INA, Ill. (Jan. 29, 2017) - Founding Rend Lake College Board member Dr. Allen Baker, a Pinckneyville optometrist, was elected to the first-ever Rend Lake College Board on December 1966. All the members of that initial Board drew lots to determine length of term. Baker came up with a short straw, meaning he had to seek re-election the next year. But, on April 8, 1967, he was re-elected, this time to a three-year term.
Dr. Baker became President of the Board after President-at-the-Time Melvin Farlow suffered a heart attack. Farlow continued to serve the remainder of his term, but declined the presidency for the 1971-72 school year, and Baker took up the mantle instead. In total, he served on the college for over a decade.
He served on the RLC Board of Trustees from 1968-78 and was its Chairman from 1970-74. Prior to that, he served on the Steering and Executive Committees for Perry County and was instrumental in Pinckneyville becoming a part of the RLC District. He was also a key component in holding an election where voters decided by an overwhelming eight-to-one margin to establish the college.
Baker was involved in site selection and hiring the first President – one of three RLC Presidents he would be involved in hiring. He helped select an architect and pass a bond issuance for $1.3 million – the local share of constructing the original campus. He helped develop the college’s Master Plan and surely watched with pride as it became the first college in the state to complete its Master Plan.
In addition, in 1972, Baker, who had been vice-president of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA) since its founding, was also elected president of that organization. It was in that position that he made a long-lasting impact for community colleges state-wide. He also was a member of the Illinois State Scholarship Commission and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
Considered throughout the state as an expert on community college affairs, Baker has held several committee assignments in higher education, including serving as the Trustees Association liaison to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, serving on the Illinois Community College Advisory Committee on Community College Finance and serving on the Governor’s Advisory Committee to State Community College in East St. Louis.
RLC’s Administration Building was named in honor of Dr. Baker for his 13 years of service on the board as well as his contributions towards the founding of Rend Lake College.
At the naming dedication for the Administration Building, Dr. Loren Klaus, Shawnee Community College President, sent a letter citing Baker as “. . . the man who has done more for community colleges of the state than any other. “He indicated the community owed Baker its gratitude for the present system of funding for community colleges and called him “an eloquent speaker for the needs of this area.”
In reiterating the theme of those speaking during the evening, Dr. L.H. Horton Jr., President of Kankakee Community College, said Baker has done much for Rend Lake College, but his accomplishments extend further to include significant contributions to the entire statewide community college system.
Horton provided the guests with a rather specific list of some of Baker’s accomplishments. While Baker was ICCTA President, all 39 colleges in the system joined that organization.
Under his leadership, the Community College Act was codified. He helped establish a sound financial basis for community colleges, particularly through the equalization concept. And he gained the first override of a Governor’s budget.
In 2008, Baker and his wife Stella made another large impact on RLC, establishing the Allen Y. Baker and Stella Baker Scholarship Fund. “I directed them [Fidelity Investment Company] on behalf of my wife and myself to give a gift of $100,000 to Rend Lake College,” he said at the 2008 RLC Commencement Ceremony.
Dr. Howard D. Rawlinson's book, The First Fifteen Years,is available to the public via Rend Lake College's website. His book, along with many other pieces of our printed history, may be found at https://www.rlc.edu/student-services/111-learning-resource-center/12078-rlc-archives.