50 Influencers: Carroll Turner, Forefather of the Farm

INA, Ill. (Aug. 12, 2017) - The color green is in Carroll Turner’s blood. He was one of the founding fathers of Rend Lake College’s Agriculture Department and one of the driving forces behind the 280-acre farm lab that acts as RLC’s front yard, and in retirement he traded teaching for sinking putts.

Turner spent 26 years at the college, helping build one of the flagship departments from the old three-roomed Bonnie Grade School to what it is today. Hired in 1968, alongside Mark Kern and Ardell Kimmel, the team established a program that “structurally has stayed about the same since it was started,” because you don’t fix something that isn’t broken.

CarrollTurnerWCarroll Turner teaching an Agriculture class at the old Bonnie Grade School in 1971. Click on the image for a larger view.

While the program wasn’t broken, its first home was. In 1973 a tornado ravaged the old school house, which was already on the decline. That brought everyone home to Ina and set that particular course of history in motion.

Kern, of course, went on to be president of the college for nearly 17 years.

Turner elevated to his own leadership role, becoming the AAA Department Chair for two years before leaving RLC to work for Riverside Farms in Zeigler for a year and at Franklin Grain and Supply one year.

The hiatus didn’t last long though; he returned to take up the mantle of Deal of Vocational-Technical Education in 1979 at the age of 38. He was one of 61 applicants.

During his tenure as Dean, Turner witnessed a major conversion in one area, with the Mining Department emerging into a more diversified Industrial Technology Department due to a changing industry locally.

He was responsible for providing direction for numerous grant programs over the years, including JTPA and its forerunner, Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA); Child Care Resource and Referral (Project CHILD); Early School Leaver; Sex Equity; Teen Parent and Correctional Education programs.

Perhaps one of his biggest, or at least most noticeable accomplishments, is helping to spearhead a proposal to the Board of Trustees for utilization of college land for educational and demonstration purposes on a 280-acre plot in 1976.

At the time, Turner explained that the lab’s operation would allow students to gain practical experiences in the field of agriculture. RLC students, to this day, are involved in all aspects of decision-making at every level, from crop selection to marketing the harvest. Students will recommend crop varieties grown, planting rates, and fertilizer and tillage practices.

During that inaugural year, 126 acres of corn, 126 acres of soybeans and 40 acres of wheat were planted, and 90 students were able to take part in the lab’s operation.

While not as noticeable as a massive, working farm lab, one of Tuner’s most prolific legacies at RLC was his assistance in establishing the first “2+2” agreements with area high school feeder systems and the Mt. Vernon Area Vocational Center.

The program allowed for the coordination of efforts between RLC and the high schools to provide an easy, effective and efficient transition from the high schools’ vocational programs into the college’s related program.

“Our plan is to implement programs in all areas of vocational education that will allow a high school sophomore to select an occupational program and have a course of study outlined for four years,” Turner explained at the time.

It’s a concept that has grown in the subsequent years to cover more programs and curriculum agreements between RLC and the feeder schools, benefiting hundreds of students.

“Carroll is an outstanding citizen of Southern Illinois who always strives for the betterment of the people of the area, often times with little or no recognition,” said Rend Lake Conservancy District Chief Larry Foster when he presented Turner with the Foster Award for Public Service in 1990 on behalf of Gov. James Thompson.

Turner was a force for positive change at the college. It was no wonder that leadership was sad to see him go.

His resignation was accepted “with deep regret” at the March 19, 1996, board meeting. The trustees expressed their “appreciation for Turner’s 26 years of exemplary service to Rend Lake College.”

For his part, Turner made no qualms about his feelings for the college or his willingness to continue to be an asset.

“I have always been proud to be associated with Rend Lake College. It has been a real privilege to have worked with so many great people,” Turner stated at the meeting.

“If I can be of assistance in the future, don’t hesitate to call. Better yet, leave a message at the pro shop,” the aspiring senior golf tour pro said in closing.

Turner received both his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education degrees from the University of Illinois. He taught four years at Hillsboro High School before coming to the college.

Both of Turner’s daughters are graduates of Rend Lake College. Debbie was a Student Representative on the RLC Board of Trustees for a year before graduating in the Practical Nursing and Associate Degree Nursing programs; Beckie received her Associate in Arts Degree three years later, in 1988.

Turner and his wife, Jerilyn, have lived in Zeigler since 1977. For about half the time he has been with the college, Turner also has farmed on a part-time basis.


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