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Alumni Profile - John Thompson

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Sauk Valley Community College Alumnus John Thompson has been involved with the college in many ways throughout the years from student, to alumnus, to parent of children attending Sauk, to Foundation Board member.

Thompson, of Dixon, not only attended Sauk when the college was in its infant stages; he also helped build it. He met his wife while at Sauk and both of his children attended. Thompson started at Sauk right out of high school in 1967 when the college was in the temporary building affectionately known as “old ironsides.” He recalled those early days while speaking to a group recently on behalf of the Sauk Foundation.

"It was really interesting taking classes in that building because you could take three classes at once even if you didn’t intend to,” Thompson told the crowd. “You would be sitting in one classroom taking philosophy class and there was a chemistry class on one side of you and a Western civilization class on the other. If you were good at taking notes you got a really good education that way.”

Thompson wears three important hats in the Dixon and Lee County community. He is president and CEO of the Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, president and CEO of the Lee County Industrial Development Association (a private not-for-profit economic development group), and administrator for the Lee County Enterprise Zone.

Initially, Thompson considered engineering and took drafting classes. However, he became interested in construction and got a job doing a cost study for one of the contractors who built the current college facility. He said being there when Sauk was being built was a unique and interesting time.

"It was very much a tremendous effort to get this thing organized and a unique window of time existed because not every community got a community college,” explained Thompson. “There’s a system today, but, there were a lot of people, who I assume in those days, were competing for a (community college) location. It had to be a touchy thing politically because the college fits in an area that made it a community college for the various communities, not just for one. It was a unique accomplishment.”

Thompson transferred to Northern Illinois University (NIU) for a year to major in philosophy, but Sauk wouldn’t be out of his life for long. Thanks to his experience at Sauk, Thompson returned to construction management with Lindquist Construction, which at the time built a music building for NIU. Thompson did a cost study similar to the one at Sauk. He says it may have been one of the first times local contractors had seen “critical path method,” a program derived from the nuclear submarine industry.

He returned to Sauk and completed an Associate in Arts in 1985.

“It only took me 18 years to get my associate degree, which was kind of interesting because I always thought it was valuable to finish that degree”, said Thompson.

While working on a theater production for the Philosophy Department, Thompson met his wife Debbie. She was the lead, playing Dietima, a "goddess of love" and John did behind-the-scenes work.  "I figured if you can't fall in love with the "Goddess of Love" in college, what good is it?" he said.

Thompson said his wife received a good background in art at Sauk. She went on to earn both a bachelor's degree in art education and a master's degree in painting and drawing from NIU. Thompson's children have attended Sauk – beginning with College for Kids when they were younger. His daughter transferred from Sauk to SIU and earned a bachelor's and master's degree. Thompson's son is completing Sauk's Rad Tech program.

An economic downturn in the construction industry steered Thompson to the Dixon Street Department doing concrete work. Then, in 1979, he had a chance to buy his aunt's furrier shop that had been in Dixon since the 1940s. He bought and ran that business until 1985.

"I learned how to sew when I was a kid and knew how to work with patterns," recalls Thompson. "I knew patterns where helpful in reading blueprints; blueprints were helpful in reading patterns, and understood how things are constructed. Constructing clothing is conceptually not all that different in how your roof fits together."

Thompson said that around 1985, business started to decline with a changing customer demographic and the advent of inexpensive garments, which he did a lot of repair work, cleaning, and storage. He left clothing business and sold radio advertising.

Thompson remembers several things about his Sauk experience. He recalls the quality of instruction was really exceptional and very personalized; classes were small and offered a good variety; classes transferred without question; Sauk's location was convenient; and the quality of students was very good.

"I know people that I went to Sauk with who have gone on to perform unbelievably in their jobs, careers, and accomplish a lot," said Thompson. "Students who attend, graduate, and/or transfer from Sauk perform at a much higher level."

Thompson said Sauk was a good soup for everyone to be immersed in.

"That's truly one of the strengths of the community college system and particularly the way that kind of system functions," says Thompson, who is currently president of the Sauk Foundation. "You got exposed to a lot more opportunity intellectually than you would have if you were at a bigger school and dealing with just one department. Sauk gave me opportunities that I otherwise would not have had that made me a better person by making me much more broadly-based."