50 Influencers of Rend Lake College: Board Chairman Randy Rubenacker, Leading into the future

By Reece Rutland 

INA, IL – 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.

Rend Lake College Board. Reece Rutland Rend Lake College Public Information

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.

NOTE:  Over the next few days, the board members will be featured individually.  The first will be Chairman of the Board Randy Rubenacker of Dahlgren.   -sd

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.”

Randy Rubenacker

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



Rend Lake College Alumnus of the Year: Bob Kelley

By ReAnne Palmer 

INA, IL –   It was a night of celebration and merriment at the 2017 Rend Lake College Foundation Annual Dinner with numerous surprise awards and announcements, starting with the 2017 Alumnus of the Year. The Annual Dinner was held Thursday, Dec. 7 at the Mt. Vernon Hotel & Events Center.

Kicking off the evening’s festivities was the biggest award of them all – the Alumnus of the Year honor – given to a standout alum for their dedication to the college. Because this year marks RLC’s 50th birthday, it was fitting that the Alumnus of the Year has been involved with the college for nearly as many years.

“Deciding who will receive the honors of the Alumnus of the Year is no easy task,” said RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron. “We knew it would be special for the honor to go to someone who was directly connected to the college’s 50th anniversary. In August, I listened intently during the anniversary celebration to a certain speaker who spouted off names and accomplishments. It was quite impressive. I introduced myself to the speaker afterwards and asked if he would be willing to share his speech with me.”

Kelley was honored as the 2017 Alumnus of the Year at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7. Also pictured is Zibby-Damron, LEFT, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson, RIGHT.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

She continued, “As I learned more about Bob Kelley, the decision about our Alumnus of the Year became quite evident. Not only was Bob a part of the first class to attend Rend Lake College in 1967, but he is also the unofficial college historian. There are thousands of pages, and yes, I mean thousands, filled with information about the college that has been captured, collected, and compiled by a man who truly loves Rend Lake College.”

Kelley’s ties to RLC go much deeper than just a member of the first-ever RLC freshman class. During his youth, his mother was executive secretary to Dr. Howard Rawlinson, the first dean of RLC. He is a student and graduate who then returned as Communication Director for 27 years. In his 11 years of retirement, he’s stayed connected to the college as a member of the Sports Hall of Fame Committee and writer of the RLC History Book.

“Rend Lake College has played an important role in providing a pathway to future success. In my two years as a student, 27 years as an employee, and 11 years as a retiree, there are only three years in the last 50 where I haven’t had direct ties to the college,” said Kelley, who also includes the 10 years he was on campus with his mother.

Still completely dedicated to the college and always humble, Kelley noted during his speech at the Annual Dinner that he doesn’t see himself among the top ranks of other Alumni of the Year, which include law enforcement and politicians, business owners, NASA employees, and others.

An emotional Kelley accepted his Alumnus of the Year award among a standing ovation at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

“I came to Rend Lake College in the fall of 1967, and while I’m certainly not the most-accomplished, I am a representative of the 20,000 graduates who – by my calculations – will have received degrees this May,” said Kelley. “And tonight, I am the luckiest of those graduates.”

Toward the end of his speech, an emotional Kelley expressed his utmost thanks to his family and friends in attendance, and to everyone in the room for being avid supporters of the institution he loves.

“Rend Lake College played a big part, along with family and church, in helping me get more out of my life than I deserve. There was never a day that I did not look forward to going to work surrounded by friends, colleagues, and work-related family,” said Kelley. “I could not find a finer institution anywhere that means more to me. The most heart-felt thank you to everyone here.”

Rangers escape West Frankfort with a win by the skin of their teeth

By Steve Dunford 

WEST FRANKFORT – Looking at the records, you would think the Benton Rangers would be heavily favorites in tonight’s game with the West Frakfort Redbirds.

It is Benton and West Frankfort though.  I have always said that if two stray tom cats. one from Benton and one from WF would get in a fight in 18 Bottoms, it would draw a crowd.

The only blemish on the Rangers record is an overtime loss to Anna-Jonesboro in the season opener at the Goreville Invitational.  The Redbirds came into the game with a goose egg in the win column.

The Rangers made the six-mile trip home tonight pulling out a 49-45 win over their arch rivals in a nip and tuck contest.

Keagan Thrash at the FT line for the Redbirds. He had a game high 16 points last night.

The Redbirds jump out to an early 6-0  lead. In the first play of the game, the Redbirds pound it in to Bradlee Croslin, C.J. Johnaon hits the back in of two free throws, and Keagan Thrash steps out from behind the arc to hit a 22 footer on the wing.

Benton goes on a tear from behind the arc.  Hamilton Page started it, then Cade Thomas, then Parker Williams and finally Carson Lewis to put Benton up 12-8.

The Redbirds began chipping away.  At the :24 second mark of the quarter Brett Bonenberger scored the first points in the paint to put the Rangers up at the end of the first quarter 14-11.  Bonenberger gave Coah Ron Winemiller some big minutes in the post.

In the second frame the threes keep coming Gerhig Wynn got in on the fun then Willams agian, sandwiched in between another bucket on the post by Boenberger.  At that Point the Rangers were up 23-13 and looked like they were in command.

The teams began to trade buckets and Coach Winemiller calls a time out just under the two minute mark.  He and assistant coach Wade Thomas go back into their Foxes days and burn clock the rest of the first half.  The teams go to the locker rooms with Benton up  28-23.

Benton kept a five to seven point lead thorugh most of the third quarter, then West Frankfort came with a late rally to cut it to one, and Cade Thomas hit a buzzer beater to put West Frankfort 35-33 at the end of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter both teams traded jabs.  Brett Boneberger steps out and hits a three to make it 38-35.   The Redbirds end up going up to take their first and only lead of the night on a steal from Kyle Hammers which he goes coast to coast.

Stepping up big in the fouth quarter for the Redbirds is Bradlee Croslin.  He had six of his 12 points in the final stanza.  I don’t have the rebound stats yet, but I would not be surpised if he had a double double.   Defensively, he pushed Parker Williams to get most of his ponts behind the arc.

By far it was the best game I have watched Croslin play.  “He played a tremendous game.  He is not satisfied where he is at.  He gives me maximum effort every time out.”  Redbird coach Kevin Toney said after last night’s game.

In the maroon, Gehrig Wynn was ice at the free throw line down the stretch was going 6/6, and making it a two posession game twice   “He was who we wanted there. Our four seniors (Page, Williams, Thomas as well) that have have been seeing varsity minutes since sophmores were big tonight.” Coach Winemiller siad.

