INA, Ill. (May 27, 2017) - Doug Leeck is still a name that brings a wellspring of emotion to people around Rend Lake College to this day, 20 years after his untimely passing. His memory invokes looks of pride, wry smiles and profound sadness for a man who loved his students but left us all too soon.
Leeck, an Opdyke resident, started his journey with the college as a student, graduating with an Associate of Arts Degree in 1972, studying under former RLC President (and future colleague and friend) Mark Kern.
He went on to earn a B.S. in Ag Education from SIUC and returned to Rend Lake College to teach Welding and Hydraulics from 1975-78. He joined the AAA (Agriculture, Architecture and Automotive) faculty as an Ag Mechanics and Ag Occupations Instructor in 1978. He also was responsible for overseeing students involved in Supervised Occupational Experience classes. Leeck assumed the AAA Department Chair position July 1, 1996, administering six programs and specialized Country Companies training.
Leeck was part of the team that helped the college’s Automotive Technology Program receive a master’s certification from the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. At the time, RLC was one of just three schools, and the lone community college, in downstate Illinois to receive the honor.
Outside of RLC, Leeck’s larger-than-life personality saw him make a positive impact in several community endeavors as well. At one point or another, he was involved with Mt. Vernon Township High School Board; Jefferson County Fire Protection District Board; the Masons, Shriners and several other fraternal organizations, and such groups as the Association of Diesel Specialists and the Southern Illinois University Alumni Association (lifetime member), in all of which he was an active participant.
Tragically, Leeck died suddenly of a heart attack on March 6, 1997, less than a year after assuming the AAA Department Chair position. He was only 45 years old.
In the annals of RLC history, Leeck (also known as the soothsayer Karnack the Ag-nificent) is remembered for his biting wit and sense of humor almost as much as the impact that he made in his department as well as on his students lives, and that’s saying something. An estimated 1,200 mourners, many of which were former students, came to the funeral home in a show of love and respect for the fun-loving jokester and serious-minded educator.
A piece written at the time of Leeck’s passing reads, “Friend and foe alike are not going to feel the zing of his biting sense of humor. And the number of jokes told on campus will no doubt be reduced significantly … Most noticeable among those who shared in the family’s grief – and that of the RLC family – were the many students past and present among the visitation guests – several proudly wore their blue Agri-Achiever jackets.
“Nobody made them come. Their beloved instructor was not going to mark them absent. There was no extra-credit attached to this field trip. But, their presence spoke volumes for the impact Doug Leeck had made on their lives. Farm families, in particular, are like that, and his students looked up to Leeck as a fun-loving friend and as a father figure who likewise earned their respect.
“They always knew they could count on Doug Leeck.”
Leeck’s legacy lives on though. His son, Henry “Buster” Leeck, who is not only a RLC graduate (Class of 2000), returned to Ina to teach History as a professor in 2004. Buster now acts as the college’s Dean of the Liberal Arts Division and is a consistent force for good in the lives of RLC students.
In addition, the Leeck family, and friends of the family, have also been incredibly generous in their giving, setting up the Doug Leeck Memorial Scholarship through the Rend Lake College Foundation to ensure future generations have a shot at receiving and education.
To memorialize their connection, Kern purchased a brick during the RLC Clocktower building project, using the stone to commemorate his former student, colleague and friend. Kern also unveiled a commemorative plaque to honor Leeck that now hangs in the Agriculture Program facilities.
In one final gesture to his dedication to students, the Agricultural Program’s Doug Leeck Service Award is presented annually to individuals who go above and beyond to provide exceptional service to students.
And, it wasn’t a single RLC leader that Leeck influenced. Current President Terry Wilkerson also shared a close connection with Leeck. A fellow product of RLC’s Agriculture Program, Wilkerson studied under Leeck and considered him friend and mentor.
“Doug had a way about him that made education meaningful and fun,” Wilkerson said. “There was never a question about where Doug’s priorities lied … with Rend Lake College students first. Everything else was a distant second.”
In addition to his role at the college, Leeck also co-owned and managed D and L Farms in Valmeyer; he was the owner-operator of Leeck Farms, Opdyke; owner-manager of Leeck Equipment, and a sales representative for Pioneer Hi-bred International seed. He was secretary-treasurer for the Opdyke Cemetery Association and vice president of Dodds Pendleton Coal Association.
The final line of the press release announcing Leeck’s passing holds just as true today as it did back then: “Seriously, Doug, a lot of people – especially your students – are really going to miss you.”