By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
The Rend Lake College Foundation celebrated the success of its recent campaign to improve the music building at the college during the RLCF Annual Dinner Meeting on Thursday.
Master of Ceremonies Jim Muir announced donations toward the campaign, which had a goal of $50,000, had topped $100,000 by that evening.
Shawna Hall, RLCF CEO, thanked the campaign chair and everyone who donated to the project, which improved the music building’s practice rooms and made other improvements.
The theme of the annual dinner meeting was inspiring gifts, and Hall said the goal of the foundation with its music campaign was to inspire the communities RLC serves.
Several individuals were honored during the program portion of the evening.
Peter Johnson, a NASA engineer, was honored as the RLC Alumnus of the Year, and celebrating the gift of possibility.
Johnson was a janitor at Bethel Grade School in Mt. Vernon when a social worker arranged for him to be involved in a program to work on an associate’s degree in applied science at Kaskaskia College. He moved on to RLC when he realized that degree wouldn’t lead to an engineering degree.
Johnson graduated from the college in 1985, moving on to a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale, which is where he applied to NASA.
Johnson was hired as an instrumentation system engineer for the Shuttle Human Space Flight program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and in the 1990s was promoted to technical lead for the Space Shuttle Orbiter Instrumentation Section, later renamed the Flight Instrumentation Section.
Johnson has received several awards for his work, including a Space Flight Awareness Silver Snoopy and the NASA Exceptional Achievement medal. He has been involved with 110 successful missions.
He said it was humbling for him to receive the Alumnus of the Year award.
“Thank you for the honor,” he said. “It would never come to my mind to receive such a recognition. There are the kind of people with 10-, 15-, and 25-year plans, and I can’t tell you what I’m going to do in a few weeks.”
He said he believes his success has come from good fortune, being in the right place at the right time and being ready for the opportunities coming his way.
He said community is an important aspect of ambition.
“It inspires people to improve the quality of life around them,” he said. “By living here, I learned community values. I learned it leads to thinking in terms of collaboration rather than competition.”
Jim Leuty, the RLCF Director, received the RLCF Presidential Award for his work on the RLCF audit.
Leuty, 49, of Mt. Vernon, is a CPA and partner at Krehbiel and Associates accounting firm. While he is a newer member of the foundation, his firm’s work on the foundation’s audit made him familiar with its functions and an ideal addition to the board, information states.
Hall said Leuty has vital expertise about auditing.
“I can’t thank him enough for his willingness to go above and beyond for the Foundation,” she said in a press release. “It was reassuring to have him there as we went through the audit. But it doesn’t stop with the audit. Jim is always there to help out with our monthly financials or anything else we need.
Russ Withers received an award for the Gift of Voice. Sam Mateer said Withers had been the master of ceremonies for the event for the past 19 years, and is also a great supporter of the foundation.
Mateer said Withers was one of the first people he went to when he was made chair of a Capital Foundation Drive, and Withers did not hesitate to make a $25,000 donation. He added that when the foundation was working to establish the RLC Marketplace, he agreed to release two state agencies who were leasing from him in order to have those agencies lease from RLC instead.
The RLCF honored three Major Gift Award winners Thursday evening: Terry Wilkerson, RLC President; RLCF Board of Directors member Mary Pericolosi; and the Drew family of Benton.
Wilkerson received a Bronze Major Gift Award for contributions exceeding $10,000. A Dahlgren resident, Wilkerson received his associate’s degree in applied science from RLC in 1992. He transferred to Southern Illinois University - Carbondale, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree and master’s degree of science. He was an instructor and division chair in RLC’s Applied Science and Advanced Technology Division before becoming the college’s seventh president. His family’s business, Wilkerson Farms, holds more than 1,000 acres of land in Hamilton County,
“I give to the Foundation because it’s important to me that I give back to this institution that has given so much to me,” he said. “I am definitely an advocate for supporting RLC through the Foundation, and I won’t ask anyone to do anything I’m not willing to do myself.”
Pericolosi also received a Bronze Major Gift Award. An RLC graduate, she joined the RLCF board two years ago.
The Drew family received the third Bronze Major Gift Award for supporting the college for years, information states, including the John D. and S.L. Cookie Drew Scholarship. The scholarship honors their mother, who lives in Benton, and the memory of their father, John D. Drew, who passed away in 2009. Bryan Drew serves the college as its chairman of the Board of Trustees.
The cast of “Into the Woods,” directed by Sara Alstat, RLC music director, performed a song from their upcoming show before the dinner began. The RLC Community Orchestra, directed by conductor Larry Phifer, provided Christmas music during dinner.