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Three faculty members honored during Blackburn’s first investiture ceremony



Three Blackburn College faculty members were honored at the 2022 Investiture for Endowed Faculty. Professor of Biology James Bray Jr., Professor of Art Craig Newsom, and Professor of Education Cindy Carlson Rice seated during the ceremony. (Blackburn College/Becky Bishop)

Three Blackburn College faculty members were honored at the 2022 Investiture for Endowed Faculty on Thursday, October 13, at Bothwell Auditorium. The first ceremony of its kind at the College, the event recognizes Blackburn’s commitment to academic excellence, highlights extraordinary faculty contributions to the institution, and celebrates the philanthropic support that makes these esteemed positions possible.

The three Blackburn College faculty members honored during this inaugural event were:

  • Professor James Bray, Jr. as the Dr. Irving Lawrence Graves Chair in Biology
  • Professor Craig Newsom as the James C. & Enid J. Pegram Chair in Fine Arts
  • Professor Cindy Carlson Rice as the Sonja Faust Hudren Professor in Education

“Endowed positions such as these represent significant academic achievement,” said President Mark Biermann, “Jim Bray, Craig Newsom, and Cindy Rice bring outstanding creativity and innovation to the work they share with Blackburn, and each one has made a considerable and powerful impact on our institution and on their field of study. They are all truly deserving of this honor, and we are proud that they are Blackburn faculty.”

Named chairs and professorships are among the highest achievements for faculty, honoring both the recipients and the benefactors whose generosity makes the appointment possible. The funding generated by the establishment of a chair or professorship plays a critical role in helping faculty members advance their instructional programs and in the College’s effort to recruit and retain high-quality faculty. An endowed chair or professorship also serves as a lasting tribute to those for whom it is named. 

During the ceremony in Bothwell Auditorium, Provost Karla McCain presented the celebrated faculty members with medallions and wooden chairs to exemplify this specific honor. “It’s impossible to have a healthy, vibrant college without a thriving faculty,” McCain said. “Their labor encompasses not just the most visible part, which takes place in classrooms, labs, and studios, but also efforts which are much less visible: one on one conversations with students about course material, advising, their futures and lives; maintaining their connection to the discipline through research projects, creative work, and service to their profession; and supporting through their presence, their encouragement, the offering of opportunities that students wouldn’t have dreamed of for themselves.”

She continued, “In order to sustain a healthy, flourishing faculty, we need to provide them opportunities to engage in both of these types of learning. Part of this support is financial: faculty need books, microscopes, and canvases. Part of this support is providing time for faculty to do the slower, more reflective work that learning requires. Finally, part of that support is in encouraging the work and acknowledging the excellence of teaching and scholarship that results.”

Dr. Lauren Dodge, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Blackburn College, described the event as a celebration of academic excellence and meaningful philanthropy. “Mother Teresa once said, “It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” Each of the gifts we celebrate tonight was given out of love. Love for a family member, love for education, and love for Blackburn College.”

The event also featured a keynote address from James Faust ‘64, providing remarks as a member of Blackburn College’s Board of Trustees and a donor. Mr. & Mrs. Faust and Family gifted the funds to create an endowed Professorship in Education in memory of Mr. Faust’s sister, the late Sonja Faust Hudren ‘66, to honor her incredible passion for teaching and to preserve her legacy at Blackburn. 

Originally from Chicago, both siblings attended and graduated from Blackburn. “I wanted to go away for college and discovered in a brochure that you could get to Blackburn by train,” Faust said. “The College was a very friendly place, and when my sister came to visit me, she enjoyed the campus as much as I did.”


He continued, “What’s beautiful about Blackburn is their ability to prepare highly-qualified teachers who want to make a difference in rural settings. I’m glad that I am able to do something to help Blackburn maintain its strength in teacher education. Blackburn helped give me my start, and I am grateful to be able to pay it back this way.”

About the honored faculty members:

Professor James Bray, Jr. – the Dr. Irving Lawrence Graves Chair in Biology

James Bray Jr. earned his B.S. in Biology in 1993 from Henderson State University in Arkansas and his Ph.D. in 2001 from Southern Illinois University in Plant Biology. In 2002, he joined the faculty at Blackburn College as a Professor of Biology. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Puerto Rico, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Dr. Bray has led a variety of projects on campus that both provided important learning experiences for students and increased the sustainability of Blackburn’s campus. He has worked with students on projects related to walnut tree forestry, beekeeping, water quality monitoring, and promoting recycling on campus. These efforts have led to Blackburn’s designation as both a Bee Campus USA and a Tree Campus. Dr. Bray is also a gifted teacher in the classroom and lab as well as a dedicated mentor to students. He has provided exemplary service and leadership on campus including as department chair and division chair.

Of the honor, Dr. Bray shared, “I was fortunate enough to know both Larry and Pirkko Graves during my tenure at Blackburn. I have also been blessed with getting to know a number of other Alumni and friends, from Marvin Mahan to my most recent student workers and so many great current students and community members. I continue to be completely overwhelmed by the generosity of our alumni and, just as important, members of the community that see the good work done at Blackburn. This ceremony is an honor to those that have given back, and I hope to fulfill the vision of these folks in all that I do in the college and community.”

