INA, Ill. (May 28, 2014) – If you ask anyone who knew her, they’d say Andrea Bradley was a kind-hearted, hard-working student who was bound for great things, but a tragic accident in October of 1991 put a halt on her plans of continuing her education. After her death in 1992, the Andrea Bradley Memorial Scholarship was established by her mother Shirley, and it continues to help RLC students more than 20 years later.
Andrea was born and raised in Sesser, graduating from high school in 1989. As an adolescent, she sold weekly newspapers, babysat, and worked at local restaurants to save money for her first car. For her mother, getting Andrea into college for a higher education degree was a must.
“Andrea knew early that she would have to work to have extra things,” said Shirley Bradley. “At the end of her high school years, she was given a $200 scholarship from a Beta Sigma Phi sorority, and I remember how happy she was. She swore when she completed college, she would return with a scholarship for one in need, such as herself. It was one thing she wanted, so I knew I had to do it after she passed.”
As an accounting major at RLC, Andrea also worked full-time between three jobs, including as a student worker, in a restaurant, and cleaning in a local garment factory. On campus, she was a student worker for Mary Roe and Cindy Corn.
Roe worked as the Special Populations Coordinator, doing bookkeeping in the Vocational Building. Roe said Andrea was one of the best and hardest-working students she’d ever had in her office.
“I remember she was a very goal-driven person who kept her focus on what she wanted,” said Roe. “Andrea was definitely a first-generation college student who was a hard worker and who did everything with a smile. It meant everything to her to come to Rend Lake College. I visited her when she was in the hospital after the accident, and I just remember being so sad. She had so much potential and it was a life lost too young. She had Christian values, and she didn’t just know them, she lived by them. She was a joy to be around.”
Shirley Bradley agreed with Roe, adding that Andrea really felt at home when she came to college. At RLC, she bloomed into the young woman everyone grew to care for.
“When she came to RLC, everyone there treated her like her, not for what she didn’t have,” said Bradley. “She was always happy here. I’m blessed to be able to give this scholarship from my heart to help somebody who needs it, like Andrea did.”
Corn, who then worked full-time in the Fitness Center, added, “Andrea was such a good worker. She was very quiet and a kind soul and great heart. It was one of the saddest things I’ve been through as far as losing one of my students.”
Also during her time at RLC, Andrea served as the president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and as the treasurer of Human Resource. She graduated in 1991 and moved on to attend Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) as a business management major.
Shortly after starting school at SIUC, she was involved in a car accident that resulted in brain damage and a coma that lasted eight months before she passed on May 13, 1992. Despite her loss, Shirley Bradley said she is at peace with what happened, though she will always remember Andrea’s last message.
“I sometimes think about Andrea’s first car. She paid cash for it and she was so proud of it. Her license plates were ALB 89 – her initials and the year she graduated from Sesser High School,” said Bradley. “After Andrea died, I came home one night with a friend, and she saw the license plate and said, ‘Angels Live Beyond.’ I thought that was exactly it, but I wondered what the 89 stood for. A few weeks later it came to me – eight months and nine days in a coma. She passed on her message to me that she lives on in the scholarship we have made for her at RLC.”
The Andrea Bradley Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually to a traditional student who shows need and who is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Last year, the scholarship was awarded to Hannah Herzing of Waltonville.
“This scholarship was a fantastic way for me to enhance my education. It greatly helped me financially, giving me the ability to take classes that would benefit me in the long run,” said Herzing. “This scholarship was a gift to my future that I am so thankful for. Receiving this scholarship gives me confidence in my work and motivates me to continue on my education and pursue my future endeavors.”
While at RLC, Herzing followed in Andrea’s footsteps as a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Herzing said the scholarship has shown her how the generosity of one can help many.
“I feel that Andrea’s generosity to give back is inspiring and motivates me to get involved in my community. I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and it is a great organization that pushes students to give their all in their education and maintain a strong work ethic,” said Herzing.
After more than 20 years of scholarship recipients, Shirley Bradley said the best moments are when previous students stop in at her workplace to say hello or just catch up.
“Some of the students who received that scholarship still stop in and see me at work,” said Bradley. “It’s like a complete circle to see them and hear them say how the scholarship helped them. I drive my car with Andrea’s license plate on it, so they always know it’s me. I’m so happy to tell them about it every time they ask. I also have to thank Ellyn Messersmith for her contribution to help make the Andrea Bradley Memorial Scholarship Fund what we have today.”
Messersmith was a friend of Andrea’s who identified with her because of their background in working hard and attending school on scholarship. Every year, she matches Shirley Bradley’s donation to the scholarship fund.
“I think Andrea was one of those kids who was always told they couldn’t go to college unless they found a way, and she did,” said Messersmith. “I always had a connection with her that way. I tell kids all the time that it doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s about how badly you want it. She was the kindest young lady I had been around in a long time. Her number one thing was always to include other people, especially her mother, and she would’ve been a positive member of society. She had such a view of the needs in the world, especially at such a young age. Andrea was such a special person.”
RLC Foundation CEO Shawna Manion added it’s the generosity of people like Shirley Bradley and Ellyn Messersmith that keep students motivated toward coming to college and achieving their dreams.
“The Rend Lake College Foundation can never express how awe-inspiring it is to see family members and friends step up in a time of personal crisis to help others. For Shirley especially, she continues to give out of the kindness of her heart despite the hardship that she experienced when she lost her daughter,” said Manion. “Every little bit helps the students at Rend Lake College, and we appreciate her donation for the difference it makes in the lives of the students who receive it.”