INA, Ill. (Dec. 16, 2017) - The 50 Influencer series launched with the pioneers that molded the vision of a local community college into the reality that became Rend Lake College.
So, it feels only fitting that the series concludes with a look at those who are currently maintaining the legacy that was established by their forefathers five decades ago.
Over the course of 50 years, dozens of local men and women have been elected to the RLC Board of Trustees, serving the institution and its students to the best of their ability. As many of those first Influencer stories focused on the founding board members, it felt appropriate to culminate the list with the college’s current trustees.
“I am proud to work alongside this board to set the tone of a better tomorrow for our institution, its students and our community,” said RLC President Terry Wilkerson.
Randy Rubenacker was named the new chairman of the Rend Lake College Board of Trustees in 2017.
A six-year veteran of the RLC Board before that, Rubenacker said he is pleased with the college's current direction despite challenges with state funding.
“I think the college needs to stay on the track that it's on,” Rubenacker expressed during his appointment to chair. “With the issues we have with the state, I think this board has been very practical and pragmatic and frugal. We've held the expenses down pretty well and I think we just need to continue that course until something changes.”
But, Rubenacker’s experience with RLC extends far beyond his time on the board.
As a sophomore in 1978, the 20-year-old, soon-to-be graduate was the second student in RLC history to receive the college’s Outstanding Agriculture Student of the Year Award. His younger brother Terry followed suit by earning the same honor in 1985.
He also carries a family legacy of involvement with the institution and the Rend Lake College Foundation. In 2005 Randy was selected to succeed his late father, Richard Rubenacker, on the RLC Foundation Board of Directors.
“I give a lot of credit to my father and mother,” Randy Rubenacker said. “They were very proud of Rend Lake College and all that it does for the area, and they made sure that we all used it. They had a lot of influence on what success my brothers and I have had.”
“I think both of my brothers – Rodney and Terry – felt the same way. We all went to Rend Lake College, got our degrees in Ag Production and started farming. He (Richard) was always good about giving us advice but letting us help make decisions.”
Randy also notched Alumnus of the Year designation in 2008, becoming the institution’s 27th alum to earn the accolade.
“It is quite an honor,” he said. “I’ve been to several of the annual dinners and you see who usually gets it ... it is a pretty impressive crowd. It is an honor and a humbling experience. I really appreciate the consideration.”
Rubenacker and his wife, Debbie, live in Dahlgren. She is also a RLC graduate.
Randy’s mother- and father-in-law, Victor and Betty Rapp, were conferred honorary degrees by the college after all eight of their children graduated from Rend Lake.
Rubenacker is Owner-Manager of Rubenacker Farms Partnership, a row crop farm operation since 1987. He also serves as President of Prairie Tile Systems, Inc. and Rubenacker Farms, Inc., and is President of 4R Corporation, a farm implement dealership which dates to 1987.
He has served as a member of the Hamilton County Board, Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District Director, State Fair Advisory Board, Haw Creek Drainage District Commissioner, Southeastern Illinois Regional Planning and Development Commissioner and a Hamilton County Economic Development Commissioner.
Larry Manning, owner and operator of a 3,000-acre family farm in Belle Rive, officially took his seat as part of the RLC Board of Directors in May of 2013. He owns the farm alongside his brother and son, Paul and Steven Manning.
He has been on the Tri-County Electric Cooperative Board for 15 years and served more than 16 years on the Bluford Grade School Board. He said one reason he chose to run for the RLC Board is that his service in Bluford was coming to an end and it was time for a change.
“I think being on the Rend Lake College Board is something new and exciting for me so I thought I’d try it,” said Manning. “I want to thank all of those who supported me in the election.”
Manning is dedicated to local youth and their education beyond high school.
“I didn’t go to college,” he said. “I didn’t think I had the time. I don’t want any more young people making the mistake I did. I think the more education the better.”
Manning’s ties to RLC span generations. His wife Debra, son Steven and daughter Mary are all RLC alumni.
Debra graduated in 1980 with an Associate in Applied Science from the nursing program.
Steven graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA from the agriculture production and management program in 2001. Steven served as RLC’s Student Trustee on the Board, and he was the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Doug Leeck Memorial, Citizen’s Scholarship of America, Bluford FFA, and Jefferson County Farm Bureau Foundation. Steven transferred to Murray State University where he earned a master’s degree.
Mary - now Mary Minor - was also an outstanding student at RLC. She graduated with dual degrees in Science and Arts in 2004, transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and now teaches at Waltonville High School.
Manning replaced retiring Board Member, and fellow Influencer, Marvin Scott - a mainstay of 35 years of service to the RLC District.
“He is a very good choice,” Scott said of his successor. “I think he will look out for the students. He’ll be a good board member. He will do his job. I think he’s a good citizen and he will have the right interests as a board member at Rend Lake College.”
First elected to a four-year term in 2011 and then re-elected to a six-year term in 2015, Mt. Vernon pharmacist and pharmacy owner Eric Black has made his presence felt in his time on the board.
Most notably for Black’s tenure so far are the three years he has served as the board of trustee chair, leading the board in that capacity from 2013-16. He currently acts as the board secretary.
He was just 31 when he ran unopposed to fill the four-year term on the RLC board vacated by Kelly Woodrow, who had been appointed the previous year. Black was elected board chair at the November 2013 meeting following the resignation of Bryan Drew.
“Although I did not study at Rend Lake College,” the Black said, “I know from many of my patients and friends, and from some of my own family, the importance of this institution to our area.”
“The Board experience has been wonderful. I appreciate the other past and present Board members who have helped me transition. I’ve enjoyed serving the community through the Board and continue to look for ways to make the college more effective and efficient.”
