INA, IL (Nov. 16, 2021) -- Student journeys start here. It’s a core philosophy for Rend Lake College. It is a concept so integral to the institution, the college mission statement closes with those words. And, for a young man from Pinckneyville who found himself adrift after high school, it was the perfect place to discover and explore.
When Clint McDonnough walked through the doors of the college in the early 70s he had no idea where life was taking him. “When I think about my trajectory back then, it could have been much different without Rend Lake College. I don’t know what it would have been. I was a classic ship without a sail,” McDonnough said. “If you look at my academic record in high school, you’d see that I didn’t have a lot of choices. This was a way for me to figure out what I wanted to do. And do it in a way that was affordable and allowed me some time to, frankly, grow up.”
Clint McDonnough (Click image for printable photo)
McDonnough credits the venerable Dr. Allen Baker for helping to get him started on his journey. Dr. Baker, a longtime optometrist in the area, was also one of the founding fathers of RLC, breaking ground on the campus in Ina with his fellow board members. McDonnough was just one of the area youths that Dr. Baker guided towards a brighter future.
So, now McDonnough was on the path, but for the life of him he wasn’t sure where that particular path was going to lead.
“There’s an old saying ‘it’s better to be lucky than good.’ All my life, I’ve been lucky. Getting a chance to go to Rend Lake and find myself and grow up was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
McDonnough struck another bit of luck by establishing a connection with another Pinckneyville student, Bob Spurgeon, a non-traditional student who started attending RLC when he decided he wanted to leave his factory job and go back to school to change his trajectory in life. McDonnough started riding to campus with Spurgeon during the second semester of his sophomore year. Bob just happened to be an accounting major.
“Bob wanted to be an accountant because he was good at numbers, and he knew he could find a job. I rode with him that semester, and he convinced me to take an accounting class. From that point on, I rode with him to Rend Lake for the rest of my time there and then rode with him to SIU Carbondale for my other two years,” McDonnough recalled.
That confluence of events led to McDonnough earning his Associates in Arts from RLC in ’75, an accounting degree from SIU-C, and ultimately serving as a managing partner at Ernst & Young LLP until his retirement in 2015, a far different trajectory than he ever imagined. Throughout his career, and even now into his retirement, he strives to make a difference in the community around him through his efforts with charitable and educational organizations, working to pay forward the benefits of his circumstance.
“Part of the responsibilities of being a managing partner of a large firm is to not only be the face of the organization but also have a perspective on what you want to do with the community to improve the place where we all live, work and play. From my perspective, I had three organizations that I thought I wanted to get involved in in a meaningful way. I wanted to contribute, but I also wanted to be in a leadership position to have my thumbprint on what those organizations are doing,” he said.
McDonnough started with United Way as a campaign chair while also being involved in the strategic planning effort to help move the organization away from just being a transactionary exercise to a more meaningful endeavor. In particular, he wanted to target the areas he thought represented the biggest risks; healthcare, income disparity and educational shortcomings.
That foray into the educational climate of the area was eye-opening for McDonnough. Reflecting back on his own experiences, and understanding the importance of education at every level, he sought to get more involved to address the issues he saw.
“As I got involved in local education, I saw what was happening within our inner-city school environment. Frankly, it was depressing. We were not producing college-ready students by any stretch of the imagination. We were doing a very poor job in the Black and Latino communities. When you looked at the demographics, particularly the Black and Latino communities in our school system, we had to do better.”
From there, McDonnough became involved in the Dallas Chamber where he could further do a deep dive into the factors facing the area’s public school system along with what he could do to try and change it. The effort resulted in a push to get the best school administrators to the school systems that needed them most.
Through his participation in a Dallas-based organization called Early Matters, McDonnough was able to help get a legislative bill passed that established a four-year program at Dallas College for Pre-K education, targeting quality education at the very beginning while also increasing educational and career offerings for local college students.
“That is a great combination of several local organizations coming together, working together and creating a program that will start filling a need that we have in the area for proper Pre-K educators.”
McDonnough is also the incoming chair of the Dallas College Foundation, an organization serving a seven-campus community college that has an enrollment of roughly 82,000 students. It’s a position that provides him with valuable insight on what issues today’s college students face. And, he knows those issues aren’t limited to the students at his institution.
“Students are facing a number of issues. It’s transportation to get to campus. It’s childcare. It’s frankly just having food on the table in a lot of cases. Someone can’t afford to do both, take classes and take care of basic needs. Then, at that point, the choice becomes easy. If you’re confronted with either putting food on the table for your family or going to school, it’s an easy choice. You’ve got to eat.”
When a student is forced to walk a tightrope between surviving and pursuing, it limits their educational experience. They can be afraid to try new things, afraid to make mistakes. So, by addressing the barriers standing between students and education, McDonnough believes that a valuable resource will be cultivated in those attending a community college, the resource of having an experience for no better reason than to mature and grow.
“We had a foundation board meeting at one of our campuses two weeks ago. And, to get where the meeting was, I walked through a student lounge and just stopped, listened and reflected on my experience. One of the benefits of our community college is that it allows someone to experience different things about life, but also the process of education and preparing yourself to get out into the workforce and be successful. Sometimes that is watching and listening, and sometimes that is making mistakes,” he said.
“The community college experience allows someone who is trying to find their footing but doesn’t have the wherewithal to spend a lot of money experimenting and exploring. It’s so compelling to think about that community college experience, especially if you are uncertain what your direction may be. I go back and think of how immature I was. I wasn’t an influencer; I was an influencee. My experience at the community college allowed me a field of vision to explore and experiment that I would not have experienced in a four-year, university setting.”
McDonnough might not have been an influencer back then, but his illustrious career and selfless acts have made him one today. McDonnough has also served in leadership roles on the Dallas Citizens Council, Dallas Education Foundation, Methodist Health System, the Development Board for the University of Texas at Dallas, and the Chief Executive Officer Advisory Council for the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society. “Clint’s commitments to education, addressing community needs and removing barriers to access are merely a few of the reasons that stood out when looking at his significant professional and personal accomplishments since graduating from RLC in 1975. We are pleased to honor Clint McDonnough as the 2021 RLC Foundation Alumnus of the year” said Kay Zibby-Damron, RLC Foundation Chief Executive Officer.
McDonnough will be honored at the RLC Foundation’s 42nd Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 2, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Mt. Vernon. The Dinner is open to the public. Tickets are $40 per person or $400 for a table of 10. Cocktails will begin at 6 p.m. with the dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. Tickets to the dinner must be purchased in advance. Interested individuals are asked to RSVP by Monday, Nov. 22nd by contacting the Foundation at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1213, or by sending an e-mail to [email protected] Proceeds from the dinner support the Foundation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.