy Smith, Controller

For the past 18 years, Marion native Wendy Smith has had a integral hand in keeping the wheels of RLC turning.

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Wendy Smith

Originally hired on as a payroll accountant in January of 1999, Smith was quickly promoted to Business Office Accountant where she spent 12 years. In March of 2013, she took the mantle of Controller, and it is from that position that she will retire in June.

“I have truly enjoyed working at Rend Lake College for the past 18 years. The college has provided me with so many wonderful opportunities and experiences over the years. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Business Office team as an accountant and the RLC controller,” Smith said.

“I have had the privilege to play a part in the success of RLC and our students over the years. I have developed friendships with faculty, staff, and students that will last a lifetime. I am looking forward to enjoying my retirement but will miss my RLC family. I wish everyone and RLC continued success in the future.”

So, what does the future hold for Smith? Adventure!

With her husband Dave, she is going on a grand boating excursion.

“Our first boating adventure will take us south to Florida. We will start our journey on the Tennessee River to Pickwick Landing-Lock & Dam, then we will enter the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay. Once we reach Mobile Bay we will travel the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to different destinations like…Orange Beach Ala., Destin Fla., and Panama City Beach Fla. The real fun starts when we cross the Gulf of Mexico to Clearwater Fla. and our final destination the Florida Keys,” she explained.

“Our second boating adventure is still in the planning stages…maybe the Bahamas. Life is good boating,” said Smith.

When asked if she had a favorite memory of RLC over the years, Smith simply responded with, “I have been blessed with so many wonderful RLC memories over the years and I will cherish them all for the rest of my life.”

Laura Kern, Adult Education Student Services Coordinator

Originally brought on board as a Financial Coordinator for several grants, Laura Kern will be retiring from RLC at the end of December after 18 years of service.

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Laura Kern

The West Frankfort native currently sits as the Adult Education Coordinator, and with a final day of July 1, she will be truly missed on campus.

“To learn and to teach the old adage … tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are— I have walked with RLC and I have become RLC and hope that I have contributed as much as I have received,” she said.

As for post-retirement, Kern says she is eager to step into the next phase of her life. Guided by her personal life experiences she plans out utilizing the coming years to the fullest.

“I plan to be happy and not to take my current good health for granted. It is because I know there are fewer tomorrows than yesterdays,” she said.

Betty Jo Herbert, Director of Nursing

Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Director Betty Jo Herbert is retiring after more than a decade of working with students in RLC’s ADN and Certified Nurse Assistant programs. Herbert, from Mt. Vernon, was hired full-time in August of 2006 after years of working as a part-time instructor.

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Betty Jo Herbert

She said in her retirement letter, “Rend Lake College has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as both an instructor and a leader in the nursing community. I will treasure all of the many friendships and support systems that have developed as a result of my tenure. I wish the nursing program continued success, and I will continue to be a lifelong supporter of Rend Lake College.”

Herbert’s last day will be June 30.

Full-Time Faculty Excellence Award

“Mrs. Ragan is one of the greatest science teachers I have ever had. Period. She is a great teacher and a wonderful person to be around.” – With glowing student endorsements like that, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why RLC Professor Carrie Ragan has been given the 2017 Faculty Excellence award.

Since 2001, Ragan has been at the forefront of teaching RLC students Biology, Ecology, Zoology, Anatomy and Physiology as a member of our all-star Math and Sciences Division.

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Carrie Ragan, LEFT, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson

Her ability to touch students is far past theory. It’s a well-documented fact.

“Mrs. Ragan is an excellent teacher. She is very energetic and always knows how to make class fun. She is very thorough in explaining new topics and helps students comprehend the material. She is very enthusiastic and happy about passing on this knowledge,” said another student.

“Mrs. Ragan made class extremely interesting. All of her instructions, lectures and examples build upon layer after layer to make the material easy to understand. She is always willing to answer everyone’s ‘what if’ questions. Her teaching style and personality are what I enjoyed the most,” expressed one more of Ragan’s former pupils.

With a number of exceptional educators at RLC, the decision for the Faculty Excellence Award is never easy, but Ragan was nominated by a large group of her colleagues and has proven time and time again to go above and beyond, displaying a passion for her content and a dedication to helping her students better understand the course material.

“I am humbled to have received the Faculty Excellence Award and want to acknowledge the talented and industrious teachers here at the college who set a standard of expectation that perpetuates quality education,” Ragan expressed.

