INA – Every Rend Lake College student has been inside the Dr. Allen Y. Baker Administration Building – one of only two buildings on campus to be named after an individual. Whether they are there to request a transcript, pay their bill or visit the counseling or financial aid departments, students have passed by his name many times. As of Friday, they have 100,000 more reasons to remember it.
Dr. Baker took the commencement stage Friday night and announced that he and his wife, Stella, are establishing the Dr. Allen Y. Baker and Stella Baker Scholarship Fund. They were the only two who knew.
“This morning, at 11:30, I called Fidelity Investment Company,” he told an unaware crowd – the largest in RLC commencement history. “I directed them on behalf of my wife and myself to give a gift of $100,000 to Rend Lake College.”
The audience erupted in applause that grew to a standing ovation as RLC President Mark Kern walked up to Dr. Baker, shook his hand, and thanked him.
Baker was a member of the founding Board of Trustees for the college. He and six other local leaders stood together on March 27, 1969 and broke ground in a cornfield that would later become a college. He named each one of his fellow Board members who were there that day on the 300-acre, Jones family farm, located on the eastern shore of scenic Rend Lake. They were Carlton Apple of Enfield, Mel Farlow of McLeansboro, Harry Irwin of Wayne City, Dr. Curtis Parker of Mt. Vernon, Holland Simmons of Benton and Forrest Stewart of Dix.
“I’m sure that each of us had vision, ambition and anticipation of what would happen at Rend Lake College,” Baker said of that day.
He served on the founding RLC Board of Trustees from 1968-78 and was its chairman from 1970-74. Prior to that, he served on the steering and executive committees for Perry County and was instrumental in Pinckneyville becoming a part of the RLC district. He was also a key component in holding an election where voters decided by an overwhelming eight to one margin to establish the college.
Baker was involved in site selection and hiring the first president – one of three RLC presidents he would be involved in hiring. He helped select an architect and pass a bond issuance for $3.1 million – the local share of constructing the original campus.
He helped develop the college’s master plan and surely watched with pride as it became the first college in the state to complete all three phases of its master plan.
He served as RLC’s representative to the Illinois Community College Trustees Association and served two terms as that organization’s chairman. As part of the ICCTA, Baker founded and successfully fought to establish equalization funding, which is the funding life force for RLC, since it is in an area with low assessed valuation. The mechanism also keeps college affordable for students.
“This year’s equalization funding amounted to $1.4 million to RLC,” President Kern said. “Without this funding, our tuition rate would be $51 dollars higher than it is.”
After a decade of service on the RLC Board, Baker decided to step down. He was chosen to be a member of the Illinois State Scholarship Commission – now the Illinois Student Assistance Commission – and served in that capacity for 13 years under Governors Thompson and Edgar.
The Bakers will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on June 11 – one day before his birthday. On Friday, the former Pinckneyville couple who now reside in Florida received a complete tour of the RLC campus from Kern and his wife, RLC Foundation Chief Executive Officer Pat Kern. It had been 17 years since his last visit.
“In the time that has elapsed since I first sat up here with the first graduating class, tremendous things have happened on this campus,” Dr. Baker told the graduates. “... I think we can all be justifiably proud. If I can wish anything for this graduating class, I would wish that their realization in the years to come exceeds their expectations as much as what I have seen today. ... I hope that your ambitions are exceeded as much as my ambition that I had 40 years ago in that cornfield has been exceeded by what I saw today.”
He recognized the Boards of Trustees throughout the years whose members have served without compensation. He also recognized the faculty, students, and all the RLC presidents – from Jim Snyder to Kern, who is retiring June 30.
“In the 40 years that this college has existed, it has touched the lives of about 1,500,000 people, which is about 15 times the population of the Rend Lake College district,” Dr. Baker explained.
Once the standing ovation had settled and the applause died down, he concluded with, “Thank you very much. That made it all worthwhile. We sincerely hope – Stella and I – after having the pleasure of watching our two children proceed in life very successfully, ... that our grant to the college will enable some students to achieve their wonderful goals in life.”
According to Pat Kern, this is one of the largest student scholarship endowments the college has received and is by far the largest for the Pinckneyville area. The scholarship is earmarked for a male and female graduate of Pinckneyville Community High School who have maintained at least a C+ average through their junior and senior years and have enrolled in a baccalaureate-transfer or health-related program at RLC. The female student will receive the Stella Baker Scholarship and the male will be awarded the Allen Y. Baker Scholarship.
Pat Kern said the annual earnings generated on the $100,000 gift will go toward funding the scholarship recipient’s tuition and fees to RLC. She said it should mean a full-ride to RLC for each recipient and added that ACT and SAT scores, along with community service and participation in school activities, will influence consideration for the scholarship. Kern added that scholarship recipients must maintain at least a B average in their freshman year at RLC to get priority for the scholarship their sophomore year.
Sitting in his home in Clearwater, Fla., the 86-year-old Dr. Baker said he wanted to announce the scholarship before President Kern retires in late June. He said he has watched Kern develop from a 20-something agricultural instructor to president.
“We are getting up there in years,” Baker said. “One day, Stella looked at me and said, ‘Are we going to do this thing?’
So, after years of service to country, community, the college, and mankind in general – Dr. Baker’s decision was to give even more.
“It’s payback time,” he said. “The people of Pinckneyville were so good to me over the 48 years that I practiced there. I wanted to repay those who trusted me with their vision care and enabled us to enjoy the wonderful life we have today. I appreciate that and if I can do something for Pinckneyville by helping people to go to school, then it is a very, very useful expenditure of my funds. I couldn’t ask for better.”