“When you come in here (WF) it is always a fight.  I came down here and watched them play Eldorado, and knew we were going to have our hands full. We held Johnson to five points tonight with him averaging 18 or 19.  This is a very good 0-6 basketball team.  Coroslin and Thrash are a handful down low.”  We were up ten a couple times and they kept fighting back.” Coach Winemiller said in his post game comments.

The Rangers travel to Nashville tonight to face the 4-2 Hornets at the Assembly Hall.  Long time sucessful girls coach Wayne Harre is now at the helm of the boys’ program after Brad Weathers retired.

Nashville has been on a roll in their last three games.  They beat A-J 61-36, Waterloo Gibault 37-21 and beat Sparta 52-16 (not a misprint) last night.

The Rangers have been road warriors this week.   “We will be heading up there with our third road game this week, and all three are tough places to play.  Bultman and the Parker Brothers are loads.  I am a little concerned about our legs.” Coach Ron Winemiller said.

The kids were receptive in practice all week.  “Their effort has been there.  I could not ask for anymore.  It is a matter of correction of  basketball skills.  When we get that first one (win) it will be huge for us.”  Coach Kevin Toney said after last night’s win.

Todd Tripp’s Goreville Blackcats (4-2) are coming to Max Morris gym this evening.  Their backcourt of Peyton Massey and Braden Webb has been banged up all year.  “I don’t know whether Webb is healthy, but he makes them go.  If he is,  the dribble drive pennetration could cause us problems.”

The “sixth man: showed up big for the Redbirds tonight

It has been nearly two weeks since Goreville has played.  The gap in their schedule was great timing so they can lick their wounds.

The Redbirds had their sixth man last night.  There was a near full boisterous student section last night. They all were in their pajamas.  I said they all looked like they were going Black Friday Shopping at Walmart.  I heard several variations of the theme.

Box Score

BENTON (49)  Williams 3 2 1-2 13, Page 2 1 4-6 11, Wynn 0 1 6-6 9, Bonnenberger 2 1 0-1 7, Thomas 1 1 0-1 5,  Lewis 0 1 0-0 3, Morris 0 0 1-2 1

WEST FRANKFORT (45)  Thrash 3 3 1-2 16, Croslin 6 0 0-1 12, Hammers 4 0 1-1 9, Johnson 2 0 1-2 5, Wolfe 1 0 1-2 3, B. Russell 0 0 0-0 0, J Russell 0 0 0-0 0, Melvin 0 0 0-0 0

Score by Quarters

BENTON (7-1)(2-0)  14 – 14 – 7 – 14  –  49

WEST FRANKFORT (0-6)(0-2)  11 – 12 – 9 – 13 – 45







Sesser-Valier knocks off Christopher 74-61 in BDC West action

By Jim Muir

The Sesser-Valier Red Devils pulled off a huge win Friday night, defeating Route 148 rival Christopher 74-61.

Both teams fought to a 13-13 first quarter score and the Red Devils eked out a 31-30 halftime lead but it was a dominating third quarter run by S-V that propelled them to a Black Diamond Conference West victory. S-V outscored the Bearcats 26-14 in the decisive third stanza. Both teams played to a 17-17 standoff in the final quarter.

“Our effort was very good again tonight,” said S-V Coach Shane Garner. “We struggled a little in our offense early, but it was our defense in the second half that led to some turnovers and some easy baskets.”

S-V put three players in double figures in the contest with Lukas Gunter leading the way for S-V with 19 points. He was followed by Addison Page with 16 points and Tyler Winchester with 15 points. Rounding out the scoring for S-V was Peyton Rock with nine points, Preston Launius with eight points andJosh Gunter and Seth Boles with four points each. The Bearcats were led in scoring by sophomore Gabriel Motsinger with 16 points, one of four Christopher players who scored in double figures. Bryce Pratt added 13 points, followed by Dalton Saeger with 11 points and Daniel Flowers with 10 points. Bradley Young added nine points for Christopher and Kye Garver added two points.

The Red Devils are back in action on Tuesday, December 19 when they travel to Vienna for another BDC matchup. The Bearcats are also back in action on December 19 when they host Trico. Both games will wrap up the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule for each team. S-V and the Bearcats will participate in the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament that will run from December 26-29.


Steve’s Ramblings: The most important piece I have written


By Steve Dunford 

I about went home to be with the Lord tonight or I would have been seriously injured.  If I would have been killed, I know where my soul would spend eternity. It was a result of someone being on their cell phone.

I had my best day physically in a long time.  I had a minor bump in the road around 4:30 p.m.  I prayed Lord I want to be at Max Morris Gym tonight.  I want to be there bad.  The Lord granted my request.

The Odyssey Online image.

I was walking to Max Morris gym feeling great.  I might be weird but it creeps me out to walk by the DQ at night, sine it has been closed.

I was singing Christmas songs walking down there.  I get to Madison street.  There was an older Mercury with one headlight, that had to cross the highway without paying attention, doing about 40.

I could have opened the passenger side door it was so close.  I had to jump back to avoid my feet from getting crushed.

What came out of my mouth after that, I had to ask for repentance.  I received a coaster form Jodi Croslin (the teachers at FIS would understand) it was more than “a little.”

God reminded me of something.  I made a way for you to go cover the game tonight.  His word is true.  He is faithful.  He keeps his promises.

One thing that I will not be accused of in life is being an introvert.  No mater where I am at, I visit during the JV game.

Before the National Anthem, there was a moment of remembrance for Redbird Greg Smith, who was tragically killed in the University of Evansville basketball team plane crash in 1977.

I looked around, and half of the crowd knew me.  I began to think, what if Jim Johnson at the end of the game announced that I was tragically killed? What if Adam Rosoho announced at Christopher after a nice Sesser-Valier win that something would have happened to me?

Word spreads at a rapid pace on social media.  I could not help to think, what if my son was at the Christopher/S-V game tonight and heard it in the stands.

I also thought of someone that is very close to me.

This was a wake-up call.  I have been in a terrible funk over the last couple of weeks.  It was God’s way of showing me how many friends I have and there are a lot of people in this world who love me.

One of the things that got me, there was someone that I needed to make amends with at the game tonight.  That will happen soon.

Tonight I was so close to the vehicle to tell the individual was on Facebook Messenger. This is the fourth close call I’ve had walking.  Each time the person was texting or posting on social media.

I beg you please do not text and drive.  There is not one issue in your life that you can not pull over and have your conversation.

I did not about post this.  I felt there were too many I’s in it.

I hope the driver had a wakeup call as well.  For those who read this, I hope this made you think.

