As Richland celebrates our 50th Anniversary this year, we will be featuring the stories of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. Throughout the 2022–2023 academic year, we’ll share the stories of our community, across generations, academic fields, and staff departments. Help us celebrate the people and memories that have shaped 50 years of Richland. Follow along with our 50th Anniversary Celebrations at richand.edu/50years.
Bishop Wayne Dunning
“I mark off the third Tuesday of every month with joy because I know we’re going to do something productive.”
Bishop Wayne Dunning has always been committed to service. Ask his congregation at Faith Fellowship Christian Church or his students at Decatur Public Schools. But every third Tuesday of the month for the past 29 years, he has served Richland Community College on the Board of Trustees. When he became Board Chairman in the late 90’s, he instituted a new ritual to start every meeting: the reading of the core values, mission, and value statements.
“I always never want to forget why I’m there. Why I’m serving,” he says. “We’ve got to be reminded of why we do what we do.”
Bishop Dunning takes those statements to heart in the classroom. Years ago, the bishop was teaching a troubled kid and sat him down for a conversation.
“I asked him, ‘What do you want to do? What do you like to do?’ And this guy, this tough guy, said, ‘Mr. Dunning, don’t tell anybody but I like to cook.’ So I took him out to Richland Community College,” he said. “He saw his goals and dreams and they were reachable and obtainable just by coming on campus. We had nothing to do with his education. He was in eighth grade at the time and he just saw the possibilities and we broke the glass ceiling in his mind.”
For the bishop, his goal as a trustee is creating a welcoming environment for Richland students and ensuring they have the proper education to excel in their career. One of the accomplishments he is most proud of is the increasing diversity on campus.
“People feel like they belong. It’s a diverse place. It’s becoming more equitable. And people feel like they’re included in decision making,” he remarked. “When I started in ’93, we didn’t have a lot of that. Now, we do. We have a lot of it. We’re oozing it. And you know what, we can even do better.”
Richland Community College has accomplished a lot in the past 50 years. In the bishop’s almost 30 years on the board, he has worked with three presidents. He saw the Richland Community College Foundation grow from giving $100,000 in scholarships to almost $1 million a year. He was part of the movement for the Board of Trustees scholarship and the start of the Farm Progress Show.
Bishop Dunning says Richland is starting to become people’s first choice, and we will continue to grow in the next ten years as a national leader in agribusiness, technology, the police academy and nursing.
“We’re going to be putting out the finest nurses in the world. And our nurses will be able to go anywhere. When they have a Richland degree with them, people will recognize, ‘Oh my goodness, we have a Richland student. Not only do we have to pay them, but we know they’re good.’”
And Bishop Dunning is excited to continue working with the Board of Trustees to turn Richland into the national leader it’s meant to be.
“We’ve got a phenomenal board. This board has totally exceeded my expectations,” he stated. “That’s the reason why I hang around. When you’re around great people, you want to stay around great people.”
Professor Evyonne Hawkins has always chosen Richland. When she and many others were laid off from Bridgestone Firestone, it was her first choice.
“I had already been taking classes at Richland part-time, and that gave me the opportunity to go full time,” she said. “That gave me the opportunity to continue going to school and earn the degree.”
Once she earned her AAS degree, Prof. Hawkins was hired by Richland as a Division Secretary. In the meantime, she was taking classes at the University of Illinois at Springfield toward a bachelor’s degree.
“My goal was to get into middle school teaching. But the more I was here at Richland as an administrative assistant, I started to feel like this was more where I wanted to be.”
Professor Hawkins says her colleagues (Kay Mackey, Jolene Wiegard, Linda Harper, Jane Johnson, Dr. Thom Baynum, Dr. Lois Hamilton, Donna Dare, Dr. Lily Sue, and Stuart Shepherd) helped her grow even more. And just eight years after obtaining her associate’s degree, she was invited to participate in a project to increase the number of minority faculty at the college.
“People are always watching you even when you don’t realize it. And because of [each colleague], opportunities came about that I would’ve never seen on my own. But they saw the potential in me to move further, and they helped me to do that.”
Once she graduated from her Master’s program, the professor was hired as a full-time Education and African American Studies faculty. But this was not the end of her educational journey. As of now, Professor Hawkins is completing her dissertation for her doctorate degree. She is hoping to finish by next year.
“Because of Richland, I have seen the community as my own personal landscape on which I can impact the lives of others through education, empowerment, and leadership,” she said. “I choose Richland because I understand how it can be the stepping stone to something you never dreamed you would attain.”
F. Kathie Whitley
“Looking back now, you do what you’ve got to do to get through. I was working 3 jobs. I was going to school and I was raising two kids – pretty much by myself. You do what you have to do at the time, and you know at some point you’re going to be done.”
F. Kathie Whitley’s journey with Richland Community College started when she was 33. It had been 15 years since Whitley had last stepped into a classroom, and she was hesitant to go back.
“I wasn’t really sure of myself. I was told on multiple occasions that I probably wouldn’t make it, and I was getting out of an unhealthy relationship.”
