INA – There may never have been a better candidate for the Fornear Family Scholarship than this year’s recipient, Mallory Brookins.
Without the scholarship, Brookins’ education was on course to culminate with an associate degree from Rend Lake College. The 20-year-old Whittington resident was an accomplished high school student and volleyball player before a four-wheeler accident on April 10, 2006 left her in a coma and fighting for her life from a hospital bed in Evansville, Ind.
“I was in a coma until May 18 and I do not remember any of it,” she said. “I had three brain surgeries and they transferred me to Georgia for brain rehabilitation. I don’t remember going there or anything.”
The first day she remembers was June 16, 2006 when a nurse intentionally made Brookins mad and she took a big turn toward recovery. Sparking emotion like anger has been found to snap patients out of a coma, she explained. In her case, it saved her life since her body had withered to less than 70 pounds.
“I ate a taco,” she said with a smile. “Before that, I wouldn’t eat at all.”
From there, Brookins would spend two hours a day in class at a rehabilitation school, focusing on physical activity and learning how to learn all over again.
“My mom, every single night, worked with me on simple things ... worksheets that first, second and third graders would do.”
Her mother and father are Penny and Dale Brookins of Whittington. She was a homemaker who has since took on part-time work. He is a manager at Macedonia Southern FS Inc.
“My mom and my grandmother [Jane Brookins] never left my side,” Mallory said. “My dad had to work, but he came to visit me all of the time and my friends came to see me in Georgia and Evansville.”
Penny kept a daily journal while Mallory was in a coma.
“She wanted me to realize how lucky I am to be alive,” Mallory said.
Brookins returned home in early August of that year and went right back to classes at Benton Consolidated High School.
“The doctors told me I would fail, that I would not be able to do it. But, I have always been a believer that if you try your hardest, you can get through anything. I had two dual credit classes through Rend Lake College. The college worked with me and I got through psychology and educational psychology. I graduated in the top 10 of my class.”
Although it’s quite a victory, the fight isn’t over. Learning is harder after her head injury and she is still recovering, day by day, in triumphant fashion as a sophomore at RLC. Last school year, Brookins made the college’s vice president’s list – an honor reserved for those who earn a 3.5 - 3.9 grade point average.
Brookins said she makes her choices much more carefully these days.
“I’ve learned that you need to think about making stupid mistakes ... that in everything, you have to make a decision. Something as simple as not wearing a helmet one time can effect something as important as your education.”
With soaring medical bills racked up by her accident, the future was uncertain and unsettling. She said the first three weeks in the hospital – not counting surgery costs – was $180,000. She was in the hospital for 100 days. Her best shot at continuing her education at a four-year institution was a scholarship.
“Without Rend Lake College helping me with the Presidential Scholarship, I don’t know if I would have been able to get my degree. And now, with the Fornear Scholarship, I am just overwhelmed and overjoyed.”
She is set to graduate with an associate degree from RLC in May. Three weeks ago, she applied for admission to the SIUC College of Education. She wants to teach students with special needs and currently works part-time at Benton Grade School, where she teaches first-grade students how to read.
“Before my accident, school came easy to me. Now, I understand that some kids, no matter how hard they try, it still does not come easy to them. I think they will understand more learning from a teacher who has been in their shoes, from a person who has been through the same thing.”
Brookins fights a frustrating battle each day. What once came easy to her is now her biggest challenge.
“Reading is very difficult for me now. I can physically read, but comprehension is much more difficult. But, I’m a competitive person. I want to graduate from Rend Lake and, whatever it takes, I am going to do it. If I have to read a story three times, I’m going to get it.
“I’m thankful. I’m thankful the Fornear family realizes that some people, whether they have money or not, are still trying to get the same education as anyone else. And I’m thankful they understand that adults can get the same degree as others with their help.”
Since 1998, Jim and Margaret “Peg” Fornear have endowed the Fornear Family Scholarship for Rend Lake College graduates attending SIUC. A prestigious list of nine previous recipients have benefitted from their support and generosity.
So, why is Brookins such a perfect fit for the honor?
The 77-year-old retired business entrepreneur, Jim Fornear, built his success by giving to others and caring about everybody. His compassion helped those who needed it the most. The company he founded focused on residential support for the disabled, training young people and helping the homebound with services like nursing, nutrition, and physical, speech and vocational therapy.