The book of James says like is like a vapor and it vanishes away.  This taught me, and I hope it makes you to consider live everyday to the fullest, to bring honor and glory to God.








Remembering the Aces: Basketball team rebuilds, cheers return

University of Evansville 1978-79 head coach Dick Walters shakes the hand of DePaul head coach Ray Meyer. DePaul beat UE 74-55.
(Photo: Courier & Press Archievs)

EVANSVILLE, IN — Dick Walters was excited to land a Division I college basketball head coaching job. Though only 28, he had shown his ability, leading College of DuPage near Chicago to high levels of success.

But the University of Evansville position in 1978 was no small challenge. The community and school were reeling from the loss of their entire team and head coach Bobby Watson in a downed airplane.

It wasn’t just another coaching vacancy.

“One of the most difficult things was dealing with the emotions of the community,” he said 40 years later. “Even more so than recruiting. When you’re a junior college coach, you rebuild every year, and I had a reputation as a great recruiter.

Please click below to read part three of this series from John Martin of the Evansville Courier & Press


MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin to be Enshrined into Missouri Sports Hall of Fame

Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner Doug Elgin is one of 15 individuals that will be included in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s Enshrinement Ceremonies of 2018 presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 28 in Springfield.

President & Executive Director Jerald Andrews announced Tuesday the Class of 2018, in which the Hall of Fame will induct 15 individuals, a sports broadcasting company, a high school football program and a parks and recreation department. The John Q. Hammons Founders Award will be bestowed on Springfield-based Independent Printing, while Rick Todd of the Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation will receive the President’s Award.

Festivities begin with an 11 a.m. reception presented by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield. The remainder of events will be held at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in downtown Springfield, with a 4 p.m. reception followed by the 5 p.m. dinner and ceremony.

Elgin is in his 30th year with the Missouri Valley Conference and is its longest-serving commissioner in its 111-year history. In the 1990s, he oversaw the league’s realignment and stabilization in Valley membership and also brought women’s sports programs under the conference’s umbrella. Elgin also established St. Louis as the long-term site for the Valley men’s basketball tournament, which in 2018 will mark its 28th year there. In the early 2000s, he led Valley men’s basketball in securing multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament, including four in 2006. Under his leadership, the Valley also has hosted 12 NCAA basketball events in St. Louis since 1998, including a men’s Final Four in 2005 and women’s Final Fours in 2001 and 2009. He previously worked for Frostburg State University, Miami-Dade Community College South, Lafayette College and the University of Virginia as well as the Sun Belt Conference. A native of Hagerstown, Maryland, he is a 1973 graduate of Lafayette College and has a master’s from Ohio University.

The Class of 2018 features:

Mike Garrett, Kansas City Chiefs running back
Lee Smith, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher
Howard Richards, University of Missouri football standout
Jim Otis, St. Louis Football Cardinals & Kansas City Chiefs running back
Martin MacDonald, Conservationist & Outdoorsman
Gary Barnett, former Mizzou player and successful college football coach
Holly Hesse, Missouri State University softball coach
Doug Elgin, Commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference
Dr. Brian Mahaffey, a doctor with the St. Louis Cardinals & a former MSU baseball standout
Christian Cantwell, Eldon native & U.S. Olympic silver medalist in the shot put
Kerensa Barr Cassis, West Plains High School & Mizzou basketball standout
Dan Lucy, KOLR 10 TV Sports Director
Tony Severino, Rockhurst High School football coach
Steve Tappmeyer, a longtime basketball coach for Northwest Missouri State University
Rick Grayson, PGA teaching professional named one of the sports’ top 100 teachers
Learfield, a leading sports broadcasting company in the United States.
Lamar High School Football Program
Springfield-Greene County Park Board
Independent Printing – John Q. Hammons Founders Award
Rick Todd of Herschend Family Entertainment – President’s Award

December 13, 1977: A day of tragedy and tears

(Editor’s Note: Tomorrw– December 13 — marks the 40th anniversary of the plane crash that killed the entire University of Evansville basketball team. Three players from Southern Illinois — Mike Duff and Kevin Kingston, of Eldorado and Greg Smith, of West Frankfort — died in that crash. 

In 2007, as publisher of Southern Illinois Sports Connection Magazine, I wrote a story about the 30th anniversary of that rainy, dreary and tragic day in 1977, the 30th anniversary of the Evansville disaster.  I spent more time and more effort on that story than anything I’ve ever written, mainly because there were so many people that had to be interviewed and so many story lines to weave together. To honor those who died in the crash this is the story in its entirety.   JM)

December 13, 1977 – A Day Forever Etched in Our Memory

By Jim Muir

There are moments in life that are so shocking and so surreal that they are forever etched in our minds and seared in our conscience. The memories of those events are so vivid that we can pinpoint exactly where we were at, who we were with and in some instances even what clothing we were wearing.

Think of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and in more recent times the 9-11 terror attacks.

The same can be said, particularly for area sports fans, about the date Dec. 13, 1977 – the day that the entire University of Evansville basketball team died in a fiery plane crash less than two minutes after take-off from Dress Regional Airport, in Evansville. In all 29 people died in the crash including 14 players, head coach Bobby Watson, one trainer, two team managers, the school’s sports information director, a longtime radio sportscaster, the assistant athletic director, three crew members and two airline officials.

Three members of that team – Mike Duff, Kevin Kingston and Greg Smith – were Southern Illinois high school basketball standouts that had thrilled fans with their athletic abilities. All of Southern Illinois was proud that the three area players had taken their considerable skills to Evansville, who had just made the move to Division I basketball.

Following news of the crash the sense of loss and the grief throughout Southern Illinois during that Christmas season was immeasurable. On the 30th anniversary of that event and to honor those who died Southern Illinois Sports Connection looks back at that fateful, foggy night through the eyes of six people that were intimately entwined in the lives of those who perished.

A Young Reporter and the Story of a Lifetime

On the night of Dec. 13, 1977 Rich Davis reported to work at the Evansville Courier & Press expecting it to be a typical Tuesday night.

Davis had worked at the newspaper for four years covering hard news stories but said nothing had prepared him for what he would experience that December night.

evansville 1Davis, now 58, still works at the newspaper and recently recalled the events of that night three decades ago. Davis remembered that word was received in the newsroom shortly after 7:30 p.m. that a plane had gone down near the airport.

“The first indication was that it was a commercial flight,” said Davis. “Nobody even suspected it was the Aces because they were supposed to fly out at about 4 p.m. but we didn’t know then that the foggy conditions had prevented their charter flight from arriving from Indianapolis. Even when we got to the sight and started making our way toward the wreckage we didn’t have any idea.”

