ICCTA Distinguished Alumnus Award

2003 Nominees

Peggy Kirby
Former publisher
Elgin Courier-News
Elgin Community College (1985)

A high school dropout at age 16, a mother at age 18, Peggy Kirby was the first in her family to enter college. "If there had not been a community college readily accessible to me, I would never have acquired the confidence or skills to apply for my first office job," she says. That job was an entry-level accounting position at the Elgin Courier News. Thanks to her mentors at Elgin Community College, she moved up the ranks to vice-president/general manager of three daily newspapers and, finally, publisher of the daily paper where she had started as a billing clerk.

Bruce Barkau
Director of marketing and member services
Tri-County Electric Cooperative
Kaskaskia College (1974)

"The friendly environment of Kaskaskia College enabled me to pursue my education while developing a successful work ethic," says Bruce Barkau. He has put that ethic into practice as the head of Tri-County Electric Cooperative's Certified Comfort Home program, which assists consumers in building energy-efficient homes and guarantees their heating and cooling costs for three years. TCEC is one of the few utilities in the nation (and the only one in Illinois) to offer such a program.

Barbara Constance
Retired financial aid administrator
Southwestern Illinois College
Southwestern Illinois College (1980)

"Over the past 20+ years, Southwestern Illinois College has been a major part of my life – as a student, an employee, and as an ardent supporter through the efforts of the Foundation," says Barbara Constance, who chaired the college foundation in 2001 and 2002. Her enthusiasm for her alma mater has passed down to her five children, all of whom attended SWIC during their educational careers as well.

Jason J. Crean
Science teacher
Lyons Township High School
Moraine Valley Community College (1993)

A professional breeder of exotic birds since age 12, Jason Crean worked his way through Moraine Valley Community College by managing a local pet shop. Now he shares his love of animals with area students and civic groups. Named as his district's Innovative Educator for 2002, he also serves as an education consultant for Brookfield Zoo and as president of the Avicultural Society of Chicagoland. "I know I would not be where I am today without the opportunities that were provided to me as a student at Moraine Valley," Crean says.

Dennis DeRossett
The Southern Illinoisian
John A. Logan College (1975)

Dennis DeRossett entered John A. Logan College after a less-than-stellar start at a nearby university. "I thought at the time that attending JALC was actually taking a step down," he recalls. "I soon realized I was wrong. The community college environment was a natural and smooth transition step for me." DeRossett's publishing career has taken him to newspapers in Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. In July 2002 he fulfilled a lifelong career goal and returned toThe Southern Illinoisan, where he had worked part-time as an editorial clerk while completing his bachelor's degree.

Kevin Finch
Executive producer, special projects and news co-brands
Illinois Central College (1979)

Kevin Finch has covered Olympic Games in three cities and written documentaries for the Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel. But this Illinois Central College alumnus notes that "My only obstacle comes up rarely: fighting the stigma associated with community colleges. I crusade whenever I can to fight misinformation and misunderstanding about community colleges and their ability to provide superior, high quality higher education. Right now, that means contacting top higher education officials in Indiana to, I hope, get their new community college system off to a meaningful start."

Virginia Hinner
Hinner Signs and Equipment
McHenry County College (1986)

Thirty-eight years after leaving college to raise her family, Virginia Hinner was elected by her peers to serve as student trustee at McHenry County College. She continues to maintain ties to her alma mater as a past president of the Friends of MCC Foundation and as a math tutor for GED students. In 2000 she was the first recipient of MCC's Legacy Award. "The reason I came to McHenry was to become computer literate," says Hinner. "I got here and was hooked on computer programming. Each time I signed up for classes and each time a class ended, I thought, I want to do this again."

Stephen P. Irving
Irving Construction Company
Kishwaukee College (1971)

"I had a very difficult time in high school and had no idea where I was headed," says Stephen Irving, who completed his secondary education by receiving a GED certificate. "My experiences at Kishwaukee College really bridged the gap between my difficulties in high school and who I could be." Irving founded his real estate development company in 1974 and has won two American Institute of Architects awards for historical architectural renovation. In 1998 he endowed a scholarship fund at Kishwaukee for outstanding GED graduates.

Richard C. John, Jr.
The Sedona Group
Black Hawk College (1976)

Founded by Rick John in 1986, The Sedona Group has grown from a traditional temporary staffing agency into a network of employment service providers in 15 states. "I look back on my time spent at Black Hawk College as the favorite part of my further education," says John. "It was at Black Hawk that my passion for learning was nurtured and encouraged. . . . This passion is reflected in The Sedona Group's emphasis on lifelong learning and the development of the The Sedona Training Center, where all our employees and associates can receive unlimited free training opportunities."