The President/Director of Pharmacy of The Medicine Shoppe in Mt. Vernon, aka Mt. Vernon Community Pharmacy Inc., Black is a second-generation pharmacist and pharmacy owner who was the first home-educated student ever to be accepted by St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
Dr. David Asbery
Appointed to the board in 2013, Dr. David Asbery, replaced Ed Cunningham who moved to Granite City to pursue a career opportunity.
“I think we’ve got the best person for the job,” Cunningham said of Asbery at the time.
Asbery was re-elected to the board for a six-year term during the April 2016 election.
His obstetrics and gynecology practice, Asbery and Associates, has two offices in Mt. Vernon and one in Nashville. According to the practice's website, Dr. Asbery graduated from the University of Kentucky School of Medicine in 1996, then completed his residency at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C.
A former Marine, he and his family relocated from Georgia to Illinois in 2007, and he has been providing care in Mt. Vernon and the surrounding area since.
He began his private practice through Asbery and Associates in 2010. At the time of Asbery’s appointment to the RLC Board of Trustees, his medical center boasted three doctors, a Physician’s Assistant, a Certified Nurse Midwifery and Nurse Practitioner and 15 additional staff members.
Randall Crocker is a two-time board of trustees member, having served from 1997-2009 before being reappointed to the board in 2013 to fill a vacant seat. In 2015, he was elected to an additional four-year term on the board.
“We are glad to welcome Randall back to our board. He brings plenty of experience from his earlier service, and he continues to be a strong supporter of Rend Lake College,” said President Wilkerson at the time of the appointment.
Crocker is a long-time member and chair of the Franklin County Board and owns and operates Crocker Insurance Agency in Sesser with his son Brett.
“I’m very pleased with the way the college is being run. I don’t have any specific goals in mind, but I want to support the administration, because I think they’re doing a great job,” said Crocker.
A former RLC student himself, Crocker is now tied for fourth-longest tenured trustee. He will have sat on the board for a total of 18 years when he completes his current term. Only Marvin Scott (35 years), Dr. Richard Simpson (23 years) and Dr. Allan Patton (22 years) have served longer. David Edmison also served as a trustee for 18 years.
Brian Dorris is an RLC alumnus who currently works as a project manager for Sierra Bravo Contractors and owns his own company, Dorris Trucking. Both firms are located in Sesser.
“Rend Lake's a good, small community college and I'd like to be part of the team to keep it on the right track, heading in the right direction. It's tough times in Illinois. … Funding's the major issue that I would see,” Dorris said after his election in May of 2017.
“I’ve always been interested in Rend Lake College and helping it continue to be a good community college for our area. I don’t necessarily [have expectations for the term, but] I want to keep the college on the right track.”
Dorris attended RLC from 1987-89, transferring to Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he received a Bachelor in Business Administration.
He is filling a seat left vacant in January when former board member Rick Marlow stepped down in order to return to teaching architecture at RLC on a part-time basis. For the three months in between, the seat was temporarily filled by former trustee and chair Hunt Bonan, who served on the RLC board from 1997-2009.
The 1982 “Outstanding Agriculture Student” Award recipient came full circle in 2011, when he was elected to a six-year term on the RLC Board of Trustees. In between – and ongoing – the Scheller native and Waltonville High School graduate has been an award-winning Ag and Cooperative Education Instructor for Mt. Vernon Township High School since earning his Master of Science Degree in 1985 from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Kabat was also presented with the RLC Agriculture Program Doug Leeck Service Award in 2013-14.
“I have never regretted going to Rend Lake College,” Kabat said. “I appreciated all of the hands-on experience that I acquired. I also enjoyed the experience with the land laboratory and the cooperative (on-the-job) training that I had at Pitchford Elevator. The instructors are very knowledgeable and very personable. The other students also taught me very important, practical information.”
In his first five years of teaching at MVTHS, Kabat already had been named recipient of the Jefferson County Conservation “Teacher of the Year” Award twice. In 1990, the 27-year-old educator won the first “Young Leadership Service” Award, one of two honors bestowed annually by the then newly formed Southern Illinois Agri-Business Club; the other honoree was former University of Illinois Agriculture Law Professor and Author Hank Hannah, one of the movers-and-shakers for the RLC Foundation in its early years.
He was recently honored by the high school with the John T. Kabat Greenhouse. The approximately $500,000, 30-by-70-foot greenhouse with a 30-by-50 foot attached work center facility will play a major part in the education of agriculture students in Mt. Vernon. This new facility is reported to allow an entire class inside to utilize the “state-of-the-art technology” it houses.
In addition to the individuals elected to the board by their various communities, there is an eighth trustee that sits around the table to give voice to their respective constituency as well, RLC’s student trustee.
Each student trustee is elected by their peers and fulfills the important role of representing the student body with an advisory vote during each monthly Board of Trustees meeting.
Waltonville’s Grace Pytlinski is currently seated as the 2017-18 student trustee, following in the footsteps of her older sister Claire who sat on the board during the 2015-16 school year.
Pytlinski is a sophomore double major, focusing on Agriculture Business and Production Management. At RLC, she is active in the Collegiate FFA (Future Farmers of America) and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. In February, Pytlinski was also crowned RLC’s Homecoming Queen. In her spare time, she is completing internship hours at Syngenta as a general assistant.
“I think Rend Lake is a spectacular college and I have greatly enjoyed my first year as a student. I look forward to having a chance to help the college continue to strive at its highest potential. I would also like to thank the student body for voting for me as their 2017-18 Student Trustee, and greatly look forward to getting to represent them,” Pytlinski said following her election.