“It is wonderful to get to share topics that I feel so strongly about, but the best part of my job is the people—coworkers and students. I’m one of the lucky few in the workforce who has the opportunity daily to meet large numbers of fine folks who have made a commitment to improve their lives and are on the cusp of an adventure.”

“Many of them are fearful. Many of them have obstacles to overcome. I think about them during my 35-minute commute and wonder who in my class needs a word of encouragement or extra help with a tough topic that day. I am blessed and proud to be part of the culture that has developed at Rend Lake College. It is a culture in which staff, faculty and administration are focused on not just the education of students, but also the edification of students—lifting them up in ways that surpass instruction.”

Ragan’s nomination letter, penned by her colleagues, cites her constant redesign and development of courses, creation of an online Biology for non-majors hybrid course and being a vital part of the IAI submission and approval of three courses in the past two years, with a few more in the approval processing stage.

Over the past three years, she has been instrumental in the successful implementation of the Title III Pathway to Success in Health Careers Grant in Anatomy and Physiology courses. She is also cited as frequently helping new instructors to become acclimated to the classroom and campus community. She provides insight and advice to new instructors while helping them to navigate RLC systems.

“Carrie’s contributions to Rend Lake College and the educational community of Illinois have been many over her career. She has proven to be an exceptional classroom instructor, active curriculum innovator, and dedicated committee member. Both RLC and the region have benefited from her professionalism and academic expertise,” read the nomination letter.

“She challenges students with high expectations, all the while, creating a comfortable environment for her students to learn and grow….Carrie has demonstrated Faculty Excellence in her devotion to education throughout her time at Rend Lake College.”

Her award also means she is in the running for the Illinois Community College Trustees Association’s Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Member Award.

Staff Excellence Awards

Susan Cunningham, Title III Activity Director

Susan Cunningham, Title III Activity Director, was honored with the 2017 RLC Foundation Staff Excellence Award for her 10 years of service at RLC, specifically for her exceptional work ethic and dedication to students. The Mt. Vernon resident was hired full-time at RLC in August of 2007 and was nominated by three of her colleagues.

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Susan Cunningham, RIGHT, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson

In their nomination letter, the fellow staff and faculty members highlighted Cunningham’s numerous duties on campus, including overseeing the Learning Enhancement Center, Tutoring, Disability Services, and the Health Studies Student Success Center. She also coordinates and hosts the Transition Summit for area high school students. She also helps with the First-Year Experience orientation course by teaching in the classroom.

“Sue is a vital asset to RLC in many ways. We are blessed to have such a genuine, caring person who always puts students first,” reads the letter. “Students of all walks of life seem to see Sue as a valuable resource and someone they can trust. She will always make time for a student who has an issue, needs help, or simply needs to talk. We have witnessed Sue skip her lunch hour numerous times because she was spending time with a student… If all other avenues have failed, Sue will personally tutor students.”

The letter continues, “She takes the time to genuinely get to know students and always knows every single student athlete by name and a little about their background. But students aren’t the only ones who lean on Sue for support. Faculty and staff frequently find themselves in Sue’s office asking for advice regarding professional and personal matters. Sue gives her undivided attention and will listen to understand, ponder the information, and give helpful feedback.”

Wesley Rush, Custodian

Wesley Rush, Custodian, was also honored with the 2017 RLC Foundation Staff Excellence Award for going above and beyond his normal duties every day. The Marion resident was hired full-time at RLC in January of 2000 and was nominated by seven of his colleagues.

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Wesley Rush, RIGHT, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson

In his nomination letter, Rush’s co-workers speak to his odd work hours and the immense space he covers as motivations for the nomination. Known as one of the “go to” employees in the Physical Plant department, Rush is notorious for stepping up when called upon.

“After the day comes and goes, that’s when the work begins for Wes,” reads the letter. “He is assigned to two buildings on campus to clean, and those two buildings tally up to be 67,744 square feet. In addition to the work of cleaning and maintaining the buildings, there are always set-ups, board meetings to get ready for, and other surprises that seem to come up when least expected. You never hear a complaint from him when it seems overwhelming or hard to handle. He just rolls up his sleeves and does the best he can.”

The letter continues, “Wes is known to his co-workers as one of the ‘go to’ guys when there is a special need or extra help. Good attitude, willing to work, and never complains is what Wes can be described as.”

Assessment Award

Sarah Bilderbeck, Office Systems Technology Associate Professor, was awarded the 2017 Assessment Award for her 16 years of service to RLC. This award credits an individual who works tirelessly on assessment policies and procedures to the college, and is only awarded when there is a qualified candidate.


