Gilbert I. Renner’s long public life was about education. He always knew that one of his life’s greatest breaks was the chance to teach at Elgin High School.
He was born on a family farm to parents who had not even graduated from high school. But his family recognized that education was a key to the American Dream. Through their sacrifices, he attended rural, one-room grade schools, graduated with a class of 18 classmates from high school, and attended Eureka College from which he earned a degree in Chemistry.
Fresh from college and with no training or qualifications, Mr. Renner began teaching in the fall of 1928 at Timber Township High School in Glasford, Illinois. In a high school of some 100 students, he taught General Science, Biology, and Physics. The school did not offer Chemistry. He also coached their basketball, track, and baseball teams while being the faculty adviser for the yearbook and class play. He lived with other teachers in a nearby home without indoor plumbing. After two years at Glasford, Mr. Renner entered graduate school at the University of Illinois.
During his first year at Illinois, he learned of a sudden opening at Elgin High School. He eagerly applied and started teaching chemistry there in April 1931. He was the school’s youngest and newest teacher, and his experience was daunting. Elgin High had nearly 1500 students and an experienced faculty with degrees from major universities. But it was also exciting. He had become part of a school and a community that were fully engaged with all the challenges of the modern world. He had found the place to pursue his life’s career educating young people in the arts and technologies the modern world demanded.
Mr. Renner was on Elgin High’s Science faculty for 19 years while also coaching tennis and golf teams, managing intramural programs, and advising student organizations such as the Student Council and Girls Science Club. In the 1940s, he assumed administrative responsibilities while gaining leadership experience as an assistant principal and head of the Science Department.
In 1950 Mr. Renner left Elgin High to lead Elgin Community College. His experience at Elgin High had forged relationships that were crucial in establishing community support for the new college while building ECC’s first faculty and often providing lifelong friendships. He would serve ECC as its dean and first President for 21 years. After his retirement, he remained active in local educational initiatives until his death in 1998.
The Gilbert I. Renner Scholarship honors a life in education and Elgin High School’s role in making that life possible.
Applicants must be Elgin High School seniors who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance in Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and/or Physics. Applicants must have plans to pursue STEM-related studies at a four-year college or university.
The annual scholarship award is $4,000 for one recipient.