INA, Ill. (Nov. 17, 2017) - Prolific doctors, prominent business owners, a pair of NASA employees, a famous stage actress, judges, state legislators and even a true-blue American hero, the list of Rend Lake College Foundation Alumnus of the Year award winners is impressive company.
So, in the midst of the RLC’s 50th anniversary, what stellar former Warrior did the Foundation select to represent all the best that Rend Lake College represents?
“I’m typical. I’m average. I’m common … I just had a very fulfilling career and Rend Lake helped me find that career and facilitate a life I have totally enjoyed. Obviously, I could not be more honored,” said the ever humble former RLC Communications Director and 2017 Alumnus of the Year Bob Kelley.
Kelley might not view himself as remarkable, but his legacy and impact are still being felt on campus more than a decade after his retirement, a true testimony to the dedication and devotion that he poured into a community he loved for almost his entire professional life.
His connections go much deeper than employee, however. Kelley’s story is also perfect for this 50th anniversary because of his time with the institution. He was a member of the first-ever RLC freshman class, growing up alongside the fledging institution.
“My ties to Rend Lake are pretty deep. My mother was the executive secretary to Dr. [Howard] Rawlinson [RLC’s first dean] for the first 10 years of the college. So, I had 10 years of connection through her. Then, I had the two years as a student, and then 27 years as an employee. Plus, in the 11 years since my retirement I’ve stayed connected to Rend Lake in various ways, whether it’s the RLC History Book or the Hall of Fame. The college has been around for 50 years, and I feel like I’ve got pretty close ties to most of those years,” Kelley expressed.
“Because of all that connection, there’s nothing outside of family that means more to me than the college. To think that I’m being recognized by Rend Lake, to my amazement, just humbles me. I am very appreciative,” said an emotional Kelley.
While the bulk of Kelley’s life has been involved with the college, it wasn’t his only stop. A fresh-faced RLC graduate, Kelley transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale for two years where he majored in journalism. He was even the recipient of a transfer scholarship because of his time at RLC.
For the first two-and-a-half years of his professional life, Kelley worked for the Illinois State Journal Register (SJR) in Springfield as a sports writer, his childhood aspiration. That particular paper offered Kelley a unique look at the industry as the SJR, at the time, printed both a morning and afternoon paper.
“Those two editions were totally separate staffs except for sports and the society sections. It was just a great experience for a young journalist. If I went out and covered a ball game, I’d hurry back to the office to meet the deadline with my game story that night and then immediately turn around to write a feature story with quotes and all that that would appear in the afternoon paper.”
Following his time at the SJR, Kelley spent six years at the Sunday Courier and Press in Evansville, Ind., as a sports writer on their staff.
He made one last brief stop at the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer as the sports editor. But, shortly after he took the position, an opportunity arose at RLC that Kelley couldn’t pass up.
“We had a three-year-old. It was just a chance to come back and be near grandparents and be in a similar environment and situation I grew up in. I grew up in Mt. Vernon with both sets of grandparents. That was just so meaningful. So, when an opportunity like that came up for us, we knew it was something we should pursue,” Kelley expressed.
Perhaps to get a better judge of his character, it still bothers Kelley today that he went into the Messenger-Inquirer office to put in his notice so soon after taking the position. His sense of loyalty and duty cause him to still feel like it was his “sleaziest moment.”
Yet, Kelley said, ultimately it was a good move. After years in the newspaper business, it was time for him to move on, and while the details surrounding the move aren’t to his liking, the transition itself was.
“I came back home for the interview and stayed at my parents’ house. I wanted to watch a ballgame. That was the night Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played for the National Championship, that famous game. That was the day I interviewed,” he recalled.
Kelley came on board as an employee during the summer of 1979 as communications director. Just a few months later, discussion began about getting the Foundation up and running. Dr. Curtis Parker had the initial realization that RLC needed to have a Foundation created when the college was established. But, the institution didn’t start to fully form the organization until 1979. So, prominent community members decided to have an informational meeting to officially start the Foundation.
It fell on the newly hired Kelley to get the word out about the meeting. In addition to issuing the standard press release, the new communications director also recommended placing a notice in the schedules the college sent out each fall and spring. He called this one of his biggest professional flubs.
The rub? These mailing schedules went out to every household in the district, all 40,000 of them.
“Here’s how smart I was, it was too late to get it printed in the schedule. They were already being printed. So, I said I could do up a flier announcing the meeting and we could just insert it in every schedule. Don’t ever volunteer to do something that involves stuffing 40,000 papers. That’s a number you have a hard time visualizing until you had them all in front of you. I was bringing these things home to have my four-year-old help me stuff. We finally got it done, but that’s how the announcement of the first foundation meeting went out,” Kelley said with a chuckle.
“So, that’s how it all got started. I’ve seen the Foundation grow from less than 100 at that first meeting to so much more. It’s remarkable what they’ve done over the years. I don’t have anything to prove it, but I feel like it has to be one of the top five Foundations at a community college nation-wide. What they have done over the years, and what the college has now because of the Foundation’s work is truly remarkable.”