Sarah Bilderbeck

Bilderbeck of McLeansboro was hired full-time at RLC in May of 2001 and was nominated by 19 of her fellow faculty members alongside staff and administration.

In her nomination letter, Bilderbeck is applauded for her diligent work on her students’ behalf, assistance to other RLC faculty and staff, and for sitting on the college’s Institutional Assessment Committee.

“Sarah recognizes the importance of student learning and the effects that it has on her students’ lives and potential careers. She is devoted to preparing her students for their transition to the next step, whether that is to the workplace or a senior university,” the letter reads. “Assessment plays a huge role in that preparation and process.”

The nomination continues, “Sarah works diligently on the assessment process – assessing her students, analyzing the learning that takes place, and recommending curriculum modifications accordingly. Based on assessment results and discussions with advisory committee members, Sarah has recently revamped the Office Systems Technology degrees and certificates to better meet the needs of her students and the demands of the workplace. She continues to evaluate the changes and the effect it has on student learning.”

Academic Council Certificates of Recognition

Several RLC faculty were awarded Certificates of Recognition for their service on Academic Council and sub-committees.

  • Academic Council: Brad Helm, Computer Science Associate Professor; Jena Jensik, Director of Academic Advisement; Mark Jornd, Business Associate Professor; Henry Leeck, Dean of Liberal Arts; and Zach Vahlkamp, Heavy Equipment Technology Associate Professor.
  • Academic Computing: Rebecca Biggs, English Professor; Nathan Brouwer, History Associate Professor; and Ricky Robinson, Computer Networking Professor.
  • Faculty Development: Nathan Brouwer, History Associate Professor.
  • Curriculum: Sarah Draper, Sociology Associate Professor; Greg Hollmann, General Science Associate Professor; and Carrie Ragan, Associate Professor of Biology and Anatomy & Physiology.
  • Learning Resource: Peggy Davis, English Literature Professor.
  • Policy and Procedures: Kevin Weston, Architectural Technology Professor.

Service Awards

Five Year Awards


Five Year Awards were given to, FROM LEFT, Hillary Halsey, First Year Experience Coordinator; Gina Schenk, Technology Integration and Training Coordinator; Natalie Brown, Records Specialist; Mallory Howell, Business Office Accountant; and Lana Wilson, Business Office Accountant. Not pictured is Melissa Bertschi, Cosmetology Instructor, and Charlie Brown, Security Guard.

Ten Year Awards


Ten Year Awards were given to, FROM LEFT, Vickie Schulte, Director of Enrollment Services; Jamie Cambron, Lead Child Care Provider; Barbara Hampton, Associate Professor of Developmental Reading and English; Casey Rhine, Manager of the Bookstore and Copy Center; and Erica Blumenstock, Nursing Associate Professor. Not pictured is Susan Cunningham, Title III Activity Director; Charlie Massie, Maintenance Technician; Dave Mathis, Maintenance Supervisor; Robin Pytlinski, Lead Child Care Provider; and Kim Wilkerson, Dean of Allied Health.

Fifteen Year Awards


Fifteen Year Awards were given to, FROM LEFT, Donnie Millenbine, Director of the Physical Plant; Rene Crouse, Pre-School Head Teacher; Rusty Downen, Maintenance Technician; Kim Rogers, Human Resources Specialist; Gale Lowery, Custodian; and Heather Bauersachs, Murphy-Wall Campus Coordinator. Not pictured is Chris Maxwell, Maintenance Technician.

Twenty Year Awards


Twenty Year Awards were given to, FROM LEFT, RLC President Terry Wilkerson and Jeannie Mitchell, Psychology Professor. Not pictured is Rebecca Biggs, English Professor, and Paula Schnicker-Johnson, Provider Services Coordinator.

Twenty-Five Year Awards


Twenty-Five Year Awards were given to, FROM LEFT, Tim Wills, Athletic Director and Health and Physical Education Professor; Chris Nielsen, Dean of Applied Science; Angie Kistner, Vice President of Finance and Administration; and Kevin Weston, Architectural Technology Professor.

Thirty Year Awards

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Steve Doty, Custodian, RIGHT, receives his Thirty Year Award from RLC President Terry Wilkerson

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Julie Oxford, Athletics Administrative Assistant, RIGHT, receives her Thirty Year Award from RLC President Terry Wilkerson