MARION, Ill. – Call it an Ultra Classic Electra Glide Full Dresser. Call it four Sportsters. Whatever the dollar amount, Rodney Cabaness and Shad Zimbro call it their duty.
These locally grown co-owners of Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion, along with Illinois Community College Board Chairman Guy Alongi and area college officials, have spearheaded a scholarship drive generating $44,000 in support for high school students in the area who plan to attend one of four local community colleges.
“We feel like we have an obligation to give back,” Cabaness said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
A $22,000 scholarship pool from Black Diamond will go to students from 44 high schools to further their education at either Shawnee Community College, Southeastern Illinois College, John A. Logan College or Rend Lake College. Guidance counselors at each high school were asked to choose which student from their school will receive the $500 Black Diamond Harley-Davidson scholarship.
Moreover, each college is doubling the value by matching each $500 scholarship. Students from 12 of the 13 high schools in RLC District #521 will benefit. Cabaness said they are grateful for the colleges choosing to match.
“The colleges didn’t have to contribute anything, but they stepped up. Our community colleges, which are some of the greatest in the nation, stepped up and matched it, which made an even bigger difference for these kids. I really was touched ... I thought that was fantastic.”
RLC President Charley D. Holstein and RLC Foundation CEO Pat Kern joined Shawnee President Dr. Larry Peterson, Logan President Dr. Robert Mees and Dr. Sara Bond, a dean at SIC, at Black Diamond when the announcement was made.
“I am so pleased that when Mr. Cabaness considered giving scholarship money, he thought about community colleges first,” Alongi said. “To donate money that will benefit a high school senior in 44 different high schools is a very unique effort.”
The 30-something businessmen are Sesser High School grads – Classes of ‘88 and ‘90 – and owners of a dealership that is consistently in the top one percent of all Harley-Davidson dealerships across the country in terms of sales volume. Cabaness said they’ve had a lot of support, whether it was from educational backgrounds, friends and family, customers or employees. Since moving into the store less than two years ago, they have increased sales more than six-fold and tripled their workforce.
“The customers we have are incredible. Our employees are awesome. We just have awesome people around us and Harley-Davidson is such a great company to do business with. We can’t take too much of the credit. We are just part of a great environment to be in.”
Cabaness and Zimbro are both former students from Rend Lake College and therefore understand the value in choosing to learn in a community college system teeming with quality instruction and an up-to-date development of knowledge in numerous fields. Cabaness’ field was industrial engineering. He graduated from RLC and went on to earn a degree in that field from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale.
“It was an awesome stepping stone to get to SIU and it gave me an opportunity to figure out exactly what I did want to do. My education at Rend Lake was second to none,” he said.
Aside from hosting or lending their brand to some big fundraisers in the past, this is probably their largest donation to date, according to Cabaness. He added that the dealership gave about $100,000 to charity in 2008. And that’s all local.
The dealership is inundated each month with an enormous amount of requests for donations. So why local colleges?
“Its always good to give back to the students who are trying to better themselves,” he said. “When we talked about it, we felt like we could do the most good to the biggest number of people by donating ... through the community colleges and high schools. It’s certainly not all that we give to, but we felt it was certainly a place we should try to give back to.”
They received numerous letters from students who wrote about why they want and need money for college. After reading them, Cabaness and Zimbro were more motivated than ever.
“Reading those letters, it’s been more rewarding than I ever thought it would be. Some of the kids this is helping are more than deserving. It’s been really cool. We are very glad to be able to make a difference.”
There were some desperate stories, such as one from a student who walks to school every day because he doesn’t have enough money for transportation, let alone tuition for an automotive technology program. Cabaness pointed out, the common theme was the student whose parents are struggling financially but make too much to qualify for grants.
“That’s really who we were focusing on – those people who need just a little bit to get a start on their education. And I’ve got to hand it to those at the high schools. I think they did a fantastic job of identifying those people who need the scholarships.”
Black Diamond Harley-Davidson, located at 2400 Williamson County Parkway in Marion, Southern Illinois, is a full-service, one-stop shop for new and pre-owned Harley-Davidson motorcycles, parts, accessories and apparel.