Fornear has said his interest in RLC was piqued by the way it offers a college education to those who may not be able to afford it.
The irony of this year’s selection does not stop there.
Fornear is currently recovering in a hospital after suffering a severe head injury in mid-October. He was not there to see Brookins accept her scholarship at the RLC Foundation’s Annual Dinner, Dec. 4, at the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn. His brother, Jack, attended on behalf of the family.
Jack Fornear said he was proud to present Brookins with the scholarship and wished his family, especially Jim, could have been there.
“He is in St. Louis University Hospital,” Jack said of his brother. “All of your thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.”
The Sesser native and retired business owner, Jim Fornear, splits his time between a home in Florida and Southern Illinois, where his love for hunting flourishes. His business expertise and educational credentials brought wisdom and leadership to the RLCF Board of Directors from 2005 when he became a member to earlier this year when he resigned.
Fornear sold his company, Res-Care Inc., at a time when it had grown to employ 30,000 people and was doing $1 billion in sales annually in 28 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. He once attributed a fortunate opportunity and “a lot of good luck” to the successful startup venture.
He is now completely retired from the Louisville-based company which was recognized by Business Week, listed among Forbes magazine’s 1993 best 200 small companies in the U.S., and trades on the NASDAQ.
Fornear taught in the Sesser school system, at Mt. Vernon Township High School and part-time as a Psychology Instructor for Rend Lake College’s forerunner, Mt. Vernon Community College. He was guidance director from 1960-62 for MVTHS, and taught part-time for the local junior college, when he left to build and operate a summer camp program in Missouri.
He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree – both in 1960 – from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he was named “Alumnus of the Year,” became an original member of the SIU Foundation Chancellor’s Council, served on its Board of Directors and is a lifetime member of the SIU Alumni Association. He has been featured on the cover of the slick SIU Alumni Magazine – twice.
In 2001, Fornear became one of two recipients of Sesser-Valier High School’s first-ever “Distinguished Alumni Award.” He is a recipient of the RLC Foundation Silver Major Gift Award, the SIUC College of Business and Administration “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” in 1991 and the College of Education’s “Alumni Achievement Award.” In 1996, he was awarded the University’s Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree.
His endowed scholarships for SIUC students are in honor of two inspirational mentors – former SIUC Recreation Department Chair William H. Freeberg and SIUC Rehabilitation Institute Founding Director Guy A. Renzaglia. The RLC Foundation also gives an annual scholarship in honor of his late mother, Mima C. Silkwood Fornear, and aunt, Freda Silkwood Boyd, who was Sesser’s 1986 “Woman of the Year.”
More than $1.3 million in scholarships and tuition waivers were awarded to RLC students in the 2008-09 academic year. At the pinnacle of that is the coveted Fornear Family Scholarship.
The first winner was Jody Williams, who in her fourth year as a fourth-grade teacher for Sesser-Valier Community District 196 was named Franklin County “Teacher of the Year” by Wal-Mart.
Other beneficiaries are Nicole Cockrum (Benton) in 1999, Lacy Kirk (Sesser) in 2000, Jerry Travelstead (Sesser) in 2001, Zack Zimbro (Sesser) in 2003; Shane Garner (Sesser) in 2004, Adam Nagreski (Benton) in 2005, Marsha Lamczyk (Mulkeytown) in 2006 and Travis Zettler (Sesser) in 2007.
The Fornear Family Scholarship covers four semesters of tuition, books and fees for an RLC graduate who attends SIUC. Preference is given to Sesser residents, but there are many factors considered in the selection process, according to RLC Foundation Chief Executive Officer Pat Kern.
Kern said a student transferring into either the SIUC College of Education or College of Medicine will get quite a few points in the ranking system.
“The competition was tough this year,” she said. “Ultimately, it came down to personal interviews.”
Brookins, while not a Sesser resident, is majoring in education. She maintains a stellar GPA, and is a recipient of the RLC Presidential Scholarship, Illinois Sheriff’s Association Scholarship, Charles Oyler Scholarship and Ewing Northern Support Organization Scholarship. She is an RLC Student Ambassador and volunteers with Whittington Church Helps Ministry and the Ewing Grade School volleyball program.