Rend Lake College offers a dozen or more extracurricular organizations for most vocational majors, like the Culinary Arts Club, the Criminal Justice Club and the Practical Nursing Club. Other opportunities attract participants with common interests, such as the Creative Writing Club, Film Club and Active College Christians.

Individuals may be invited to join the Student Ambassadors, must qualify for Phi Theta Kappa or will be asked to demonstrate special gifts to be part of College Bowl, the RLC Times student newspaper and performing arts groups in music and theatre. A high level of athletic ability is required for membership on 11 sports teams, Laker Girl dancers or the cheerleading squad.

Might we suggest a need for at least one more: the Bill Shields Fan Club.

Count between 35-45 current and former Rend Lake College faculty and staff eager to jump on the bandwagon and sing praises of the club’s namesake.

Shields is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Workforce Education and Development, College of Education, for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. As such, he has been Coordinator of Professional Experiences and Coordinator of the On-Campus Weekend Degree Program since September 1962.

Something else can be said for the person who now ranks No. 1 on the unofficial SIU seniority list: Shields is the 24th Annual Rend Lake College “Alumnus of the Year” and will be so recognized at the 2005 RLC Foundation Annual Dinner Thursday, December 1, at the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn. Tickets are still available.

The humble Shields takes exception to his inclusion in the prestigious RLC Club Alumni. But show interest in his program, and he will come after you like a bulldog. A kinder, gentler, loving bulldog.

Technically speaking, Shields is not a graduate of Rend Lake College. He was a member of the first graduating class of RLC forerunner, Mt. Vernon Community College, in 1958, following a stint as a Supply Sergeant in the U.S. Army followed by two years as President of the MVCC Student Council.

He is the fourth Mt. Vernon Community College graduate to be recognized as “Alumnus of the Year,” after Robert L. Brown in 1983, Dr. Harl E. Ryder Jr. in 1985 and Dr. Gary R. Sweeten in 1986.

As the off-campus recruiter for SIUC’s Workforce Education program, which gives up to a year of college credit for work experience and encourages those in the work force to return to college to earn a four-year degree, and promoter of an every-other weekend program for postgraduate studies, Shields boasts an allegiance of followers who have nothing but the best to say on his behalf.

“Education has been your passion and you are very deserving of this honor,” Rend Lake College Foundation CEO Pat Mitchell informed Shields in her letter of congratulations. And, yes, Mitchell’s Bachelor’s Degree was earned through the SIUC Workforce Education plan.

“He is quite the salesman,” says RLC Architectural Technology Professor Rick Marlow, who succumbed to Shields’ sales pitch, graduated from the SIUC program and now teaches part-time in it.

Marlow was a licensed architect serving on the Rend Lake College Advisory Council when he first had thoughts of becoming an instructor. “I could do that” he remembers thinking.

“Then Bill came along. He does that, just drops in cold to tell you about the program. I can honestly say I don’t remember if I contacted him or how he found out I might be interested in going back to school. But there he was one day, and he can be pretty persistent.

“But I have never regretted doing it,” Marlow said. He also is convinced Shields had a say in Marlow being selected, despite the absence of a Ph.D., to teach WED core courses in “Individualizing Training,” “Linkages to Workforce Education” and “The Foundation of Workforce Education.”

Retired Administrative Assistant Jerri Ruemmler, one of many RLC employees to earn a bachelor’s degree while working full-time, commented, “Bill Shields’ energy and enthusiasm for the SIU program is contagious. He gives each student his attention with personal encouragement and the ‘push’ to achieve full potential. He convinced me I could attain my bachelor’s degree. He is very dedicated to that program. I enjoyed the classes and the new friends I made. Thanks, Bill!”

RLC Book and Retail Store Manager Dorothy Feira was completing her Associate Degree, with no thoughts of seeking a four-year degree, when someone on campus pointed Shields in her direction.

The end result: Feira has both Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Workforce Education from SIUC and has been featured in the Southern Alumni magazine.

