Jack Johnston and Mary Lou Whitten both got a little emotional as they spoke on Tuesday morning to a group of individuals who played key roles in the transformation of the Kaskaskia College Vandalia Campus from a dream to a reality. And they had good cause.
For Johnston, it was the fact that the community pulled together to build the 22,000-square-foot educational facility, and that the teamwork throughout the campus campaign will benefit both individuals and the community for many years to come.
For Whitten, the completion of the facility represents growth in a stellar nursing program and something that was made possible by her mother’s best friend.
Tuesday mornings breakfast in Kaskaskia College’s Simma-Kelly Education Building on West Fillmore Street was an opportunity for KC officials to unveil the facility to campus campaign donors and volunteers.
The building, which will first be used by KC students in the spring semester that begins early next year, includes three ‘smart classrooms,’ which KC capitol projects facilitator Laura Wedenkamper described as classrooms with state-of-the-art projectors, screens and instructor modules.
Also in the building are four ‘wet’ labs for nursing, clean coal, chemistry and anatomy/biology classes, and facilities that can be used for community meetings and events.
The facility bears the name of the late Hazel Simma-Kelly, whose estate donated close to $1.5 million for its construction, with the donation made through the Old Capitol Foundation.
Johnston, co-chairman of the Vandalia Campus Campaign, was among those praising the local residents who either donated funds for the campus project or volunteered to raise monies, or both.
‘I am in awe of the building itself,’ Johnston said. ‘I am in awe that this community has people who are willing to step forward for a project such as this.
‘All of you were willing to take responsibility for not only doing some personal giving of your own wealth, but you were also willing to be the leadership in the community.
‘We know it’s going to improve the economic level of our community, but, more importantly, I know that there are people who are going to be able to go to college, get an education, that would simply have been unable to do that before,’ Johnston said.
‘The purpose of this meeting is to let those who made this facility possible have the first opportunity to see that which we all have produced,’ he said.
The other campaign chairman, Ernie Chappel, said, ‘The opportunities that are come to come with this building are endless, and I think that’s fantastic.’
KC President Dr. James Underwood estimated that KC will serve about 1,500 students each year in Vandalia, explaining that the community college will be able to add day programs and expand its offering of evening programs.
‘This is just the beginning of this campus,’ Underwood said, explaining that KC will continue to work with legislators in securing the previously promised state funds that will be used to complete a second building on the 42-acre campus site at the west end of Fillmore Street.
Jim Beasley, chairman of the KC Board of Trustees, said the establishment of a Vandalia campus ‘has been a remarkable success.
‘It has been made possible through the commitment and through the dedication of everybody in this room and organizations not represented here today.
‘Good things don’t happen by accident,’ Beasley said. ‘Good people make good things happen.
‘The board acknowledges the vital role this campus is going to play in the future of many individuals and in the future of the community, both educationally and economically,’ he said.
Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman said, ‘This is a great day here in the city of Vandalia, not only for the college, but for the economic growth that this college will bring.’
Whitten, a lifelong resident of Vandalia who serves as dean of KC’s nursing program, is pleased that the campus project will allow the community college to expand that program. But seeing Phase I of the campus project completed means much more to her personally.
‘My children had to go away to college,’ Whitten said. ‘Now, I can say to my grandchildren, ‘You can go to college right here in Vandalia.”
It was also an emotional day for her because the building bears the name of her mother’s closest friend, a woman who she referred to as ‘my Aunt Hazel.’
She described Hazel Simma-Kelly as a ‘very humble lady. I think she probably would be unimpressed by the fact that the Simma-Kelly name is in bold letters on the outside of this building.
‘But she would be thrilled to pieces at the education that is going to go on inside this building,’ Whitten said.
She said that she envisions her mother and Hazel Simma Kelly looking down on Tuesday morning’s proceedings and saying, ‘Look at what they did with my money – isn’t that wonderful.’