Whitley’s hesitations disappeared soon after she started taking summer classes. Her experience with faculty and the Learning Resources Center created a stronger learning environment for her first two semesters.
“Those [resources] are valuable. And I tell – now my grandkids – that if you’re having problems with a class, there are facilities wherever you’re going to school. Go get help. That’s what those people are there for.”
After graduating from Richland, Whitley obtained her Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from the U of I. She went on to work at ADM as the Vice President of Human Resources for 24 years. In the midst of that, Whitley continued to work with Richland. In 2006, Richland gave Whitley the Distinguished Alumni Award. At the same time, ADM needed people to fill multiple positions, including diesel mechanics and welders. With Richland, Whitley helped develop programs and studies for ADM employees in the plants and their trucking facility.
“I believe one of the best strengths of Richland is not only providing an excellent education for students moving on to a 4-year university but for Richland to continue to provide the variety of vocational training needed to keep District 537 with a strong trained workforce.”
But Whitley said her greatest accomplishment at Richland came from when she served on the Foundation board.
“Being able to sit and look at those applicants and put myself in their place because, at the time when they applied for scholarships, they had to write, ‘Why do you need this scholarship,’” she said. “The reasons I focused on were, ‘I’ve been out of school for 3 or 4 years,’ ‘I need to do something to better my standard of living,’ or ‘I’m a single mom and I have these kids and this would really help me complete my degree.’ That position allowed me to provide great opportunities for others in a similar situation.”
Whitley hopes all students (especially people who are thinking about going back to school) strongly consider going to Richland.
“Richland provided an excellent education and provided the foundation for me to receive my Bachelor’s Degree and pursue my career. I didn’t think these were things I could attain before I went to Richland.”
Myung & Ki Kim
“The first part of my story is my wife’s story. That’s why I joined – because of her.”
Myung Kim’s journey with Richland started with his wife, Ki. When the campus was located in the old Millikin National Bank building downtown, she worked as a trust officer across the street. At the end of the day, she walked over to teach accounting and various business classes.
“She was a really dedicated teacher. If somebody needed extra help during the lunch hour or whenever a student had the time, she asked the student to come to the Millikin Bank office,” Myung said.
When Richland moved to a rented business space in Park 101, she followed the college there. Ki soon came across another opportunity for the college: a permanent location.
“My wife was managing farmland for a client. The client decided to sell the farmland, so the family and the bank decided to auction it off. They held the auction one night in the old Holiday Inn [now, the Decatur Conference Center & Hotel], and Richland outbid everybody and bought the land. In the back of my wife’s mind, she thought, ‘I’m glad Richland was able to secure the farmland.’ Because she knew they were going to build a campus here.”
From there, Ki continued serving the Richland community, convincing some of her clients to donate money to build the Schrodt Health Center. She never saw the finished product.
Ki passed away in 1998. For a few years after that, Myung had no connection with the college. But that changed with a phone call, just before the Schrodt Health Center opened.
“A good friend of my wife was involved with the fundraising. She called me and she said, ‘Richland is looking for donors to name the classrooms. I want you to get a classroom in memory of Ki.’ So I bought a classroom at the Schrodt Center.”
In 2004, Carol Condon (Foundation Executive Director) and Joan Wolf (Foundation Board Chairperson) contacted Myung to see if he would be interested in joining the Foundation board.
“Realizing what [Ki] had done and what she had gone through for the school, I thought, ‘I will do that in memory of her and all the work she put in.’”
During his six-year term, Myung worked on multiple projects for the Foundation. He was even asked to work on outside projects. Greg Florian (Vice President for the Treasurer) sook out Myung (and his engineering experience) to work with Chastain & Associates on site preparation for the Farm Progress Show.
A major internal project Myung helped with was the Agribusiness Applied Technology Park (AATP). In this project, Richland was going to build a business center for agriculture-related vendors on some farmland owned by the Foundation. As this project continued, Myung realized he wouldn’t be able to completely finish it before the end of his term on the board. So, he reached out to the college president, Gayle Saunders.
“I said, ‘Gayle, my term is coming to an end soon. And I don’t know what I’m going to do with the project.’ She asked me to stay on for the continuity and the history of what we were doing. So I stayed on past my sixth year, and it went on and on and on and on.”
The AATP project was eventually scrapped, but by that time, Myung was taking on other roles. As Foundation directors left the college, he stepped in to assist new directors. Eventually, he was named an Honorary Director for the Foundation.
“In some ways, I’m kind of a historian for the Foundation… since 2004.”
Financially, Myung has played a role in providing a proper learning environment for students. He established the Myung Kim Family Endowed Scholarship, which goes to a student enrolled in health professions, business, or engineering technology programs. Myung has also invested in building upgrades at Richland, contributing to the capital campaign for the Teaching and Learning Center.
With all these efforts, Myung is continuing the legacy that started with Ki, making Richland Community College a place for students to thrive.
“As long as I’m here and I’m able, I’ll continue to do that. I will support Richland and the Foundation.”
“If it weren’t for Richland, I don’t know where I would be.”
After graduating from Stephen Decatur High School, Matt Whitehead, like many graduates, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. And he had just started classes at Eastern Illinois University when his life changed for the worse.
