50 Influencers: Silas Echols, the man with a vision

INA, IL (Jan. 3, 2016) - As Rend Lake College nears its 50th anniversary, we take a moment to look back at 50 influencers who helped shape the face of campus. The list is comprised of pioneers, visionaries, leaders and innovators who dedicated their time and energy to make RLC the nationally-ranked, life-changing institution it is today. Our 50 are just a small sampling of thousands who have left a mark on Rend Lake College.

Our first influencer was never an employee of the college. He didn’t serve on the board or teach classes. He simply expressed his progressive vision for a junior college in Mt. Vernon.

Silas Echols was born on September 8, 1879 in McLeansboro. The son of Richard Griffey Echols and Elizabeth (Tolley) Echols grew up to become a man who has some of the deepest roots in the entire Jefferson County education community and one of the earliest advocates for higher education in the area.

Echols was the second principal of Mt. Vernon Township High School, taking over for retiring James M. Dickson in 1915. He was one of the six original instructors when the school was finished in 1905. He retired in 1947, after 42 total years with the school.

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In 1955, Echols’ dream of growing the academic offerings of the area by building a junior college on the campus of MVTHS took its first steps to becoming a reality. The Illinois General Assembly passed an appropriation bill allocating $100 in funding for each full-time junior college student. On Oct. 29, 1955, the citizens of the district voted a 17.5 cent tax rate to support the establishment and operations of a community college. Out of the 2,288 acceptable ballots, only 88 were against the proposition. It was a landslide victory and Mt. Vernon Community College was born. 

Less than a year later — Sept. 5, 1956 — Echols finally got his wish as the college first opened its doors. Enrollment was 199 students — 96 full-time and 103 part-time. Of course, this newly formed Mt. Vernon Community College would eventually move off of MVTHS’s campus and relocate to Ina as Rend Lake College. The move better served District #521 as a whole after enrollment continued to climb from Mt. Vernon and other communities.

Echols and his wife Mary Kate sponsored a scholarship, available to graduates of MVTHS who attended the new community college.

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