50 Influencers: Betty Ann Ward, guiding light

INA, Ill. (Oct. 7, 2017) - With any organization, it’s possible that some of the most influential people aren’t newsworthy in the traditional sense of the word. So, as the years go by, there are unsung heroes whose dedication and service get overshadowed by larger personalities and grander titles.

The next entry on the 50 Influencer list never rose to any leadership positions that helped steer the institution. She never helped build a building or win a championship. But, Betty Ann Ward did something as well as anyone else in the college’s history, she cared. Students were her life’s passion.

Betty Ann Ward with studentsW

Ward was among that storied handful of instructors that transitioned over from Mt. Vernon Community College when it was phased out in favor of Rend Lake College in 1967, and was one of the 15 former MVCC instructors granted the very first round of tenure a year later.

Those first 15 were:

Wayne Arnold, Health, Physical Education and Recreation Instructor; Imogene Book, Librarian; E. Judson DeWitt, Psychology Instructor; Paula Dulaney, Library Assistant; Dr. Eugene Estes, Science Instructor; Gela Goin, Secretarial Science Instructor, Eleanor Hall, Sociology and Anthropology Instructor; Georgine Hawley, English Instructor; Ed Kownacki, Math and Science Instructor; Dr. Barbara Luchsinger, English Instructor; Shirley McHaney, Allied Health Department Chair; Richard Perrachione, Math Instructor; Betty Ann Ward, Math Instructor and Counselor; Jim Waugh, Health and Physical Education Instructor, and William Younghusband, Business Instructor.

A decade later, 10 of the 15 still remained, Ward among them.

“These 10 people have had an impact on the college that multiplies many times the 10,” said then College Dean Mark Kern while acknowledging the group consisting of Ward, Arnold, Estes, Goin, Hawley, Luchsinger, McHaney, Perrachione, Waugh and Younghusband. The 10 represented a combined 300 years of teaching experience.

Yet, even among those peers, Ward was respected for her devotion to improving the lives of every student she came in contact with.

Perhaps even more important to Ward than her inside-the-classroom role was her position as the college’s primary counselor.

betty ward studentWWard at her desk counseling a student

“She was a true counselor and friend of all students. All students were welcome to her office and/or home whether they had a problem or not. Who knows the number of students she taught how to play bridge,” recalled Arnold.

Her former students are quick to collaborate that sentiment.

“Once I entered college, Betty Ann Ward provided me with guidance. She took me ‘under her wings’ and made me feel like I counted,” said former MVCC student Robert L. Brown.

Brown went on to follow in Ward’s footsteps, becoming a counselor at Mt. Vernon Township High School as well as being an active force in his community.

He wasn’t the only one to pick up the torch Ward had sparked in the lives of her students.

Dr. Gary Sweeten, an Ina native who now owns a large counseling agency in Cincinnati, said Ward was especially influential.

“She is the reason I entered counseling,” he said. “She inspired me. I didn’t know what counselors did, but I decided I wanted to be like her.”

He now owns and operates Life Way Counseling – a large family and individual counseling agency in Cincinnati that employs 15 therapists.

Rend Lake College’s very first yearbook, the 1967-68 TARN, was “proudly” dedicated to Ward.

“We firmly believe that Miss Ward should be credited with much of the unity and development of the faculty, the students and the community of Rend Lake College. No matter how minute or involved the problems may be, Miss Ward always finds it to be a self-imperative need to help the college’s students to become better citizens in their country and their community,” reads the dedication.

Betty Ann Ward 68 Yearbook PortraitBetty Ann Ward

The 1963 Pyramid Yearbook is also dedicated to Ward and then RLC Dean Howard Rawlinson for “their devotion to the school and its betterment.”

Ward was active on the first faculty councils at RLC, a trend she started by being active on the MVCC councils. She also tried to be as active as she could on campus to support the students she cared so deeply for.

“She and I also served as faculty sponsors at student dances when the college was still housed at Mt. Vernon High School. The music was as loud then as it is today,” Arnold reminisced. “It was so loud that we would sit right next to each other and she couldn’t hear a word I was saying … We were close friends, and I enjoyed working with her very much.”

Arnold said that Ward passed away sometime during summer in the mid-80s while she was visiting friends in the metro east area. She had pre-arranged the details for her funeral with Charlie Hughey at Hughey Funeral Home.

Ward had told Hughey that she didn’t want a memorial or funeral. But, following her death, her family at RLC couldn’t stand to not offer tribute in some way. Rawlinson put on a small service in the RLC Theatre. Estes, Luchsinger and Arnold spoke in memory of their colleague and friend.

“Charlie Hughey attended the memorial and after the session, I was visiting with him and we were discussing her wish for him to determine what to do with her ashes,” recalled Arnold.

“I asked him what he was going to do with them. He said that he had given it a lot of thought and that Rend Lake College was her life and he decided to drive to the campus on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with her urn and throw the ashes into the air and let the wind blow them. He did that. So, in a way, Betty Ann is still with us. It was a great tribute for a great lady.”

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