INA - Three new faces are on board with the Rend Lake College Foundation Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors have welcomed Mary Ellen Aiken, Chris Johnson and Bob Thomason between June and August.

All three are community leaders in the area and bring with them an array of experience to the board, according to RLC Foundation CEO Pat Mitchell.

Thomason is the General Manager of Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative, Hamilton County Long Distance, Inc., and Hamilton County Communications, Inc. He grew up in Carmi and attended Southeastern Illinois Junior College. Before joining the ranks at the cooperative in 1976, Thomason worked as an assistant manager at Crown Finance and at Automatic Electric.

His wife, Mary, is a teacher at Marion High School and his two daughters, Shelda and Beth work as a teacher in Zeigler and a registered nurse in Carbondale, respectively. Thomason also has three grandchildren; Sydney, Trinity and Jacob.

According to Mitchell, the Hamilton County Telephone Co-op and Hamilton County Communications, Inc., are recognized as major contributors to the Rend Lake College Foundation student scholarship program and the RLC Foundation Children’s Center.

“Mr. Thomason is well-known in the Hamilton County area and his presence on the RLC Foundation Board will strengthen the representation in that locality,” she said.

He said he is proud of his family and working his way up through the ranks at Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative.

“I’m proud of the way I’ve lived my life and the way I’ve grown through the times,” he said. “Raising a good family is quite an accomplishment. You can make all the money in the world, but if you’ve failed there, you’ve failed miserably.”

He received a certificate for Excellence In Leadership in 2003 and in 2005 from the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, as well as a number of different certifications through the telephone cooperative. He said education is important to him as a business leader and as a parent.

“Certainly, education is a very important part of a young person’s life,” he said in regard to joining the RLC Foundation Board of Directors. “I think being able to help and support the local community college is the desire of, not only every parent, but of any businessman. I feel good about having the opportunity to serve.

“I will contribute to the best of my ability,” Thomason added.

Retired Benton educator Aiken said she is excited about working with the Rend Lake College Foundation because of the amazing opportunities it can afford students. As a former mathematics teacher at Benton Consolidated High School, she said she has seen first-hand the positive effects RLC’s dual-credit offerings can have on students.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to help students go on with their careers,” Aiken said. “They are very excited about dual credit, particularly the calculus and pre-calculus classes. Those are big draws because in most cases they transfer to four-year universities. I’ve seen how advantageous it is to get that dual credit.”

“She is known for her enthusiasm and positive attitude,” Mitchell said.

Aiken is teaching several math lab courses part-time at RLC this fall, she said.

In addition, Aiken said she is extremely interested in RLC’s Theatre program. Both of her daughters have performed in plays there. Aiken herself plays piano and provides accompaniment in plays.

Aiken spent 29 years teaching in Benton, plus three years in other locations. She graduated from the University of Illinois, taught in the Chicago area for a short time, then “came back to where my heart is.” She now resides in Benton with her husband John.

“I am very excited,” Johnson said of being named to the RLC Foundation Board. “I think the Board consists of a great group of people. I’m very excited to get involved in and work with the team there.”

After working for 16 years with Walgreen’s, Johnson is back where he started.

He began his career at the distribution center in Mt. Vernon and transferred 11 years later to a Walgreen’s site in Jupiter, Fla., where he worked for two years as the operational manager and opened the newest distribution center for the company. He then transferred to Waxahacie, Texas - about 20 miles south of Dallas - and worked there as plant manager before January, when he became the manager of the facility in Mt. Vernon.

His full-circle service to the Walgreen’s corporation brings Johnson back to his hometown of Mt. Vernon and sits well with the local business leader about to turn 37 years old. He is now managing the largest Walgreen’s Distribution Center, regarding volume and team members, in the nation.

According to the RLC Foundation Board Nominating Committee, Johnson represents one of the largest employers in the Mt. Vernon area, brings his business expertise to the Foundation and strengthens the partnership of Walgreen’s, Rend Lake College and the Foundation.

A 1987 graduate of Mt. Vernon Township High School and Rend Lake College alumnus, Johnson said he is, and always has been, proud of his southern Illinois roots.

“I’m happy to be back in the community. I’m happy to be back home,” he said. “I was always proud to tell everybody where I was from - especially while I was in Florida and Texas. But, I was even more proud to tell everybody where I was coming back home to.”

When asked what two accomplishments he is most proud of, Johnson responded on a personal note. His near 16 years of marriage to Stephanie - a stay-at-home mom with a nursing degree from Rend Lake College - and his four children take the top positions for his proudest accomplishments, he said. They have one daughter, 15-year-old Lindsay, and three sons, 11-year-old Caleb and 3-year-old twins, Canden and Cayden.

Johnson said he thinks, not only Rend Lake College but the community college system as a whole, serves a vital role in Illinois education.

“It’s very important. I think it sets a very strong foundation for the kids in the area. It will really help give them a leg up when they move on to a four-year university. And I think it’s very important to the area.”

He has attended one meeting of the Rend Lake College Foundation Board, but was forced to leave early after being informed that Caleb had broken both of his arms in a motorcycle accident.

But, his son is doing OK. His last cast was removed recently and he stayed in one piece after playing tackle in his first football game on Saturday, Johnson said. Coming to the Mid-West from Texas, Johnson said it should be understood why Caleb would play football only a short time after both his arms were broken.

“He’s a football fanatic,” he said.

The Rend Lake College Foundation Board is a key decision-making facet at RLC, according to Mitchell. It provides scholarships for the college and students who attend RLC as well as contributes opportunity for growth through new construction.

“The Foundation Board is an ambassador to the college,” she added. “It promotes the college and opens the doors to make new friends of Rend Lake College and its Foundation.”

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