The plane had taxied down the runway at 7:21 p.m. and less than 90 seconds later crashed in a hard-to-reach area east of the main runway near Melody Hills subdivision. Davis and two other reporters headed to the scene. He described the weather conditions as “miserable, just terrible.”

“I really don’t remember it being that cold but it was just a misting rain all day long and very foggy, a pea-soup kind of night,” Davis said.

The three reporters traveled as far as they could by car until they encountered a dead-end street. At that point they exited the vehicle and what Davis described as “an odd event” took place.

“We were standing there trying to figure out how to get to the crash site and by then there was security everywhere and from out of nowhere this kid walks up to me, he couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, and says ‘Mister, I can get you down there, I know how to get there.’ So we start following this little boy through brush and thicket and woods and there was mud everywhere,” Davis recalled. “When we got down there the plane had actually crashed in a ravine by a railroad track. As we got closer I could see the tail of the plane up on this ridge above us and there were still some small fires. When we arrived they had already started trying to recover the bodies.”

Even as he made his way to the wreckage Davis still believed the crash was a commercial jet.

“When we got close enough I saw a bunch of Aces’ duffel bags and tennis shoes scattered everywhere,” recalled Davis. “It would have been horrible regardless, but when I realized it was the Aces I just had this overwhelming feeling of grief.”

Davis explained that the 1977-78 basketball season was a milestone for the Evansville program as they made the jump to Division I for the first time. He said the Aces enjoyed unrivaled stature in the community due in large part to winning five Division II national championships during a 12 year span under legendary Coach Arad McCutchan.

Davis said one particular moment stood out that night during the recovery of bodies.

“Because of where the crash took place the only way to get the bodies out was to bring a train in,” said Davis. “It was very foggy and I still remember the light of that train cutting through the fog and the misting rain and when they blew the whistle I remember how mournful it sounded. They transported the bodies from there downtown to a makeshift morgue.”

Davis said on a national scale the grief associated across the nation with the 9-11 attacks was comparable but regionally he has never encountered – and he doesn’t expect he ever will – any story as devastating as the plane crash.

“As the horror of what happened took hold the entire community was just absolutely devastated,” said Davis. “That night I was so caught up in it that I didn’t have time to even think about what had happened. It was just surreal. The grief was everywhere because people just couldn’t comprehend something of this magnitude. I mean, in one horrible moment this city lost something very, very special. The coach, the team … everything was just wiped out that night.”

Diamond Avenue and U.S. Route 41

Marie Kothe was a senior at the University of Evansville on that tragic night 30 years ago. Kothe, who ironically works at Evansville Regional Airport (formerly Dress Regional Airport), said the details of the plane crash are just as fresh today as they were in 1977.

“I had just gotten out of a night class, it was a nutrition class, and was driving home when I heard on the radio that the Aces’ plane had crashed,” said Kothe. “I remember that I was sitting at a red light at the corner of Diamond Avenue and Route 41. I was immediately in a state of shock. I remember looking over in the direction of the airport and it was cold and rainy and dreary. I drove on home but I don’t remember the drive. I remember staying up all night watching television.”

Much the way reporter Rich Davis remembered it, Kothe said the grim reality of what had happened and what had been lost didn’t sink in for a few days.

“When they started announcing names and I could put a connection with the names it was worse,” said Kothe. “The word that comes to mind when you talk about the community as a whole is stunned, I just think the entire city was walking around stunned about what had happened. I don’t think I even cried for a couple of days and then all of a sudden it hit me about what had happened.”

Kothe has worked at the airport for four years and noted that the plane crash was on her mind even when she applied for the position.

“I mean you can just look across the field there,” said Kothe pointing in the direction of the crash site, “and you automatically remember what happened. The people that were here in Evansville will never forget that night.”

A Coach Remembers

Aside from family members perhaps nobody had more connection to the three Southern Illinois athletes that died in the Evansville plane crash than Bob Brown.

A legendary high school player at West Frankfort in the late 1950s and early 1960s Brown played college basketball at the University of Illinois. He still holds the single game scoring record at West Frankfort, a 52-point explosion against Herrin where he scored 29 points in the fourth quarter.

Brown took over as head coach at Eldorado during the 1972-73 season and coached at the Saline County school for five years, compiling an impressive overall record of 121-30. During that span Brown coached Kevin Kingston two years and coached Mike Duff three years. That five year span included two unbeaten regular seasons and three trips to the Elite Eight, played in Champaign during that era. In 1975 the Eagles finished fourth, were beaten in the quarter-finals in 1976 and then returned in 1977 to finish in third place.

“Every year I was at Eldorado was very special,” Brown said. “Those kids worked so hard for me, they were just warriors.”

Brown’s oldest son, Mike, was born during his coaching days in Eldorado and was named after Duff, he said.

“I loved the kid (Duff),” Brown said. “All three of these young men were the kind of guy you’d want in a foxhole with you.”

Along with his association with Duff and Kingston Brown, because he is a native of West Frankfort had known Greg Smith also and was even instrumental in helping him secure a basketball scholarship to Evansville. Smith had already committed to attend Millikan University but changed his mind after Brown lobbied Evansville Coach Bobby Watson to give the West Frankfort standout a scholarship.

“I’ve thought about that often,” said Brown. “I had a part in him (Smith) going to Evansville. That was tough to take.”

Following the 1976-77 season Brown left Eldorado and took a coaching job at West Frankfort. Like all those involved in the tragedy he remembers distinctly where he was at when he heard the news about the plane crash.

“I was still living in Eldorado and when I was driving home that evening, I never will forget, I was driving through Galatia I heard something about a plane crash on the radio, just bits and pieces, there was no real details,” said Brown. “When I pulled into my driveway my wife ran out to the car and I knew something serious had happened. I immediately started making phone calls to see if anybody had survived. It was difficult to get all the details. You have to remember that in 1977 it wasn’t like it is now with cell phones and cable television.”

Even 30 years after the plane crash Brown still gets emotional when discussing the death of Duff, Kingston and Smith.

“I’ve never in my life experienced something as devastating as this,” said Brown. “It took a lot out of me and to be honest I was never quite the same afterwards. I mean these were kids that were hard workers, disciplined, intelligent and they had their entire life in front of them. It was just hard to believe that something like this could happen. The absolute toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was go to those three wakes that week.”

A wake for Duff and Kingston was held at the Eldorado High School gymnasium (later named Duff-Kingston Gymnasium), Brown recalled. He said it was a fitting tribute that the two players be memorialized together but he also found it to be a cruel irony.