“I didn’t think I had the background to go to a university,” recalled Feira. “He not only told me about the program, he insisted I could do it even though I was leery about taking that first step.

“Bill has been very supportive all along. He would take the time to stop by and talk about how things were going – even coming to my home once – and offering encouragement. His way of doing things on a one-on-one basis probably made the biggest difference for me.

“I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do it if it hadn’t been for Bill Shields. If it weren’t for him being so caring . . .” Feira continued. “He finally got through to me and made me believe in myself. I am a big supporter of that program and his counseling. It is one of the best programs I have ever seen. The classes in that program give you things you can use in everyday life and things that help you in your career.”

According to support staff in the SIUC Workforce Education program, Shields submitted documentation for 2,413 hours of work in 2004. He estimates he works about nine hours per day five days per week “and a lot of weekends.” He took no weeks off in 2004, four days thus far in 2005.

Rend Lake College graduates of the WED program include Dr. Sharon Beasley, Allied Health Division Chair, and 2005 products Dr. Jim Hull, Vice President of Instruction, and Dr. Sarah Ochs, Applied Science and Technology Division Chair.

The Bill Shields Fan Club also could include Dean of Instruction Lisa Payne and Dean of Special Programs Andrea Witthoft, Physical Plant Director Randall Shively, Director of Counseling Lisa Price, Center for Business Director Ed Ruffino and Curt Mowrer, Executive Director of the Small Business Development Center and RLC MarketPlace.

Faculty graduates of WED and/or its Occupational Education predecessor also count Tina Grounds (Early Childhood), Henry “Buster” Leeck (History), Nigel Thompson (Automotive Technology), Bonnie Tolbert (Practical Nursing) and Kevin Weston (Architecture Technology). Other staff, including some December-to-be WED grads, are Nicki Bowlin, Lisa Conner, Yvonne Hallam, Rita Harriss, Paula Myers, Linda Odle, Connie Sample, Elizabeth Shew and Marcia Whitehead.

Another dozen or so retired or former college employees also took advantage of the opportunity Shields & Friends provided.

Shields has been in the business of making friends for SIUC for most of his tenure there. Between 1995 and 2000, for instance, he coordinated Workforce Education and Development Off-Campus Weekend programs at the Jacksonville (FL) Naval Air Station, Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC, and Mayport (FL) Naval Station. He was on assignment for a week earlier this month in Florida.

Except for the year after graduating from SIU with the first of his two degrees from there, when he joined the faculty of Mt. Vernon Township High School, Shields has been part of SIU and vice-versa.

He was presented the “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” Award in 1982. In both 1974 and ’78, he was recipient of the “Outstanding Service Award” from Iota Lambda Sigma, which he served as president on three occasions and has been secretary-treasurer since 1978.

Among research grants he has received are one for $250,000 in 1969-71 as Director/Organizer of the Curriculum Research and Resource Center in the Technologies at West Virginia University and another to conduct A Follow-Up Study of Industrial Education Graduates at SIUC, 1953-63.

In addition to heading the MVCC Student Council for two years as a nontraditional student, where fellow representatives included longtime area educator Jim Burnes and Mt. Vernon business man Larry Martin, the military veteran played basketball for the Warriors under his cousin, the late Dr. J.D. Shields, and alongside Burnes, Martin and former MVTHS Ram Coach Sonny Ellis.

The 1958 Pyramid Yearbook depicting a handsome, smiling Shields also featured classmates and future Mt. Vernon educators Jerry Clemens, Lucy Baker, Mary (Tinsley) Burnesn and Shirley Woodrome; Jefferson County Board member-to-be Curtis Grothoff Jr., and Mildred (Baker) Jones, wife of State Rep. John O. Jones. The freshman class included Fred Deichman, Merle Fullerton and Charles York. The faculty and staff section by that time already included such MVCC-RLC mainstays as Dean Howard Rawlinson, Betty Ann Ward, James Yates, Barbara Luchsinger, Art Samford, Imogene Book, William Myers and Ed Kownacki.

For a high-resolution version of the above photo, click here.

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