INA – More than two dozen agriculture alumni reunited Friday night inside the Mark S. Kern Applied Science Center at Rend Lake College in what will hopefully grow to become a new tradition of alumni engagement with the college.
The reunion last week was limited to RLC alumni who graduated from the agriculture program when it was located at the old Bonnie Grade School. They reminisced with one another and caught up on three decades of phylogeny since graduating.
Retired RLC President Mark Kern talked with the group before they enjoyed a catered dinner sponsored by the Rend Lake College Foundation. Kern spoke about starting the ag program in July of 1968 with the first department chair, Ardell Kimmel, and dean, Carroll Turner – both of whom attended the reunion. Kern started as an agriculture instructor at RLC in 1968 and later became head of the department before moving into administrative ranks and assuming the role of president in 1991.
The curriculum was written, and new textbooks and equipment were ordered while the college was still located at Mt. Vernon Township High School in 1968. The program – existing of mechanics, production and business in the agricultural field – occupied three classrooms and the gym at the old Bonnie Grade School.
“We had, probably, the only shop with a hardwood floor,” Kern said. “By Christmas, we had broken through that hardwood floor.”
There was some discussion as to how many students took classes in the first year. Kern said they had nine in one class.
“I think we hit double digits,” Turner replied.
“I don’t remember it being that good,” Kern chuckled.
The program quickly gained steam and enrollment increased.
“People would drive from Salem and Nashville ... to come to the Rend Lake College ag program,” Kern explained.
Dan Tinsley – one of the event’s co-organizers with Kern, Wayne Hails, David Scott and Bill South – gave some insight as to why the program may have been attractive to young men in the late 1960s and early 70s.
“It wasn’t a fox hole in Vietnam,” Tinsley said.
However, on one evening in April of 1973, the ag mechanics shop was a dangerous place to be. A tornado ripped through the school, bringing the shop’s roof to the floor and destroying the ag facilities.
“Thank goodness it happened at night because some people would have been hurt, maybe worse, if it would have happened during the day,” Kern said.
He added that faculty and staff were able to get the program back up and running without missing too many classes due to students being close to the internship phase of their training. The program soon moved onto the Ina campus where it occupied the maintenance building – a “far cry” from the $2.7 million, 22,000 square-feet Mark S. Kern Applied Science Center where it is housed today.
Of the 80 alumni on the list for Friday night’s festivities, 70 are surviving and about 28 showed for the reunion.
Pat Kern, RLC Foundation Chief Executive Officer, expressed her delight in joining the group for their reunion.
“It is wonderful to see our alumni getting involved with one another and initiating an event like this. It is evident that Rend Lake College holds a special place in the hearts of those in attendance tonight. I hope this group of graduates from the college’s infancy is able to expand and stays close with each other through alumni events such as this one.”
Tinsley said plans are to have future reunions with the possibility of expanding to include other classes from RLC’s more than 40 years. He hopes the group will be able to establish a scholarship in the future, he said.
Hails played a lead role in creating a guest list and inviting alumni. He explained that, at his age, seizing the moment and rekindling past relationships have become more important to him.
“It’s good to see people I haven’t seen for years and learn what has become of them.”