Marlene D. LaGrone
Human resources generalist
International human resources department
SBC Communications Inc.
Shawnee Community College (1981 and 1984)

Marlene LaGrone's two associate degrees from Shawnee Community College have aided her well in her rise from small-town secretary to human resources manager with the second largest telecommunications company in the country. "I credit my 17½ years of employment – with a company that currently employs in excess of 180,000 people – to Shawnee College," she says. "Had it not been for the fact that I attended this college, gained independence and confidence in my skills and more common sense, I might not be where I am today."

Dan Loescher
Loescher & Associates, Ltd.
Highland Community College (1974)

Dan Loescher enrolled at Highland Community College intent on becoming an engineer. Discovering that "physics would be my downfall," he instead opted for a degree in accounting. In 1995 he again chose a new path when he resigned as a partner at the world's eighth largest accounting firm to open his own practice in 1995. Recognized as an expert in tax-exempt organizations, Loescher volunteers as treasurer for numerous civic groups and charitable trusts. "Highland provided me with the flexibility to pursue my educational goals in an environment which encouraged high personal achievement and growth," he says.

Greg Rush
Senior technical manager, pressure systems and operations research
McDermott Technology, Inc.
Southeastern Illinois College (1973)

During his 26 years at McDermott Technology, Greg Rush has led or assisted in many government and commercial research efforts on nuclear safety, including the analysis of the Three Mile Island reactor accident. Author of eight papers on mechanical engineering, he holds two U.S. patents and one international patent. His latest venture is his own software company, GK Solutions. "I have never looked back since graduating from Southeastern Illinois College and have held my own whether in business or personal endeavors," says Rush. "And yes – if I had to do it over again, I would travel the same road to SIC."

Thomas A. Schmidt
Carl Sandburg College
College of DuPage (1973)

During Tom Schmidt's tenure as finance vice president and then president, Carl Sandburg College has seen a strong growth in enrollment, new campus facilities, and a unique "rolling contract" with a faculty that had gone on strike several years before. He attributes his success to his alma mater. "College of DuPage enveloped me with unqualified acceptance and encouragement," says Schmidt. "By providing positive encouragement for what I could do, this community college inspired me to not only fulfill the hopes and dreams of my own heritage, but to commit the balance of my own life to enabling others to do likewise."

Scott Shaw
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Danville Area Community College (1983)

As a youth, Scott Shaw was interested in photography but not academics. His shyness and lack of scholastic motivation led his father to suggest he attend Danville Area Community College, where he could work as a part-time photographer at the local newspaper. He has since won more than 200 awards for his photojournalism, including a Pulitzer Prize for his now-famous photograph of Baby Jessica upon her rescue from an abandoned well. "The success that I've found in my professional life can be directly attributed to the time I spent at Danville Area Community College," Shaw says. "My experience at the college led to a greater appreciation for learning that carries into my life today."

Lori L. Sundberg
Dean of human resources/organizational development Carl Sandburg College
Carl Sandburg College (1977)

Lori Sundberg began her career with a cosmetology certificate from Carl Sandburg College. While owning and operating her own salon, she returned to CSC to pursue advanced degrees in business. In 1995 she switched gears to become the college's institutional researcher and grant writer. Recently promoted to dean, she has published articles on enrollment and distance learning and has generated more than $4 million in grants for CSC. "What makes community colleges so unique is that the community college system has the ability to influence and shape people throughout their lives in many different ways," Sundberg says. "For me, the community college helped shape a significant career change."

Pamela J. Wilson
Program specialist in zoonosis control
Texas Department of Health
Spoon River College (1977)

Pamela Wilson is one of the Lone Star State's top educators in the fields of animal control and rabies prevention. The author of numerous scientific articles and training manuals, she has also written a children's book and is completing a text on proper pet care. In 2002 she was the first person to be honored with the Texas Veterinary Medical Association's Veterinary Technician of the Year Award. "I can state unequivocally that the two years I attended Spoon River College prepared me to succeed in future educational endeavors, aided me in achievement of professional goals, and provided me with a foundation by which to conduct my personal life," says Wilson.

James Wright
Staff physician assistant
Rock Springs Family Medical Center
Richland Community College (1979)

Vince Wright entered the medical profession at a time when there were no physician assistants in Decatur and very few in Illinois. After completing his bachelor's degree, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he earned an achievement medal for designing the USS Nimitz's "Trauma Locker" to improve emergency response time. In his current position, Wright is the primary care provider for 400 patients each month. "Richland Community College continues to be a proud beacon for excellence in our community," he says. "The walls are made of beautiful brick and mortar, but it is the people (instructors, staff and board) who have endeared and dedicated themselves to the elevation that Richland now greatly deserves."