Professor Craig Newsom – the James C. & Enid J. Pegram Chair in Fine Arts

Craig Newsom received his MFA from the University of Chicago. He lectures and exhibits art internationally. In addition to teaching, he has held positions in public relations and publishing. Newsom joined Blackburn as part-time faculty in 2005 and received tenure in 2014. During his time at Blackburn, Professor Newsom established the Graphic Design Major and Minor and has worked to provide students with a professional experience they can take into the work world or graduate school. Outside of campus, he works with his partner on their collaborative art project, which has completed artist installations and residencies in Finland, the Netherlands, Latvia, and the United States. In his spare time, he hunts mushrooms and watches very long foreign films in black and white.

Professor Cindy Carlson Rice – the Sonja Faust Hudren Professor in Education


Cindy Rice began her teaching journey as a sixth-grade and special education teacher in Manito, Illinois. In 1981, she moved to New Caney, Texas where she taught high school special education for eight years. In 1989 she completed a master’s degree in educational administration and became an assistant principal and building-level special education coordinator at New Caney High School. She served in that capacity for two years and in 1991 became the Director of Special Education for the New Caney School District. She was able to work with the special education team to move the district to become one of the first full-inclusion school districts in the state of Texas. Her greatest accomplishment, however, was to partner with her husband, John Carlson, and create three of the most amazing human beings: her children, J.J. Carlson, Ryan Carlson, and Tori Carlson. In 1994 their family moved to Roodhouse, Illinois. She began as principal of what was then a North Greene kindergarten – 8th-grade school where she worked until her first “retirement” in the summer of 2013. In addition to providing all of the students with computers, her greatest professional accomplishment through those years was assisting approximately 1600 to navigate the hell known as puberty. Her sweet husband passed away in the spring of 2001, and as a single mother and full-time grade school/middle school principal she thought it would be fun to pursue a doctoral degree which only took her nine years to complete. In 2010, after marrying her favorite blind date and adding four more wonderful children, Michael, Charles Jr., Rebecca, and James, and two stellar granddaughters to my family, she became Dr. Mrs. Cindy Carlson Rice.

No rest for the wicked. In January 2015, she was invited to “teach a couple of classes” at Blackburn College. Having attempted to revive old hobbies like collecting Crane potato chip pins and half-knitted socks, she thought adjunct teaching would be a fun way to fill her spare time. According to Cindy, “The phenomenal people with whom I have worked and with whom I currently work have tolerated and most often built upon what I refer to in our department as my “scathingly brilliant ideas.” We have a department of brilliant educators: John Essington, Brad Walkenhorst, Michelle Stacy, Della Montgomery, Brianna Sutton, Marchelle Kassebaum, Annamarie Cosenza, and so many others who have worked together to initiate exciting new programs here at Blackburn including Teacher Licensure, Blackburn and Beyond and our newest initiative, Early Childhood degrees for the current workforce. I will retire at the end of this current academic year to spend as much time as possible driving Charlie, our kids, and our 8.6 grandchildren to distraction. I am forever grateful for what the brilliant staff and faculty at Blackburn have taught me but even more for the chance to work and grow teachers who will touch lives for years to come.”

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Community News

School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting




Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.


The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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GHS News

Miners baseball has six on all-conference teams



Tristen Wargo

The Gillespie High School baseball team had six players receive South Central Conference accolades, conference officials announced on Monday. The Miners had three named to the first team, two to the second team, and two to the third team.

Named to the first team included seniors Bryce Buhs as pitcher, Tristen Wargo as infielder, and Jesse Berry as outfielder. Wargo was also named to the conference’s second team as pitcher alongside sophomore Collin Griffith. Senior Jaydon Baker and junior Jack Kaylor were named to the third team as designated hitter/utility and outfielder, respectively.

Rounding out the conference’s first team included Nathan Matoush of Hillsboro in two places as pitcher and infielder; Marcus Payne, Rocky Darr and Hunter Newell of Southwestern; Carson Satthoff, Mathew Bywater, and Jake Gasperson of Litchfield; Aiden Hatalla of North Mac; Benjamin Hutchinson of Greenville; and Kale Konrad of Vandalia.

Joining Wargo and Griffith on the conference’s second team is Adam Hale, Colin LeMarr and Ryan Lowis of Southwestern; Carter Legendre and Dillon Pritchett of Staunton; Ethan Saathoff of Litchfield; Rowdy Sussenbach and Cohen Alstat of Greenville; Quinn Morrow of North Mac; and Andrew Kelly of Vandalia.

Third team honorees include Drake Curry, Cohen Alstat, Dominic Sanchez, and Hudson Alstat of Greenville; Carson Saathoff and Tate Dobrinich of Litchfield; Cade McCready and Collin Etter of North Mac; Ryan Karbach, Parker Moore, and Madyx Angel of Pana; Marcus Payne of Southwestern; Ayden Jones of Vandalia; and Noah Convery of Carlinville.