“Here are these two caskets on the same basketball floor where we had all these wonderful moments and memories,” said Brown. “I just remember that the grief was unbearable.”

Brown said all three funerals were held on the Friday following the Tuesday plane crash. He said his West Frankfort team had a game scheduled with Harrisburg on the night of the funeral and after consulting with the Smith family it was decided to play the game.

“We were not very good and hadn’t won a game at that point in the season,” said Brown. “I showed up and I tried to talk to my team but I just couldn’t do it. We ended up winning the game, I don’t know how, but we did somehow. I can honestly say that coaching just wasn’t the same for me after that plane crash.”

Brown said he often thinks of Duff, Kingston and Smith, and not just near the anniversary of their deaths, and even has a portrait of the three players in his living room. Brown said he believes all three would have been successful as adults.

“I think Duff would have played in the NBA, he was that good,” said Brown. “I believe Kevin would have been a high school coach and with his work ethic would have been a great coach. And as intelligent as Greg was, he could have done anything he wanted to do.”

A Phone Call from the Airport

In her words Kay Barrow remembers the details of Dec. 13, 1977 “just like it was yesterday.

Barrow, the mother of Mike Duff, was working in the Eldorado office of her husband, Dr. John Barrow, a well-known orthopedic surgeon. She said she remembers a late afternoon phone call from Duff, the last time she and her son would ever talk.

mike duff“Mostly I remember that he was happy that afternoon,” Barrow said. “He called to see if we were going to make it to the game the next night and he also told me that their flight had been delayed because of the weather. It was just a typical conversation but the main thing I remember is that the last time I talked with him he was happy.”

Barrow said she heard the news about the crash while listening to an Eldorado basketball game that night.

“It was just one of those moments in life when you just don’t want to believe what you just heard,” she said. “We started calling people we knew in Evansville trying to find out the details, looking back it was just surreal. It was just a short time after we heard the news that people started coming to the house trying to be with us and to help take care of us. That night and that entire week were just like a blur to me, we went around in a daze.”

Barrow said the years have helped lessen the grief but she said that December remains a difficult month even three decades after the plane crash.

“December is always a tough month and it always will be,” Barrow said. “I do anything I can, frantically clean house, put up Christmas decorations, just anything to keep my mind off of it. Christmas has never been quite the same for me.”

Barrow said there are also little, unexpected things that create a flood of emotions.

“Before the plane crash I had ordered Mike a down-filled coat for Christmas, I ordered it from an L.L. Bean catalog,” said Barrow. “The other day we got an L.L. Bean catalog in the mail and I automatically thought about that December in 1977. And it’s not just that, there are little things all the time that make you remember.”

Noting that he would now be 48 years old, Barrow said she often wonders what kind of man her son would have made. Saying that “Mike will always be 18” she said she has watched his classmates at Eldorado grow into middle age and that always rekindles memories of her son.

Duff played only four games for Evansville prior to the plane crash and the final game he played was against Indiana State, who was led by Larry Bird. Duff scored 23 against Bird in his last game, prompting Evansville Coach Bobby Watson to say after the game that Duff would be as good as Bird, who was two years older. Barrow said she and her husband met Bird a couple of years ago and the former NBA great told them that he remembered that particular game. She said they also met Magic Johnson, who Duff played with in an all-star game before entering college. Barrow said Magic also told the couple he remembered playing against their son.

“Little things like that means a lot,” she said.

Barrow said she recently had an unexpected emotional moment when she heard a story concerning Sam Clancy, a friend Mike had met while playing in an all-star game in Pittsburg the summer before he died.

“I just heard recently where Sam Clancy’s son is playing basketball at UCLA,” she said. “It’s just little things like that that brings it all back.”

A Last Lunch Date

Donald Kingston was working as an assistant basketball coach at Eldorado High School in December 1977 and his son Kevin was in his senior season at the University of Evansville. Given the rigors of both their schedules opportunities for the Kingstons to get together were few and far between.

Looking back three decades Donald Kingston said he recalls the details of Dec. 11 that year as well as he does Dec. 13 – the day his only son was killed in the plane crash. Kingston traveled to Evansville on the Sunday prior to the Tuesday plane crash to have lunch with Kevin – a lunch date that included a heart-to-heart talk. The elder Kingston still cherishes that conversation.

“Kevin worked hard for everything he had achieved, he just outworked other people his entire career,” said Kingston. “And that day we ate at Red Lobster and I told him I loved him and how proud I was of him for all the hard work and for all that he had accomplished. That was the last time I ever talked to him.”

On that fateful Tuesday night Kingston was with the Eldorado basketball team at a game at Norris City. Kingston did not ride the bus that night, instead driving his car to the game. On the return trip to Eldorado he and his wife heard news of the plane crash on the radio.

“Think about this, I was driving along and I heard the announcer come on and say that the Aces’ plane had crashed and that Kevin Kingston was dead.” said Kingston. “I’ll never forget that, you’re hoping that what you just heard isn’t true but deep down you know that it is.”

Kingston said his daughter (four years younger than Kevin) was a cheerleader for Eldorado and was on the bus. He said the players and cheerleaders also heard the news en route back to Eldorado.

“We still had to go to the gym to pick her up and she was just devastated,” Kingston said.

Kingston said instead of dwelling on the crash that took his son’s life he has instead tried to keep his focus on the outstanding career his son had, particularly the great teams at Eldorado.

“Bob Brown was a great coach, those kids would do anything for him,” said Kingston. “Those were very special times in Eldorado. Mike Duff was a great player and I believe he would have played professional basketball. Kevin didn’t have the God-given talent that some players have but he just worked so hard. He was always the best defensive player on every team he played on.”

Kingston said he also thinks often about what the future would have held for his son.

“I really think Kevin would have been a coach and I think he would have been a good one,” said Kingston. “He was a senior at Evansville and he had already agreed to stay on and work as a grad assistant the next year. He always said that he wanted to come back to Eldorado and coach. I think about that a lot.”

It’s with you all the time’

On a trip to Evansville in early December of 1977 to see their son Greg play basketball Art and Carolyn Smith decided to do some Christmas shopping. The Smiths bought several gifts, mostly clothing for Greg, a freshman point guard for the Aces.

Carolyn said the clothes she painstakingly picked out for Greg during that shopping trip were never wrapped.

“We ended up burying Greg in those clothes,” she said. “I think about that every single December.”

Smith was a 1977 graduate of West Frankfort High School where he was a three-year starter and standout for the Redbirds. After graduation he signed to go to Millikan University but then later changed his mind and was awarded a scholarship to play at Evansville.

