50 Influencers: Dr. James M. Snyder, RLC's First President

INA, Ill. (Jan. 22, 2016) - On May 16 of 1967, Rend Lake College’s newly founded Board tapped Dr. James M. Snyder of Maricopa County Junior College District in Phoenix, Ariz., as the first-ever President of RLC. He assumed his duties on July 1 of that same year. He retired from the office in 1975, guiding the institution from birth to firm footing.

James SnyderWDr. James M. Snyder

His first contract was a three-year deal with an annual salary of $22,000.

Shortly after Dr. Snyder's arrival on campus, he began to work with both the Board and with fellow administrators to select an architect, to prepare a master plan, and to develop materials for a bond issue capable of supplying the college’s share for building purposes. By Aug. 26, 1967, Caudill, Rowlett, and Scott of Houston, Texas, had been selected as architects, and Fields, Goldman, and Magee of Mt. Vernon, Ill., as associate architects. The bond issue for $3,100,000 was approved Nov. 18, 1967. The master plan for the campus was approved by the Board of Trustees of District #521 on Nov. 21, 1968; and by the Board of Higher Education, May 1968. On June 22, as a result of a friendly suit, Judge Alvin Lacy Williams ruled that District #521 was a legally-established district, according to Rawlinson’s book, The First Fifteen Years.

Snyder earned his Ed. D. at the University of Cincinnati, but he began his education at the junior college level, starting out at Sinclair Junior College (he later became vice-president of that institution). Rend Lake College also wasn’t Snyder’s first crack at being a brand-new man in the head office. Before coming to Ina, Snyder also served as the very first president of Daytona Beach Junior College at Daytona Beach, Fla. He eventually left that position, transitioned to Arizona and then found his way to Southern Illinois.

He established the President’s Council where all administrators, representatives of the faculty and representatives from the student body could communicate and share ideas.

Dr. Curtis A. Parker of Mt. Vernon was the first chairman of the Rend Lake College Board of Trustees. Interviews for the presidency were conducted in the Parker home. Snyder, according to Parker, was selected based on his background in administration and construction projects. There were 64 applicants for the positon. The committee also liked his quiet manner, recalled Parker, who still believes “Dr. Snyder was the best person for the position.”

His motto was “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

By the time of his retirement, Snyder had taken a college of about 700 students, inherited in part from Mt. Vernon Community College with Mt. Vernon-area students, to a district-wide student body comprised of about 1,600 students.

“Our world is a very complex one, and each of us as individuals are quite complex in our own individual makeup. The process of trying to understand and to cope with all these complexities, in my opinion, is what we call education. It is a self-perpetuating and never-ending process throughout life,” Snyder told the incoming class of 1972.

“I would hope that in 30-40 years from now each of you might be able to point to someone on the faculty or staff at Rend Lake College and say that individual was the greatest teacher I ever knew. That teacher helped me get started on this self-perpetuating lifelong process known as education. This is our goal – to have the greatest teachers and the greatest educational institution that our resources can provide.”

Dr. Howard D. Rawlinson's book, The First Fifteen Years,is available to the public via Rend Lake College's website. His book, along with many other pieces of our printed history, may be found at https://www.rlc.edu/student-services/111-learning-resource-center/12078-rlc-archives.

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