This year, Rend Lake College celebrates 40 years of service to the residents, businesses and communities in its district.
“40 years ago, when Rend Lake College was established, most people saw it as a place where students could receive the first two years of a four-year degree,” said RLC President Mark S. Kern. ”The college has performed this function very well. Many people received a college education when otherwise, for several reasons, they would not have left home and entered a four-year program.
“However, over the last 40 years, the college has done much, much more than simply serve as the first two years of a four-year degree,” he added.
Kern said the college’s community outreach has gone and will continue to go beyond the traditional student. He mentioned vocational programs leading to employment after one to two years of training, adult education for individuals seeking a high school diploma, custom-designed workforce education training programs for those in the district, retraining for displaced workers, educational programming for retired persons, hobby and leisure opportunities for adults, and programs such as specialized summer camps for students in high school, grade school and preschool.
Looking back, it has been a progressive 40 years at RLC. But, before there was Rend Lake College, there was Mt. Vernon Community College, established in 1955.
On Oct. 22, 1966 - shortly after the Master Plan for Higher Education in Illinois was created - voters of the eight-county Rend Lake College District approved the establishment of Rend Lake College by an overwhelming 8 to 1 margin. A new board was elected in December and by July 1, 1967, the college assumed all assets, liabilities and responsibilities of Mt. Vernon Community College.
Dr. James M. Snyder became the first RLC President on May 16, 1967. That November, voters approved a $3.1 million bond issuance to cover the local share of the $9.1 million construction cost for a new campus on a 350-acre tract of land near Ina. The Illinois Community College Board allocated $2.23 million for initial phase construction.
In July, 1968, Agriculture was approved as the first new vocational program. Groundbreaking ceremonies for Phase I construction were held on March 27, 1969 - the same day the college received word of its first North Central accreditation. The Phase I five buildings – Academic, Science, Gymnasium, South Oasis and Maintenance – were complete and ready for occupancy by August, 1970.
Fall semester, 1970, was the first semester that classes were held on the new campus. The next spring, RLC officials were permitted to combine Phase II and Phase III plans and went ahead with the construction of five more buildings – Administration, Vocational, North Oasis, Student Center and Learning Resource Center.
In 1971, after five years with no tuition, $2.50 per credit hour was charged to students. By July, 1973, Phase II buildings were occupied and construction of Administration and Vocational buildings was complete by that September. The next year, a Stran-Steel building was constructed next to Maintenance to house the Mining Technology program. Three separate expansions later occurred to this facility, along with construction of a new Maintenance Building.
Phase II and III construction was complete by 1975 as Rend Lake College became the first community college in the state to have completed its entire facilities Master Plan. Also that year, Dr. W. Travis Martin replaced Dr. Snyder as RLC President.
In 1976, an ICCB follow-up study of the Class of 1973 showed that RLC students who transferred to senior institutions earned a 3.0 Grade Point Average, which was the highest out of 49 two-year colleges in the state.
In August, 1978, Dr. Harry J. Braun assumed Presidency. That same year, current RLC President, Mark S. Kern, was named Dean of Instruction.
In October, 1979, the not-for-profit RLC Foundation was reactivated to help promote and maintain educational, scientific and cultural endeavors on the behalf of Rend Lake College. Its members are charitable men and women who contribute their time and talents in support of RLC and its students.
1980 brought with it the awarding of the first “President’s Scholarships” to 19 scholars among the top 10 percent of recent high school graduating classes throughout the district at that time.
Thirteen-year-old bonds - paid in full - which represented the $3.1 million local share of the $9.5 million construction cost for original college buildings, were burned prior to a Board of Trustees meeting in 1981. Taxpayers received a reduction in property tax assessed valuations for their commitment and support.
In 1982, RLC was one of three community colleges in the nation to be recognized as a Business/Industry Award-winner during the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges annual convention in St. Louis. The award was for “exemplary cooperation” with local coal mines.
The RLC Business Resource and Assistance Center was started in 1983..
In 1984, tuition was increased from $15 to $18 per semester hour of credit.
The number of credit students served by 1985 was 7,419.
In 1986, the college celebrated its 20th Anniversary during the Foundation Annual Dinner.
RLC received the maximum 10-year accreditation from North Central Association in 1988.
A new automotive wing was added to the Vocational Building in 1989 and in 1990 a new satellite dish was installed to allow RLC to offer live teleconferences.
A year later, in July, the college was awarded a four-year, $1.5 million “Strengthening Institutions” Title III Grant from the federal government to improve a Management Information System (MIS), computerize Skills Center curricula and bolster outside fund-raising capabilities. That September, Mark S. Kern was named the fifth, full-time President of RLC.
Five, 25-year faculty members were saluted in 1992. They were Gela Goin, Georgine Hawley, Dr. Barbara Luchsinger, Shirley McHaney and Jim Waugh.
