50 Influencers: Dr. Evelyn Claxton, A story of education

INA, Ill. (Aug. 5, 2017) - Every educator who has ever graced a Rend Lake College classroom has had an impact on the lives of their students. A few, truly dedicated individuals transcended into being a guiding light of a generation, a catalyst that moved students to their true potential.

Dr. Evelyn Claxton was a catalyst. Her passion for learning and teaching generated a spark in the minds of her students. But more than anything, her consistent ability to encourage and cultivate those around her helped define RLC during her tenure.

The Hon. Mike D. McHaney credited Claxton for helping him reach his potential. “I’ll never forget the teachers I had at Rend Lake. She (Claxton) had a way of motivating you to reach your potential. She was instrumental … her love of reading, language and writing really inspired me.”

It was that love of language and literature that acted as the springboard for many of Claxton’s most notable endeavors.

Claxton retired from Rend Lake College as Arts and Communications Department Chair in 1983 after having first joined the full-time faculty as an English/Journalism Instructor the year the college moved to the Ina campus (1970), the same year she earned a doctorate degree from Kansas University.

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When she wasn’t teaching, she was helping produce the Rend Lake College newspaper, The Pressing Times. She was also instrumental in beginning the college literary and art magazine (Essence, Ozone and Phase One) and continued as faculty advisor and judge.

At one point, under her guidance, the student newspaper boasted a circulation of 2,500. The Pressing Times mailing list exceeded 500 and was still growing as businesses, schools and former RLC students requested issues of the bi-weekly paper.

She was recognized numerous times for her work in and out of the classroom.

In 1973, she earned Phi Theta Kappa’s “Distinguished Educator” Award. The next year, she won the Distinguished Advisor’s Award for two-year college newspapers. And, in 1977, she was elected Vice President of the Illinois Community College Journalism Association.

The RLC Arts and Communications Department, under Claxton as Chair, was responsible for administering a grant from the Illinois Arts Council which covered expenses of a Business Manager to work with the conductor in rebuilding community support for the orchestra.

Claxton resigned after 13 years, five as the Arts and Communications Department Chair. The resignation was accepted with “deep regret” by the RLC Board of Trustees.

Claxton, who cited “personal and professional reasons” for her decision, “has worked exceedingly hard” as the chairperson of her department, praised then-Dean of Instruction Mark S. Kern. “She has had goals and objectives all along and has tried to lead her department along those same lines.”

However, she didn’t stay away from the classroom or RLC for long.

In 1999, the Rend Lake College Foundation implemented the Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR), an initiative to provide lifelong learning opportunities for retirees in the district.

Claxton epitomized the Institute and thrived in her role as an educator with the program.

“I have always felt fortunate to have found something that really challenged me and that I loved doing,” Claxton said. “I didn’t set out to teach at the college level, but I soon realized I could make a difference there. I found that is where I needed to be. I have enjoyed teaching everywhere I have been. That’s my ‘thing.’”

Lori Ragland, now RLC’s Vice President for Instruction, formerly was assistant director of Community Education, the department which eventually took over the ILR program. In a previous story about Claxton, Ragland said, “Dr. Claxton was at the forefront of developing the ILR program, which began offering classes in 1999. She has served on the Advisory Committee since 1998 and has been an instructor since its inception. She volunteers her time to teach at least two classes each year. Dr. Claxton also supported the program by participating in other classes and trips.”

Then-Foundation Director Pat Kern recalled, “Dr. Claxton’s Journal Writing classes have inspired many older learners to write about personal observations throughout their life and family traditions. As a result of her efforts, these journals will be invaluable to these students and their families for many generations.”

claxtonkernswebClaxton, center, being honored by former RLC President Mark Kern, left, and former Rend Lake College Foundation CEO Pat Kern, right.

“She has had a definite impact on my learning in my senior years,” wrote one of her students. “She has been an inspiration to me since the first time I met her. I appreciate her gracious spirit and attitude and the encouragement she has given me.”

“She was a remarkable educator in her younger years and she continues to be an astonishing educator in her early 80s. Dr. Claxton can be found canoeing on a lake outside her home, listening to classical music, hiking, traveling through Europe or volunteering for the college’s ILR Program. What an inspiration Dr. Evelyn Claxton is to all ages,” Kern expressed.

Called by one of her “mature” students “a teacher who inspired all of us to continue,” Dr. Evelyn Claxton was given the 2005 Outstanding Instructor Award from the statewide Lifelong Learning and Service Coalition.

Her dedication to the arts extended well past her contributions in the classroom. During the Rend Lake College theatre renovation, Claxton was a lead contributor and helped spearhead the project.

For those efforts, and years of donating to the student scholarship fund, Claxton was designated a Gold level contributor. She has both the Dr. Evelyn Claxton Art Award Endowed Scholarship and Dr. Evelyn Claxton Memorial Endowment which assist students in attending college every year.


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