INA – Moving. The word means many things in life.
For Rend Lake College recently, it describes moving upward – the institution’s record-setting growth into one of the nation’s stars in community college enrollment. Moving forward – the change RLC will experience when 17-year President Mark S. Kern retires June 30.
For Kern, it is the one-word summary of the unveiling of the Mark S. Kern Applied Science Center, Friday night, in the company of friends, family and fellow educators. The RLC Board’s tribute to Kern’s service, which wrenched tears from the stoic eyes of the local leader in education, was simply moving.
“Thank you very much,” Kern said. “This comes as quite a surprise. It’s greatly appreciated. I didn’t expect to have a building named after me. ... I am very humbled and very appreciative.”
Kern is now one of only three individuals to have a college building dedicated to him. The other two are the Dr. Allen Y. Baker Administration Building after the founding board of trustees member, Pinckneyville optometrist and pillar of community service; and the James “Hummer” Waugh Gymnasium after the longtime coach and supporter of RLC athletics.
RLC Board Chairman Bill Simpson made the announcement Friday night during a retirement party in honor of Kern, the longest-serving employee in the history of the Illinois Community College System.
The evening included skits from RLC employees that took visitors back through Kern’s 39 years with the college – complete with wigs, tie-dye and a parody to the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. There were gifts from colleagues and comrades, like laser rangefinder binoculars from college administrators, a “I Can’t Believe I worked at Rend Lake College for 39 years and all I got was this lousy” tee-shirt from All-Stars and Stitches owner Dave Severin, and a miniature golden John Deere tractor from the Academic Council. Additionally, the RLC Foundation Board of Directors, of which Kern was recently named an Emeritus Member, presented him a guided trout fishing trip of his choice and design. According to his wife, RLC Foundation CEO Pat Kern, he will probably design a trip to the Ozarks.
Although they were all great gifts in there own right, none moved Kern like the RLC Board of Trustees placing his name on the Applied Science Center. The facility, opened in September 2005, houses the agriculture mechanics program. With his career at RLC beginning as an agriculture instructor in 1969 and leading two years later to Dean of the program, a better campus landmark could not have been chosen for the honor. Kern is one of three individuals who started the agriculture program at RLC.
“... You couldn’t have picked one more important to me,” he explained. “I started teaching here in the agriculture science lab, in the old Bonnie Grade School, in a gymnasium with a wooden floor. Our offices were in an old coat room. ... The fellow on the end had to get up to let the person on the inside get out [of the office]. One of the things I am glad we were able to accomplish was to put the ag and heavy equipment programs in a building such as this.”
RLC Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Hunt Bonan presented Kern the fishing package and mentioned the Board naming him an Emeritus Member in honor of his service to the RLCF.
“There has been no one more instrumental in the growth of the Foundation than Mark Kern,” Bonan said. “When he became president, I think the Foundation had approximately $100,000 in assets. Today, we are proud to say, the Foundation has over $5 million in assets. That’s a big number. But, more important is that last year the Foundation gave out over $300,000 in scholarships. That assists students in the district with coming to Rend Lake College, however in some cases, it meant the difference in whether a student would go to college or not. I think that is an amazing statement and the work that Mark has done with the Foundation – his dedication and absolute tenacity in demanding the very best – has been so important for our growth. ... We hope he keeps promoting the Foundation because he is our best promoter in the community.”
Kern said he “took the ‘I’ out of his vocabulary a long time ago” and that he is no more important than anyone else in the success the college has realized over the years. He recognized a number of individuals who came to his party and thanked them for their roles in RLC’s accomplishments.
“I want to say that I appreciate everyone who came,” he said. “It is very humbling to look out and see this many people.”