Chances are Jim Fornear is the first bird dog trainer to take a seat on the Rend Lake College Foundation Board of Directors.
The good ol’ boy whose roots are in Sesser now splits his time between Naples, FL, and his native Southern Illinois. He was appointed to the position earlier this month.
A hunter all his life, Fornear trains about 30 bird dogs at the residence he and his wife, Margaret (Peg), share in the country between McLeansboro and Eldorado. He has prepared dogs to accompany riders on horseback during field trials for the last 25 years.
Among his pride and joy are a Continental Champion (Florida-Georgia border), an International Pheasant Champion and several Georgia State Champions, mostly of the quail-seeking variety.
Do not let the laid-back, down-home exterior fool you.
Even though Fornear joins a not-for-profit board comprised of 25 extremely successful community leaders, chances are pretty good the retired business entrepreneur likewise is the first to have sold a company which at the time employed 30,000 people and was doing $1 billion in sales annually in 28 states, Puerto Rico and Canada.
Fornear has been completely retired from the Louisville-based Res-Care, Inc. (signifying respect and caregiving) company he founded for a year and a half. He no longer sits on the Board of Directors of a corporation that is recognized by Forbes and Business Week magazines and trades on NASDAQ.
Prior to his venture into the business world, 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 can laugh now at the thought it took him 12 years to get his Bachelor’s Degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Yet he received his Master’s Degree the same year.
In her recommendation to seat Fornear as the newest RLC Foundation Board member, CEO Pat Mitchell noted, “The nominating committee recognizes Mr. Fornear as a supporter of the Rend Lake College Foundation student scholarship program and of Rend Lake College graduates during their junior and senior years at SIUC.
“Mr. Fornear is a successful entrepreneur with a teaching background from Mt. Vernon Community College. His business experience and educational credentials will lend expertise to the board. Mr. Fornear is well-known as an advocate for his native Sesser area; therefore, his presence on the RLC Foundation Board will strengthen our representation in this locality.”
Fornear was serving as a Guidance Director from 1960-62 for MVTHS, as well as teaching part-time for the local junior college, when he left to build and operate a summer camp program in Missouri. When SIUC landed a government-sponsored contract to operate a job corps for troubled youth in Morganfield, KY, two of Fornear’s former professors encouraged him to get involved at Camp Breckinridge.
He was recommended for the job because of his background in rehabilitation and counseling, “and because I had always worked with young people.”
The end results were “truly remarkable,” Fornear commented. “I attribute it to the opportunity I was fortunate enough to get and a lot of good luck, I’d say.”
He made the career move “for the opportunity to work with young people. The country was having so much trouble at that time with young people, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn and to make a difference.”
Res-Care, Inc. was founded as a rehabilitation company to house and help the disabled, teach job skills to needy youths and provide support in the form of nursing, nutrition and therapy for homebound individuals.
The company’s prolific growth and countless success stories enabled Fornear to be named an “Alumnus of the Year” at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and one of two recipients of Sesser-Valier High School’s first-ever “Distinguished Alumni Award.”
Fornear was 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. Twice he has been featured on the cover of the slick SIU Alumni Magazine.
He also received the SIUC College of Business and Administration “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” in 1991 and the College of Education’s “Alumni Achievement Award,” and was awarded the University’s Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree in 1996.
He has endowed scholarships for SIUC students in honor of two inspirational mentors, William H. Freeberg and Guy A. Renzaglia.
The Fornear family is well-known locally. Brother Jack still lives in Sesser. The RLC Foundation has given a scholarship in honor of their mother, Mima C. Silkwood Fornear, who died in 2002 at age 91, and an aunt, Freda Silkwood Boyd, who was Sesser’s 1986 “Woman of the Year.”
When the combined families of Jim and Peg Fornear get together nowadays, the direct descendents number 56, including nine children and 20 grandchildren.
Since 1998, the Fornears have endowed the Fornear Family Scholarship for Rend Lake College graduates attending SIUC. A prestigious list of recipients includes the first winner, 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: Nicole Cockrum (Benton), 1999, who now teaches in Thompsonville; Lacy Kirk (Sesser), 2000, another Sesser-Valier product who has since returned home to pursue her teaching career; Jerry Travelstead, 2001, who teaches and coaches at WoodlawnMandi Page and Zack Zimbro (both of Sesser), 2003; Shane Garner (Sesser), 2004, and Adam Nagreski (Benton), 2005.
In addition, the Jim and Peg Fornear Scholarship has been awarded annually in recent years.
Fornear was presented with the RLC Foundation Silver Major Gift Award at the Annual Dinner last December.
Fornear indicated his willingness to serve on the Rend Lake College Foundation Board could be attributed to the realization, “This school has piqued my interest the way it is helping so many young people who might not be able to afford a college education otherwise. I just think it is great, wonderful,” he said.
“There are a lot of good people here at this college and on this board. I’ve been impressed with what I have seen here. I can’t believe some of the things I have seen them doing. It is very impressive. I am looking forward to being part of it.”