50 Influencers: Dr. Harry Braun, stabilizing force

INA, Ill. (March 25, 2017) - Dr. Harry J. Braun, a native of St. Louis, was the youngest president in RLC’s history, selected to helm the ship in 1978 at the age of 37. He is also the second-longest serving president with 11 years in the presidency.

Braun (pronounced Brown) came into RLC at a tumultuous time. H.J. Haberaecker had been serving as interim president following the early exit of Martin after tensions between the president’s office and faculty reached a boiling point causing a parting of ways between the college and its second president.

Haberaecker was credited as being extremely effective at stabilizing the campus in his 4.5 months in the interim role, but it was up to Braun to rebuild many of the fractured relationships.

Braun was chosen from a field of 94 applicants. He took office in July of 1978 and spent his first year calming the radical waters, installing a new administrative team and making sure quality education of students remained the college’s primary goal.

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Cooperation with business and industry likewise became a college trademark during the 11-year Braun era, as evidenced by Rend Lake College’s prestigious national award as one of three recipients of the first Media Systems Business-College Partnership Awards recognizing “exemplary cooperation” with business and industry through creative responses to productivity needs.

Rend Lake College took center stage at the 62nd Annual Convention of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC) in St. Louis in April 1982. The college was cited for its work with two area coal companies, Old Ben and Inland Steel. That same year, 1981-82, RLC was cited for its “forward-thinking posture” in a very positive evaluation which resulted in a seven-year accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Among other accomplishments, Braun also is credited with rejuvenating the RLC Foundation, established in name only at the time the college was first started, in 1979.

“Our efforts this past year have focused upon providing quality programs aimed at helping people. Whether it is through programs which prepare students for vocations, programs which prepare students for transfer to senior institutions, programs to help individuals develop areas of personal interest or programs to help students achieve a high school equivalency certificate, quality is the underlying principle we strive for at Rend Lake College,” stated Braun in his address to the RLC Board of Trustees following his first year in office.

“…let me point out that when I visited the area as a candidate for the Presidency of Rend Lake College and spent time discussing the college, the community and the future, I discovered a very enthusiastic supportive group of people committed to Rend Lake College and what it could provide the area. After having been here a year, I find that support and interest exist on an even greater scale than I first imagined. It is truly a privilege to be among the fine people of Southern Illinois.”

Under Braun, things boomed. In his 1982 Annual Report, the third president reported that enrollment had climbed to record highs and in the course of a single year, the college had added 36 course offerings, a Nursing Program expansion, classes were offered via television and videotape in public libraries, the Math Lab was initiated and off-campus classes were launched in Waltonville, Tamaroa and Bonnie, bringing RLC to 14 off-campus locations.

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The following year found the college in a situation we would recognize today, a difficult economic atmosphere. Financial woes were compounded by enrollment finally leveling off after years of rapid growth. But, Braun showed why those that hired him call him “the right man at the right time.”

“Our mission remains unchallenged: A commitment to excellence in all that we strive to do at Rend Lake College. Meeting the needs of the district we serve has always been our No. 1 priority and will remain so. Every decision, every action is guided by that desire and commitment for excellence,” he expressed in an impassioned address to the board of trustees.

“Our students never seem to let us down. They are, of course, our prized products, the best representatives any institution of higher learning could have.”

That positive attitude and focus paid off, allowing the college to weather the storm and bounce right back with the quality service and education that carved out a name for RLC.

Braun was able to celebrate a RLC milestone birthday too, the 20-year celebration in 1987. It was at the Annual RLCF Dinner that he offered the following thoughts:

“No progress is ever achieved without direction and leadership. Direction was provided by the Steering/ Planning Committee, the original Board of Trustees. Leadership was, in turn, provided by Founding President Dr. James M. Snyder and the original faculty and staff. The result was a low-cost, community-based college was established in this area of Southern Illinois and that vision is as valid today as it was 20 years ago. It will always be this vision that insures the college will remain an integral part of Southern Illinois for many years to come. Our heartfelt thanks to all who worked so hard to make Rend Lake College a reality and the success that it is today.”

At his resignation on Feb. 28, 1989, the board of directors voted to accept the resignation “with great reluctance.”

Dr. (Richard) Simpson made a motion to accept Braun’s resignation effective February 28, 1989. Mr. (David) Hurley seconded the motion. On roll call vote, all voted “Yes.” Dr. (Kirby) Browning stated he felt Dr. Braun’s tenure at the college had been good for the institution and the college and community could be proud of what had been accomplished.

Dr. Simpson stated that Braun came to the college as President at a very difficult time in 1978 and that he had been the right man at the right time. He said he had enjoyed working with Braun. Mr. (Everett) Thompson said he endorsed Dr. Simpson’s statement and it had been a pleasure to work with Braun. Dr. Patton said Braun was leaving with one of the best records in Southern Illinois and he appreciated very much his contributions to the college.

For his part, Braun stated a person can develop a love for a place and a love for a community and that was how he felt; however, he felt accepting the Danville Area presidency was a good opportunity. He thanked the Board for its support for 10 1/2 years. He indicated his appreciation of each Board member and the Deans.

“This has been a tremendous place to be the past 11 years,” he commented. “The quality of our faculty and staff is super, and the support I have had from our Board has been tremendous. I have really appreciated the support and guidance I have received from the Board members. There is a good relationship that exists between our Board and staff. Over the years, we have been able to achieve one accomplishment after another.”

“I have nothing but the best to say about Rend Lake College and about the City of Mt. Vernon and the other communities within the college district,” he added. “We will take with us a lot of fond memories. This is where our children prospered. They received the educational background and opportunities that will enable them to succeed in later life.”

Prior to coming to RLC, Braun had served as Dean at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Ariz., since 1976. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Southwest Missouri State College in 1963, a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from the University of Missouri in 1966 and a Doctorate in Educational Administration from Missouri in 1971.

As a student at Southwest Missouri College, Braun lettered in football for four years. He traveled extensively in the United States and abroad in such places as Jamaica, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. He enjoyed photography, model railroading and physical exercise. Braun was a member of the Rotary International Board of Directors in 1977 and served as President of the Congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Casa Grande from 1976-77.

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