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CUSD 7 News

School board names new head football coach




Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night voted unanimously to appoint Cory Bonstead as the Gillespie High School head football coach for the 2024-25 school year, replacing Dalton Barnes, whose resignation was accepted last month. In other action, the board voted to dismiss Assistant Varsity Football Coach Donnie Allen, and to not renew Allen’s appointment as the high school track and field coach.

The actions bring to an end several weeks of controversy related to the former head coach and assistant coach. Barnes resigned last month as both a high school physical education and social studies teacher as well as the head football coach after parents alleged he and Allen engaged in verbal and physical abuse of student-athletes. An online petition garnering more than 630 electronic signatures accused Barnes and Allen of “child abuse,” citing alleged “verbal abuse, physical abuse, influencing and coercing student-athletes to act against other student-athletes that have spoken out against the abuse, and attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of student-athletes with threats and manipulation.”

While Barnes submitted his resignation, Allen did not step down, precipitating Monday night’s actions to sever him from the district.

Bonstead was hired in July 2022 as a high school resource teacher. He has served as an assistant football coach for the past two years. Before coming to the school district, he was an assistant football coach for Galesburg’s Knox College, where he earned his degree. As a formality, the board also officially accepted Bonstead’s formal resignation as assistant freshman football coach and posted a vacancy for that position.

The actions to hire a new head coach and dismiss the assistant coach took place following a one-hour executive session to discuss personnel issues and other concerns. Upon returning to open session, the board voted unanimously to rehire a roster of certified staff members discussed in executive session.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of long-serving district custodian Jerry Balzraine, effective May 31, 2025.

Custodian Neil Balzraine, representing non-certificated employees, read a statement thanking Supt. Shane Owsley, Board President Mark Hayes and other board members for coming to an agreement with the union for a new contract covering non-certificated employees.

“Through night and weekends, we worked hard and got a lot done,” Balzraine said. “These meetings were most professional, cordial and productive.”


Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the new contract, which reportedly was ratified by union members Monday morning.

In other personnel action, the board reappointed winter coaches, including Casey Sholtis as GHS head boy’s basketball coach, Jake Kellebrew as assistant high school boy’s basketball coach, Anthony Kravanya as an unpaid volunteer assistant boy’s basketball coach, Jarrod Herron as scholar bowl coach for high school as well as seventh and eighth grade, Andrea Williamson as high school dance coach, Elizabeth Thackery as seventh-grade volleyball coach, and Celia Jubelt as eighth-grade volleyball coach.

Board members unanimously voted to accept the resignation of middle school paraprofessional James Bryant and to post a vacancy for the position. The board also approved a maternity leave request for BenGil Elementary School paraprofessional Kristin Schoen.

The board voted unanimously in separate actions to accept the resignation of Celia Jubelt as head high school women’s volleyball coach and post a vacancy for the position, and to appoint Matt Brawner as a GHS assistant women’s basketball coach.

Also in separate actions, the board voted to post job openings for a district head cook and a district kitchen employee. Board member Amanda Ross who moved to approve both actions pointed out the openings represent existing positions. “I want to be clear that we are not creating new positions,” she said.


On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Ross, the board green-lit three safety projects to be funded with proceeds of a COPS Federal Safety Grant.

PASS Security of Fairview Heights was the sole bidder for adding door access security for entry to the middle school/high school complex at a cost of $81,210.

Barcom Security with base offices in Springfield, Swansea and St. Louis, submitted the sole bid of $113,000 for an updated fire alarm system for the middle school/high school complex.


Commercial Telephone Systems, Collinsville, also the sole bidder, will install an updated intercom system at the middle school at a cost of $62,769.

“The companies we hoped would submit bids did submit bids and the prices were what we expected,” Supt. Owsley told the board. The contracts call for the work to be completed by two days before the start of the 2024-25 school year.


The board voted to place on file for public review an amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Owsley advised that some numbers in the tentative amended budget are likely to change for the board’s final approval next month. State law requires a 30-day review period, however, even though some data to be reflected in the budget is still being collected.

“I can tell this will change,” Owsley said. “I will have final numbers and a presentation for the board in June.”

Last month, the board directed Owsley to begin work on a tentative fiscal 2025 budget authorized operational expenditures for the period between July 1 and whenever the new budget is approved. Typically, the district finalizes a budget for the current fiscal year in September.


Upon Owsley’s recommendation, the board declared two buses and one truck as surplus property. The three vehicles will be advertised for sale to the highest qualified bidders.


In other words action, the board:

  • Approved a high school course description book for the 2024-25 school year. GHS Principal Jill Rosentreter said there are no major changes from the course description document the district used last year.
  • Approved a revised school calendar. Supt. Owsley said the only change is setting 12:45 p.m. as the dismissal time on days that have early dismissal. Previously, early dismissal times were staggered at 12:30 and 1 p.m. The change is precipitated by the district’s decision to start the school day as the same time for all three attendance centers.
  • Approved a district-wide job description list.
  • Approved a corrected school fees schedule. Owsley said the action was needed because the schedule approved last month was inaccurate due to a computer error resulting from merging fee schedules from the district’s three attendance centers.

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