INA, Ill. (Jan. 24, 2014) – This month marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of George Cybulski Sr., an 82-year-old man who impacted the lives of many students and staff at Rend Lake College when he decided to go back to school. Though his time at RLC was short, his legacy still stands in the form of the George Cybulski Memorial Scholarship.
In the words of a former-student, Cybulski was “living proof that it is never too late to go to college.” On campus, he became a role model for students while obtaining his GED at 79 years old and working toward an associate degree until his death. And he did it all with style, attending campus activities and hanging out with students not half his age. To one local newspaper reporter, he jokingly said, “I expect to do well, especially in history class.”
Born in 1921, the Great Depression affected Cybulski’s education when he dropped out of high school to work and take care of his family. His son, Dr. George R. Cybulski, said it was always one of his father’s goals to return to school and finish what he started.
“He always told me he wanted to get a college education,” said Cybulski. “My father grew up in the Great Depression and he wasn’t able to complete high school because he had to help feed his family. When my mother passed away after a long illness, he started working on that goal by getting his GED and enrolling at Rend Lake College. He always thought highly of education. It was one of his basic philosophies of life. It was him and my mother who always supported my dreams of becoming a doctor.”
Dr. Cybulski is currently serving as Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and as a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation. He is also a 1971 graduate of Benton Consolidated High School.
“My father would tell me about the different classes he was taking and the professors he had,” said Cybulski. “He and I shared a lot of that through his experiences. I actually went with him to Rend Lake a few times, and he’d introduce me to everyone he knew. He was very involved in the STARS program, so he took me to their office and I met everyone there too. They were all wonderful people who really helped him and other students. He enjoyed the atmosphere and the environment at Rend Lake College.”
Cybulski Sr., originally from Chicago, moved to Benton where he was a manager at various dress factories for more than 30 years. He also served in the U.S. Army, worked as Benton water commissioner for many years, and played an active role in the community. His son says his outgoing and warm personality didn’t just blossom at RLC, but was apparent throughout his life.
“He had a very optimistic outlook on life,” said Cybulski. “He encouraged people to realize their dreams and go after them. That was another of his basic principles in life. His goal was to move on to Southern Illinois University. Sadly, he wasn’t able to do that, but he was immersed in getting his education. He had a wonderful time at Rend Lake College.”
After his father’s death, Cybulski followed in his father’s footsteps by establishing the memorial scholarship and helping aspiring students reach their goals.
“I think Rend Lake College is a wonderful place and a great environment. When my father passed away, I wanted to do something to recognize his memory and his great experiences there, and to help other students,” said Cybulski. “It’s shortly coming up on 10 years now as the first person to receive a scholarship was in 2005.”
RLC Foundation CEO Shawna Manion added the scholarship continuously helps students reach toward their dreams, something that Cybulski Sr. always encouraged.
“Dr. Cybulski’s scholarship in honor of his father is exactly what we strive for. It is a way for his family, his friends, students, and instructors impacted by Mr. Cybulski at RLC to remember him fondly,” said Manion. “I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cybulski, but I’m confident that the scholarship that has been developed in his memory helping students achieve what he thought was so important, education, would put a smile on his face.”
A number of RLC current and former staff members wrote down their memories of Cybulski during his time on campus.
Julie Mumbower, former Director of the STARS program, said, “He inspired us and made us look at the joy of life with a smile and a song in our hearts.”
RLC Theater Professor Tracey Webb added, “For someone so close to the end of his life, his star burned brighter than other students a quarter of his age. His verve and zest, his drive to get a college education left a life-long impression on me. Instead of waiting for his time to run out, he ran after his dreams, and I wish more people loved being alive as much as he did.”