Cotton honored for work with St. Anne High School

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Russell Cotton of St. Anne is this year’s recipient of the Pledge for Life Partnership’s Lowe School Board Recognition Award.

The award recognizes outstanding service provided by local school board members and was established in memory of Dorothea Lowe, a long time school board member for Kankakee schools and mother of former Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan. He was presented the award at the Partnership’s annual Board of Director’s meeting October 28 at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Through the best of times, the worst of times and into a future that holds great promise, Cotton’s goal has always been to provide the very best educational opportunity for the students of St. Anne Community High School District No. 302 – no matter what obstacle he encountered. A crumbling building, declining enrollment and financial woes were just a few of the challenges the district faced, but Cotton was determined to see St. Anne High School prevail.

As school board president, he led the effort to build a new high school and when the project was in jeopardy, worked tirelessly with former Gov. George Ryan and former State Rep. Phil Novak to obtain the construction grants. He personally oversaw the paper work -- assuring that legal obligations and deadlines were met.

With excitement, the new building opened this fall and enrollment has increased. The facility boasts a new fitness center that is available free of charge to the district’s adults. Cotton also is pushing to expand the school’s library hours and open the computer and media centers for community training.

When the district lost funding due to the 1990 census, Cotton worked diligently with state legislators to secure additional money. During difficult financial times, he was instrumental in bringing back a full curriculum and sports program and worked to bring teachers’ salaries to a competitive level.

“Russell Cotton’s … drive and determination is unmatched. He wants for our students what wealthy school districts have and will do whatever it takes to provide the best …,” wrote Kathleen Hickey, district superintendent. “He promoted the district by taking the message about the good things our kids were doing to the community and to other communities …. He is a crusader for equity for kids.”
“Russell ... is a true philanthropist,” wrote fellow school board member Edwin Finney. When he purchased the local bowling alley six years ago, he changed the environment from an adult-centered business to a family-friendly one. He sponsors summer bowling programs and keeps his prices low so that parents can afford to let their kids participate. He supports little league, 4-H and has sponsored the St. Anne Presbyterian Church’s youth group on home building missions to Mexico, Missouri and Kentucky. Through his construction business, Medler & Cotton Drainage, Inc., he has donated manpower and equipment to put in a basketball court, baseball field and sidewalk around the school.

Cotton served on the school board throughout the 1980s. After taking time off, he returned in 1995 and has served as its president ever since. He moved to the area when he was 12 and graduated from St. Anne High School in 1968. He joined the U.S. Marines and, after a tour of duty in Vietnam, returned home and married in 1972. His wife, Debbie, is a second grade teacher at St. Anne Grade School. They have two grown children, Thomas and Sara.

“Russell is very humble. He doesn’t think he is doing anything special. He just does what is right and good for the kids,” Hickey said. In doing just that, he has helped to build an academic institution with high expectations for all children and one that the community can point to with pride, she added.

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