He said that while other institutions suffered during the lengthy, and still ongoing, state budget issues, RLC is able to find itself on firmer footing thanks, in part, to the Foundation and the generous people who support it.
The thought of Kelley stuffing 40,000 papers by hand to get the word out isn’t a concept that would surprise anyone who knows him. His passion for keeping others informed and promoting the institution are legendary.
Kelley was well known for saving everything that had to do with the news and history of RLC. Even today, it’s likely that the former communications director can hunt down a specific press release, baseball score, obscure fact or vital detail though this extensive documentation and cataloging.
“A lot of people probably remember my office looking like a big junk pile from the outside. But, there were many times that people would come to me and ask about this or that because they knew I would have the information they needed,” he joked.
The internet and electronic files have helped cut down most of the clutter. So now, Kelley is just up to his digital eyeballs in historical information about the institution.
In fact, even in retirement, Kelley has continued working away, creating a tome of the complete history of Rend Lake College. He has produced more than a thousand pages of content, documenting everything from the roster of every given athletic team to ever take the field for the Warriors to even the most tumultuous details of the college’s history.
His work has been vital in the institution’s celebration of its 50th anniversary.
“I don’t know what anyone does when they just retire. I think productive senior citizens stay active and interested in things. So, in addition to a half-dozen other things that keep me busy and feeling productive, the book gave me something to work on every night after I got off grandson duty. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed putting it together.”
Kelley also maintains his ties with his other professional passion, athletics, by being an active participant in the Rend Lake College Hall of Fame Committee. To this day, he still produces all the publication and promotion for the annual induction ceremony and still maintains meticulous records of Warrior Athletics.
“I first got to know and respect Bob Kelley when I was a student at Rend Lake College from 1982-84. Bob was an assistant basketball coach and statistician for our team in those days. He showed every day that he truly cared about each and every one of the players on the team. When I returned to work at RLC in 1992, Bob immediately became one of my closest friends,” said RLC Athletic Director Tim Wills.
“He was always willing to help out with anything that we needed in the Athletic Department or anything that I need help with personally. He has continued to that type of person in his retirement. Bob Kelley is one of the most caring, dedicated and reliable people I have ever had the pleasure to know. I hope he knows how much he has meant to me over the time that we have known each other. There has never been a more deserving recipient of the RLC Alumnus of the Year than Bob Kelley. I am extremely happy that he is finally getting recognized for his contributions to this great institution.”
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 for his years of work as the school’s de facto sports information director and even in-a-pinch assistant coach.
“There’s no question there, I have to be the least athletic person on that wall,” Kelley joked in his usual manner.
Ever humble, always self-deprecating, Kelley filled a much larger role than “the guy who wrote press releases.” He is the intuition’s historian, and the unsung hero of information preservation that will ensure the story of RLC, and everything that surrounds it, is retained far into the future. From a student in RLC’s first freshman class to now Alumnus of the Year, Kelley has seen the institution through thick and thin.
“The college has grown by leaps and bounds, but it’s never changed its true mission of helping students of all types and abilities to make something of themselves. There was that stigma for many years that community college students couldn’t make anything of themselves. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just look at all the alumna of the year, all the people who have gone on to do such great things. That’s why I say I’m ‘Mr. Ordinary.’ You look at that list and what those people have accomplished, and you can’t help but be impressed. I’m probably the least accomplished person on there,” he said.
“I had a job I enjoyed doing, and that’s what Rend Lake is all about, preparing people for careers and the future. They do that very well. It’s amazing when you really stop and look. I think if people didn’t already know, they would be shocked at some of the people to come out of this community college.”
“Rend Lake has helped feed my family when I was growing up because of my mother. It helped feed my family when I worked there. There was never a day I wasn’t happy I was going to work. That, to me, is what success is. Rend Lake let me do that. Rend Lake means everything to me from the standpoint of what it has done for me in various capacities, and continues to, including this honor. I’m very touched,” said an emotional Kelley.
“Bob is how I measure dedication to this day,” said Chad Copple, RLC’s Dean of Communications and Marketing. He worked alongside Kelley in the Marketing and Public Information Department from 2003 until Kelley retired in 2006. “There was never anything he wasn’t willing to do for the betterment of this college or to help out a colleague, and he’s still doing it even in retirement. I hope that even just some of his dedication has rubbed off on me.
“Those same stacks on his desk he used to laugh about … now my desk looks just like that,” Copple joked. “The Marketing and Public Information Department has grown exponentially from the foundation he put down, and I hope we have done him proud.”
For his numerous contributions, and overall positive impact, Kelley will be honored at this year’s Rend Lake College Foundation Annual Dinner, set for Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Mt. Vernon Hotel & Event Center (formerly Holiday Inn) on Potomac Boulevard in Mt. Vernon.
In addition to honoring the 2017 Alumnus of the Year, the dinner will also highlight several generous members of the community and celebrate RLC’s 50th Anniversary. It’s an excellent opportunity for people in our communities to come together and support the work of the RLC Foundation.
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 Nov. 27 by contacting the Foundation at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1324, or by sending an e-mail to [email protected].