“I didn’t get off to a great start. I got viral meningitis and almost died. I missed several weeks of school, and there was no way I was going to recover from that, so I dropped out of Eastern. I came back home to Decatur and really had no idea what I was going to do. So I got a job, but my parents were all about education. They were on me to go to school, go to school, go to school. And they said, ‘Why don’t you just go to Richland?’”
Once he started classes at Richland, Matt met professors who inspired him and helped him discover what he wanted to do.
“Believe it or not, I took some business and accounting classes and was like, ‘Oooh, I kind of like this.’ I remember one accounting teacher I had; he had worked for several years before he taught accounting. And he gave real-life examples and helped you understand what it would be like in the real world. In the end, I was fortunate enough to have a lot of great professors here who really cared and helped me find direction.”
While attending Richland, Matt worked in banking. He stayed in that job even after he graduated and was taking part-time classes at the University of Springfield to get his bachelor’s degree. Between going to school and starting a family, it took Matt eight years from when he arrived at Richland to his final days at UIS to obtain his bachelor’s degree.
“There’s part of me that wishes I would’ve just gone to four years of school straight out of high school. But because I worked and went to Richland at the same time, I was gaining real-world work experience while I was getting this education. And it helped me to be like, ‘Okay, I’m learning this; this is how it applies to my real-world job.’”
Since obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Matt has stayed in Decatur, determined to do his part to help his community. He worked at the YMCA, first as Director of Finance before he took over as CEO in 2014. In 2018, he ran into Foundation Director Julie Melton, who asked him if he would like to join the Foundation.
“I said, ‘Absolutely. I would love to be part of Richland in any sort of way.’ [Richland] helped me so much, so if I could give back to it, I certainly wanted to do that.”
And as Matt continues to help shape the direction of Richland’s future, he gets to watch as his step-daughter finds hers at the same place he found his own.
“My stepdaughter won’t have any debt. We’re very thankful she chose Richland.”
“Dad lobbied for the public good, for student good, for the community college good, for the good of the community of Decatur.”
Wayne Knopf was a true Marine. Every day, he embraced the messages behind the mottos “Semper Fi” (always faithful) and “Ductus Exemplo” (lead by example). In his sixteen years with Richland, he never once wavered from those ideals.
A couple of weeks ago, we sat down with Wayne’s oldest son, Paul, and Wayne’s wife, Marlene, to talk about his journey at Richland. It began in 1972, when the school (originally called the Community College of Decatur) was first created. At the time, he was working for the Waukesha campus of the University of Wisconsin. Then the president of that campus came across an opportunity in Decatur, Illinois.
Paul told us, “[The president] went down and got the opportunity to speak with some folks, came back and said to my dad, ‘Wayne, there’s an opportunity to be involved in a new community college. It’s an opportunity I think neither one of us can pass up.’ So dad went down and talked to the folks as well and came back and told the family that we were headed south.”
As soon as he arrived in Decatur, Wayne immediately got to work as one of the founding deans, more specifically as Dean of Student Development and Services (SDS). Paul visited his dad’s office every day for lunch, describing the office as a, “beehive of activity with students coming and going, phones ringing, students talking, counselors counseling, and students and staff smiling. It was an inspiring place for everyone.”
When it came to advancing his division, Wayne stayed steadfast. He worked hard to establish programs like the Office of Veteran Affairs, child care services, athletics, summer development programs, and human potential seminars.
“Different professors and teachers would say to me, ‘You can’t let Wayne back you into a corner or you’ve lost,’” Marlene said. “He got what he wanted for student services.”
Once Paul graduated from high school, he got to experience his dad’s work firsthand.
“Dad said, ‘Paul, I think it’s a really good opportunity for you to start off at Richland and maybe stay here for 2 years,’” Paul told us. “After that first year, I had taken some assessment tests that dad would give to others, where you assess your strengths and your weaknesses. And they showed there were three careers that I might take a look at: law, landscape architecture and planning, and teaching.”
After his family visited a college in Utah (which specialized in landscape architecture), Paul knew he had found his next step. Eventually, Paul and his siblings ended up settling around Evanston, Wyoming.
Being away from their children was tough for Wayne and Marlene. So, he made the tough decision to retire early in 1988, around the time Richland was moving to the permanent campus.
“Though I won’t be part of this new facility, my roots run deep and true throughout the earlier chapters of Richland,” Wayne said in an interview with the Herald & Review. “I believe very deeply in the community college mission. I didn’t start college myself until I was 25. I was a veteran, and I had a family when I was in college. The variety of needs I faced as dean were the kinds I personally experienced as an older student.”
In retirement, he and Marlene moved to Wyoming to be closer to their children. Throughout the rest his life, he continued to engage with the community while he battled Crohn’s disease and Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
He passed away on July 18th, 2022, at the age of 91. But his influence continues to live on, not only in the hearts of his family but in the Richland community. Semper Fi.
**Special note: Thank you to the Knopf family for sharing Wayne’s story. Although we were not able to share his full story, we are honored to memorialize a piece of it.**