“Greg was so excited about going to Evansville,” said Art. “He loved basketball, he studied the game and he worked really hard to become a better player. Greg was having the time of his life at Evansville. He was more excited about getting that scholarship to Evansville than I had ever seen him.”

In 1977 the Smiths were the majority owner of WFRX radio in West Frankfort and it was a call from the station that first alerted him that something might be wrong. Asked where he was at when he learned about the plane crash Art answered immediately.

“I was right here in this room,” he said waving his arm in a circular motion around the family room. “I received a call about 8 p.m. that there had been a plane crash near Evansville but I didn’t think for a second that it was the Aces because I knew they were supposed to fly out at 4 p.m. so I figured that they were already in Nashville.”

Smith said a second phone call moments later confirmed that it was the Evansville team and within seconds Gail Borton, principal at the high school and Harold Hood, the high school coach showed up. Borton volunteered to drive the Smiths to Evansville.

“We found out where they had the morgue set up and we went there first,” Art recalled. “After we arrived, the assistant coach who was not on the plane came running over and told us that Greg was still alive and had been taken to Deaconess Hospital. We went straight there and the doctor came out just as soon as we arrived and said that Greg had died five minutes before we got there.”

Art said identifying his son’s body is the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. He also noted that it was the first time Greg had ever flown.

“They told me I could stay with him as long as I wanted and I stayed with him for quite a while. I didn’t want Carolyn to go,” said Art. “I remember after that we went down to the little chapel at the hospital and just sat there and stared at each other and never said a word. What can you say at a time like that?”

The Smiths said the loss of their son shook their once-strong faith to the core.

“We were active in church and we just quit going, we quit for 20 years,” said Art. “The church was good to us and the pastor was good, but we were angry. Thoughts of ‘why’ ran through my mind a lot. I don’t know how we would have gotten through it if it hadn’t been for our other two children. They were involved in other activities and we had to go on … I think they gave us the will to go on.

The Aces had played only four games prior to the plane crash and Greg got to see action in only the Indiana State game – the last game the 1977-78 team ever played. In all, Greg’s collegiate career spanned three minutes. Yet Art recalled him being in a great mood the last time they talked.

“He had gotten in to a game for the first time against Indiana State with about three minutes left,” Art said. “It just so happened that when he came in the game Larry Bird came out of the game. He said, ‘I guess they didn’t want me to embarrass him.’ He was laughing about that, he was in good spirits the last time we talked.”

Art and Carolyn agreed that every memory of Greg is a good one – something that has helped sustain them through the years.

“He was just such a good boy,” said Carolyn. “I can never remember one time ever that I had to get on him about anything. He tried so hard to please, he was an excellent student. He was just the type of person you wanted to be around.”

The Smiths said that the loss of their oldest son has never really lessened throughout the years.

“Even after 30 years … it’s with you all the time,” said Art. “But, it’s worse in December because all those memories come back every year.”


Did the NBA lose a future star?

How good could Mike Duff have been if he had not lost his life in the Evansville plane crash? The answer to that question from all who watched him play was that he would have someday made a living playing basketball in the NBA.

On the final game of his life, Dec. 10, 1977 Duff, only a freshman, scored 23 in a loss to highly-ranked Indiana State and Larry Bird. An excerpt from a story in the Evansville Courier & Press following the Indiana State game shows that Duff had already caught the attention of Evansville Coach Bobby Watson.

The story read in part:

“Watson, not one to give out accolades, said following the loss to Indiana State that freshman Mike Duff would “be as good as Larry Bird in a couple of years.”

Duff’s high school coach Bob Brown also believes he would not only have played, but starred in the NBA.

“There’s no question about it,” Brown said. “He was 6’7” or 6’8” and he could go inside, come outside and shoot the mid-range jumper. He was quick and smart and he would have just kept getting better. He hadn’t come close to realizing his full potential yet.”

Duff’s high school statistics are eye-popping by any standard and he still holds virtually every Eldorado scoring record.

Duff records include:

Game – 47 points

Season – 1,097 points

Career – 2,558 points

Points per game – 32.3

Rebounds game – 28

Rebounds season — 515


Points per game – 25.8 (over three years)

Rebounds – 1,287

Don Kingston, whose son Kevin was also killed in the plane crash, echoed Brown’s words. Kingston was an assistant coach at Eldorado during Duff’s glory days when he led the Eagles to three straight Elite Eight appearances in Champaign.

“He had greatness all over him,” said Kingston. “I don’t think there is any question that he would have played professional basketball. I mean think about that, as a freshman in his fourth collegiate game he scored 23 against Larry Bird and Indiana State. He had all the physical skills and plus he had the determination. Yeah, I believe he would’ve played professionally.”

— Jim Muir —


Fate Played a Role that December

In any tragedy fate always seems to play a role but in the Dec. 13, 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of the Evansville Aces there were several ironies that can’t be overlooked.

* McLeansboro native and current Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, who led Evansville to a pair of Division II national titles, was hired as the head coach at Evansville prior to the start of the 1977-78 season, but abruptly resigned the position three weeks later. Bobby Watson, an assistant at Oral Roberts, was hired to replace Sloan and died in the crash.

* David Lee, a teammate of Sloan at McLeansboro, had agreed to work as an assistant with Sloan at Evansville during the 1977-78 season. After Sloan resigned the position was not available to Lee, who later went on to lead McLeansboro to a Class A state title in 1984. The Foxes compiled a perfect 35-0 record and were led by Brian Sloan – Jerry’s son.

* West Frankfort standout Greg Smith had signed to play for Joe Ramsey at Millikan University and was already on campus when he was asked to try out for one open scholarship at Evansville. Smith beat out more than 20 others and won the full-ride scholarship. Smith then transferred to Evansville and died in the crash less than three months later.

* Mike Duff was recruited by virtually every college in the nation including Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Illinois and UCLA. Duff signed a letter-of-intent to attend Missouri and play for legendary Coach Norm Stewart but later changed his mind and opted out of the contract to attend Evansville. The fact Evansville was making the move to Division I that year allowed Duff to get out of the contract with Missouri. Like Smith, Duff would die less than three months later.

* Tom Collins, a reporter with the Evansville Courier, was scheduled to travel with the team to Nashville on Dec. 13, 1977 to cover the game against Middle Tennessee State, but his assignment was changed by his editor at the last minute and he remained in Evansville. Collins had planned to drive to Nashville the following day to cover the Dec. 14 game against Middle Tennessee State – a game that was never played.