In October, 1993, RLC shared in a million-dollar Distance Learning Grant for the Southern Illinois consortium. One year later, the birth of a two-year capital campaign coined “Generations of Excellence” was spearheaded by local businessman Sam Mateer.
Funding was acquired for the Aquatics Center through grants and the RLC Foundation in 1996 and in December of 1997, the Foundation announced that funding of $363,000 was raised for a campus daycare center.
1998 was a busy year as the Aquatics Center opened on campus in February, the Institute for Learning in Retirement (now the Institute of Lifelong Learning) was born in July, and the Children’s Center opened its doors in October. It was later renamed the Rend Lake College Foundation Children’s Center.
The Administration Building underwent major renovations in 1999, effectively doubling its size. The remodeling was finished the next year. Also in ’99, the Foundation announced in December the acquisition of a $363,000 William Wood Trust. Additionally, a gift of mineral rights, valued at $246,530, was gifted to the RLC Foundation by Dr. and Mrs. Warren Petty and Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Shell.
With a new millennium came new ground for RLC as officials gathered with community leaders to begin construction of a satellite campus in Pinckneyville. By October, the Pinckneyville Center had become the Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus.
In October of 2001, RLC employees launched a campaign to raise money for a clock tower on campus. The campaign was complete within three weeks with 165 bricks sold. In December, the clock tower was named the Rend Lake College Staff Clock Tower. Also in December, real estate north of the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn, worth $505,900, was gifted to the RLC Foundation.
In 2002, the Rend Lake College MarketPlace opened its doors in Mt. Vernon after college officials acquired a bankrupt outlet mall on the verge of becoming an eyesore in the college district’s largest community. In February of that year, the Foundation Board approved Phase I construction of the Hitting Zone. Eight months later, the sports training facility opened its doors to the public. On Aug. 14, 2002, the RLC Foundation hosted an open house at the Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus. On Sept. 15, 2002, a Clock Tower Celebration was held on campus for RLC employees and their families.
On June 20, 2003, St. Mary’s Good Samaritan established their loan forgiveness program to provide financial assistance to future students pursing careers in the healthcare industry. A year later, in December, RLC Foundation officials announced that lead gifts for the Title III matching endowment were from First Cellular of Southern Illinois, Walgreen’s Distribution Center in Mt. Vernon and Anheuser Busch Distribution Center in Mt. Vernon.
In April, 2005, RLC passed a memorial resolution recognizing RLC Board Member Richard Rubenacker. In May, the RLC Foundation Children’s Center was expanded and in early July, RLC and Continental Tire North America joined forces to create a training center for the benefit of the employees of the Mt. Vernon plant.
That fall, the Applied Science Center opened on the southwest corner of campus. The 22,300-square-feet facility houses programs in Agricultural Business, Agricultural Mechanics, Agricultural Production, Heavy Equipment Technology and Diesel Technology. Also that fall, the Annual RLC Foundation Golf Tournament turned 25 and the Foundation received a planned gift of $508,000 in farmland from faculty retiree, the late Dr. Barbara Luchsinger.
In October, 2006, an auditing firm reported RLC Foundation assets had reached $4.2 million and a Title III Campaign of matching donations reached 75 percent of the donation goal in only two years of the five-year campaign.
The Walls of Fame and Honor were built on campus. Championed by the RLC Foundation, the project aims to honor the achievements of past, current and future RLC student-athletes, faculty and staff award winners.
Also last year, RLC was named the fastest growing college of its size in the nation by Community College Week. The men’s cross country team won a national championship at the Division I level, wrestling and forensics teams were started and the college revived its coal miner training program to meet an expected resurgence of the industry in Illinois,
This year, an expansion doubling the on-campus Hitting Zone created the new RLC Sports Center. “Get Smart” was the final RLC Theatre production to be held in the theater’s original design as the RLC Board of Trustees with support from college officials, the RLC Foundation, its Board of Directors and the public approved to begin construction of a new and improved theater. The college created an acclaimed Emerging Leaders Institute to train its own employees for future leadership of the college. The Laker Girls won a National Dance Association Title, Rend Lake College became the site of an Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals mine rescue competition, a new RLC Foundation Pre-K Center opened at the RLC MarketPlace in Mt. Vernon and the college was selected to participate in The Big Read – the largest push for literacy in U. S. history.
On Aug. 20, RLC teamed with Southern Illinois University - Carbondale and Continental Tire North America to bring Continental University to the workers of the Mt. Vernon plant.
Also this year, a state-of-the-art Radiologic Technology program and a cutting-edge facility to house it were introduced, the college hosted the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships where RLC won the individual championship in both races, and RLC rated the highest of all Illinois community colleges with full-time equivalency increases.
“Looking forward to the next 40 years, we are in an era of rapid change,” Kern said. “It has been said that the best employment opportunities 10 years from now are positions that do not exist today. The college will have to continue monitoring these changes and eliminate obsolete programs while adding new opportunities.”