May 10, 2007

Father-son duo to graduate from SIUC together

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The last 12 months have been very special for Kevin L. Ridenour.

He celebrated is 25th wedding anniversary and turned 50 years old. This weekend, he’ll watch his 22-year-old son, Lance, walk across a stage at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and receive his bachelor’s degree.

That should happen right after Kevin receives his own bachelor’s degree on the very same stage at the SIU Arena.

The graduating father-son duo from Carrollton will receive their bachelor of science degrees in industrial technology this weekend during campus commencement ceremonies at SIUC. Both worked through the University’s Industrial Technology Weekend Program, an SIUC College of Engineering program that offers classes at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.

The College of Engineering commencement ceremony is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12.

The program is aimed at working adults with two-year degrees who are looking to upgrade their skills and job prospects, said Elaine Atwood, field representative for the program. SIUC makes the program available at three Illinois community colleges and eight military bases nationwide. It serves more than 300 students annually, she said.

Students take 48 hours of junior- and senior-level classes on weekends focused on industrial technology. For men like the Ridenours, the program offers the opportunity to earn a valuable degree while keeping their full-time jobs.

Typically, it takes a student about two years to complete the program. That’s how it worked for Lance, who earned his associate of applied science degree at Lewis and Clark before continuing with the SIUC program. His father Kevin, however, went straight to work right out of trade school and had a longer road to travel to reach his degree.

The year was 1999, and Kevin had worked for Boeing as a tool engineer for several years, designing and building the tools and jigs used to create America’s frontline defense fighters, such as the F-18 and F-15. But the softening economy and the number of layoffs in the St. Louis metro area alarmed him.

“I was about 42 and they’d had a few layoffs around here and it kind of woke me up,” Kevin said. “I had a lot of experience but no degree and I was worried about what would happen if I lost my job. A lot of places probably wouldn’t even talk to me without a degree.”

Kevin embarked on his higher education odyssey that year, taking weekend classes from SIUC and night classes from Lewis and Clark, maintaining his full-time job at Boeing throughout.

It wasn’t easy.

“It was rough,” Kevin said, thinking back over the eight years it took him to complete his degree. “At times, you don’t have much of a life. I’m sure I’ll wonder how I ever had time to do anything, but I got used to that way of living. I made a decision and I stuck to it.”

Kevin praised the SIUC program, which coupled flexibility with rigorous academics.

“It was a real good fit for me,” he said. “The environment allowed me to ease back into the school mindset.”

In 2002, in the midst of Kevin’s push to earn his degree, Lance graduated from Carrollton High School. He entered Lewis and Clark soon after, earning his associate degree by 2004. Wanting to remain close to home, Lance took a few engineering classes at SIU Edwardsville, but found out his interests lay elsewhere.

“He got to where he was thinking about quitting school and looking for a job,” Kevin remembered. “I told him to take a look at the program I was in, and that’s what he did.”

“It was his decision; I didn’t push him in that direction,” Kevin said. “I just pointed him and let him decide.”

Lance also worked full time, landing a job on an ammunition production line at Olin in Alton while taking his classes from SIUC at Lewis and Clark on the weekends. The job paid his tuition and living expenses while Lance provided the dedication needed to succeed at both.

“You need a steady job to pay for everything and I worked all three shifts, rotating each week,” Lance said this week, as he prepared for graduation festivities. “Sometimes I’d go straight from working the midnight shift to eight hours of classes and school.”

Although the father and son took the same courses, they never had a class together. Their hectic schedules made it difficult for them to even study together, and they rarely did so, both said.

Now, with cap-and-gown time only a few days away, both can sit back and enjoy what they’ve accomplished and look forward to having time for the random road trip on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles or to just go fishing.

“It’s going to be nice,” Lance said. “I’ve already had a couple of weekends off and it’s been great to sleep in.

“It was really an accident that we’re graduating at the same time. We didn’t plan it that way,” Lance said. “It’s definitely unusual, but it’s pretty neat. Not everybody gets do this with their dad.”

“I’m pretty proud of him and I’m glad we’re doing this together,” added Kevin, whose wife is Karen L. Ridenour. “My dad and other family will be there, too. So it will be an emotional moment.”

Both men plan to take part in the pomp and circumstance of commencement, and look forward to actually seeing SIUC, the University where they earned their degree.

“We thought we ought to set foot on campus at least once,” Kevin said, chuckling.