* David Furr was a star basketball player at Olney High School and had a scholarship to play at Millikan University. Instead he opted to go to Evansville and walk on. Furr injured his ankle while trying out for the Aces but Coach Bobby Watson said that he had like what he saw from Furr and asked him to stay with the team and try out again after his ankle healed. While his ankle was on the mend Furr became the team statistician, working home games but not traveling with the team. So, Furr was lucky he wasn’t on the doomed plane that night in December 1977 and actually became the only team member to survive.

But, fate was still not through during that cruel December because Furr and his brother Byron were both killed in a two-car crash while they were driving home from a holiday basketball tournament in Charleston. David Furr was driving and lost control of the vehicle and crossed the centerline striking a utility truck head on. The accident took place on Dec. 27 – exactly two weeks to the day after the plane crash.

— Jim Muir —

Remembering the Aces: Disaster leaves community mourning, asking why

EVANSVILLE, IN –  The night before the game at Middle Tennessee State, a chartered, twin-propeller DC-3 airplane that was to carry the Aces to Nashville arrived at Evansville’s airport three hours late.

Courier & Press archives

Rain and fog were blamed.

“(UE officials) called twice to say they were going to be a little later, then a little later,” Jim Freeman, sports information director at Middle Tennessee, told the Courier in 1977.

The Aces took off at 7:20 p.m. Their plane was in trouble immediately.



50 Influencers of Rend Lake College : Vice Presidents, RLC’s Triple Threat

By Reece Rutland 

INA, IL – The Rend Lake College mission statement ends with the proclamation, “With Rend Lake College, student journeys start here.”

The Rend Lake College Vice Presidents, from left, Angie Kistner, Vice President of Finance and Administration; Lisa Price, Vice President of Student Services; Lori Ragland, Vice President of Instruction. (All photos provided by RLC Public Information)

It’s a fitting affirmation for an institution that works day in and day out to provide a solid footing for people to take those first steps into the real world or do a mid-life turn and start down a new path, a new journey of improvement and discovery.

And while not everyone who begins a journey at RLC is a student, every journey that begins at RLC is student-focused.

There can be no better example of that fact than the three current vice presidents of the college. Each of these talented and tenacious leaders began their adventure at RLC during different points, and each of them took different turns in the path that led them to where they are today. Yet, each of their paths, to this point, have led to providing the best possible service for the students of Rend Lake College.

“The common denominator with these three is their love and passion for the students and strengthening the college. They work tirelessly to better the institution and improve the opportunity for our students in their own way,” expressed Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson about his vice presidents.

Lisa Price

Lisa Price, Vice President of Student Services, began her RLC adventure as a student in 1980. She transferred to the college after graduating Benton High School.

Initially, Price didn’t want to attend RLC. She wanted to follow her friends to farther-flung destinations. Ultimately, Price’s mother talked her into taking the more economical option of attending school in Ina, a decision that changed her life forever.

“I was fortunate enough to get a student worker job at the bookstore and worked under Mary Braden. I met many people from surrounding towns and became a wicked Spades player,” Price said.

Lisa Price

Ultimately, the call of the wild became too strong and the future VP left Ina after a year to transfer to Eastern Illinois University. But, that didn’t pan out either, and Price found herself back home working.

“I realized that I needed to get serious about college. Came back to RLC and finished my degree. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do… I didn’t want to be a teacher but wanted to do something with teenagers,” she explained.

To that end, Price transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale to get her bachelor’s degree in Health Education. In 1997, she completed a Master of Science in Education at SIUC in Workforce Education.

Following her graduation, Price worked with pregnant and parenting teens atFranklin-Williamson Human Services. It was there that she saw an advertisement for a Teen Parent Services Case Manager at RLC.

“I had watched employment ads for RLC because of my great experience and wanted to be a part of the RLC action. But, didn’t know what I could do since I couldn’t be an instructor. I was hopeful that this was my ticket. I applied, got the job and a whopping salary increase of $200. But, I knew I wanted to be at RLC so it wasn’t at all about the money,” Price said.

“I continued to work for grant-funded programs until the spring of 2003. I was sitting in my office when an administrator came in and asked me if I was interested in leading the advisement team.”

She said it was another dream come true, and it ended up being the perfect fit.
Price served as the Executive Director of Academic Counseling until 2008. She then transitioned into the Dean of Student Services and finally VP of Student Services in 2011, allowing her an even greater opportunity to help guide the students of RLC.

“It is such as joy to watch students walk across that stage, especially those who have struggled. I worked with one particular non-traditional lady who just wanted to get her associate degree. She didn’t really have a career goal in mind or know how she wanted to use the degree, she just knew she wanted to complete. She was divorced and had to work two jobs to support her and her kids. She would take a couple of classes each semester. We both celebrated when she walked across that stage. She had worked so hard,” Price expressed.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2007, she was honored by her peers with the RLC Foundation “Outstanding Staff” Award.

“She is a wonderful leader who is admired and respected by her colleagues,” the nomination letter read. “. . . She is just a great person to work with. She is a great ambassador for Rend Lake College . . . She is very involved in activities of her children and community.”

In addition to her work in advising students, she has also been recognized by the Army National Guard for her efforts on multiple Yellow Ribbon Events, an effort aimed at helping returning soldiers transition back to civilian life. Nearly 100 local soldiers and their family members were served with classes on finance management, military benefits and counseling services on marriage skills, family and drug and alcohol abuse.
For her dedication to students and tireless service in improving the lives of those around her, Price was presented with the iconic Agriculture Program Doug Leeck Service Award in 2015-16.

She is currently “very close” to completing her dissertation for a Doctor of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Oakland City University.

Outside of RLC, Price has served in elected positions on both the Ewing Grade School Board of Education and the Benton High School District 103 Board (on which she still serves). She also has been voted Franklin County Northern Township Clerk through 2017.

Angie Kistner

Vice President of Finance and Administration Angie Kistner also began her journey at RLC as a student, class of 1989.

Growing up on the family farm in Scheller, Kistner is no stranger to hard work, spending her youth working diligently to complete whatever needed done around the farm. She said many of those core values instilled by that upbringing help drive her still today.

It didn’t take long for Kistner to transition from RLC student to employee either. Like Price, Kistner took a student worker position in the Business Office for both years she was a student.

Angie Kistner

After graduating, she stayed on part-time over the summer to help cover a maternity leave before heading off to Eastern Illinois University to finish her undergraduate degree.

Following her EIU graduation in 1991, there was another fortuitous case of timing. Kistner’s old RLC Business Office haunt was undergoing a major computer conversion. She was the perfect candidate to work through the transition, having experienced the previous system with the ability to quickly adapt to the new system being put in place. It was meant to be a temporary carryover that ended up being anything but.

“They approached me to work on a temporary part-time basis (six weeks at most) to do work in the old system while the office learned how to use the new system. I haven’t ever left,” she joked.

“I went from part-time temp to part-time in the Business Office. I worked with accounts receivable, accounts payable and payroll mostly. I then was hired to do part-time split between the Business Office and the Student Records Office. I did basic registration, transcript evaluation, etc. At some point, I was offered full-time within the Business Office as the Business Office Financial Affairs Coordinator.”

Kistner spent most of her days working alongside former VP of Finance Bob Carlock and Controller Andrea Boucher. She also began teaching as an adjunct professor within the college’s Business Department, putting her years of financial experience into helping others find their path.

Following the untimely death of Boucher, Kistner took on the controller’s responsibilities, taking on the oversight of all functions within the Business Office.

Kistner and Carlock spent years working side-by-side to make sure that the college’s finances were in the best possible shape and that the lights stayed on.

“I learned so much from Bob. He was the very best mentor that I could have ever asked for. I worked as the Controller after his first retirement and during his return to campus. Following his last retirement, I felt that I was ready to tackle the responsibilities of the Vice President,” she explained.

“I knew that a lot of tough decisions were going to need to be made in the very near future and I thought that my knowledge base and my dedication to RLC could help the college continue to be the source of quality education and opportunities.”

Kistner officially took the position of VP of Finance and Administration in March of 2013.

“I do what I do because I think it is important. I tackle each job with 100 percent effort. I take pride in everything that I put my name to and help with. I love the numbers because I feel like my understanding of what those numbers on a page mean allows others to make informed decisions about important issues,” she expressed.

“I can help others understand why the rule is important and what should be done not for the sake of the rule but to protect everyone’s best interests. At the end of the day, I want to feel like I have helped someone be in a better position.”

For her years of dedication, she was presented with the RLC Foundation “Outstanding Staff” Award in 2011.

She was nominated by staff from the RLCF Children’s Center who said Kistner “daily exceeds expectations and . . . continuously strives to help us brainstorm ideas to improve (the center’s) budget and manage (its) finances.”

The letter of nomination went on to say Kistner goes out of her way to assist the Children’s Center, where both of her children spent time. From helping with grant writing to catering lunch, and bringing in chocolate to arranging for vehicles for Big Truck Day, “Kistner daily brings joy into our building.”

Bringing joy and positivity to her place or work is something that’s always on Kistner’s mind, and the impact of her actions on her co-workers, the institution and its students are a major motivating factor for the VP.

“I can’t imagine all the people that I have been in contact with during my 25 years here. I think about how I may have impacted other’s lives and the lives of those surrounding them. I look back and think of the tidal waves that I have somehow helped to create. I think about how generations may be changed because of some little thing that I was a part of. It follows my general belief that a person changes the world each and every time they help someone. A person never knows the impact of his/her efforts but should do them anyway,” Kistner expressed.

“When I leave here, I am going to be very proud of the fact that a farm girl from Scheller worked herself up from a student worker to the Vice President of Finance,” she said.

Lori Ragland

It took the third and final RLC vice president a little longer to get to Ina than her compatriots.

Lori Ragland, Vice President of Instruction, is a DuQuoin native, graduating from DuQuoin High School in 1989.

It was apparent from the onset that Ragland was going to be a go-getter, being involved in Future Business Leaders of America. She even took home the State FBLA Typing/Document Formatting Contest, earning her a spot in the national competition in Florida, where she took home the top prize out of 45 competitors.

Lori Ragland

Following high school, Ragland spent a year at John A. Logan College working on generals before transferring to SIUC’s Court Reporting Program, earning her AAS in 1992. She utilized her skill at typing and her education to work as a freelance court reporter all over Southern Illinois for 8 years.

However, due to downturn in the court reporting industry, Ragland was eventually forced to consider other career prospects. In 2000, she applied for the Administrative Assistant position with the Rend Lake College Foundation and was quickly hired on in April.

One of her very first tasks with the college was to be the campaign captain for the RLC Staff Clock Tower Project, no small feat considering the tower now stands as the major focal point of the entire campus.

“That fall I began my studies in Organizational Leadership at Greenville College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 2002. I was then promoted to Assistant Director of RLCF and took the lead of the Institute for Learning in Retirement program,” Ragland explained.

She spent two years in that position and earned her own RLCF Outstanding Staff Award in 2003 for her trouble.

“She is very organized and takes great pride in her work. In her position, Lori occasionally has to work after hours and on weekends,” her recommendation noted.
“Lori is always willing to help in any situation she can. Lori is a good representative for Rend Lake College… She has a professional appearance and a demeanor that is pleasing to everyone.”

In 2004, she made the leap to Assistant Director of Community Education. During that time, the Institute for Learning in Retirement program was also transferred to Community Education and later named the Institute of Lifelong Learning. Four years later, she got the Director nod, succeeding the retiring Dawn Gibson.

“In 2010, Community Education and the Center for Business merged into one, Community & Corporate Education. The division expanded to include credit  programming, and in 2013 I became Dean of Community & Corporate Education. I also received my Master of Arts in Education degree in 2013, specializing in Higher Education Administration. In 2015 I was promoted to Vice President of Career & Technical Instruction. In 2017 that was expanded to Vice President of Instruction to include both academic instruction and career technical education,” Ragland said.
There is no doubt that she has made an impact on her co-workers and the institution. In 2011, she was presented with the CTE Rock Star “Assess for Success” Award and received President Wilkerson’s Crazy Eight Award in 2014.

She also practices what she preaches, continuing her education not only through additional academic degrees, but also in professional development. In 2015, she successfully completed the Academy for Leadership and Development.

“As a first generation student, education has always been a top priority for me. Education is rewarding; it’s something a person earns and can never be taken away. It has molded me into who I am today. I have a passion to help others obtain a quality education and find their path to success,” she expressed.

“I have really enjoyed the opportunities for personal and professional growth that Rend Lake College has provided me with. The college has such a positive atmosphere, and is full of great people who work hard to support our students.”

While Ragland has accomplished some remarkable things during her time at RLC, her involvement with Illinois Council for Continuing Education and Training (ICCET), a commission of the Illinois Community College Board, has been equally as impressive.
Since 2004, Ragland has been a member of the commission. She has served as an officer from 2005-2011, acting as the membership chair for two years, treasurer for two years, vice president for a year and president for a year.

For her service to the commission, she was awarded with their Exemplary Leadership Award in 2016.

She has also served on the ICCB Training and Resources Information Network (weTRaIN) Commission from 2009-16.