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2016 Inductees

During their return to the Illinois State campus, each inductee was paired with a student host, which provided an opportunity to connect with current students and learn more about today's Redbird experience.

James E. Ford

James E. Ford

James E. Ford attended Illinois State University in 1998 after being admitted on a trial basis as part of the TRiO program —a student services program designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. An average student with Attention Deficit Disorder, college life took plenty of adjusting. With an older sister (VaNatta Ford) who had created a name for herself as a campus leader and student body president, he found it difficult to step out of her shadow.

Ford initially struggled academically, struggling to focus on his studies through all the distractions of college, but soon developed a taste for learning, writing and campus activism. He joined several student organizations and eventually took on leadership roles. He was an active participant in organizations such as Amnesty International, Black Writer’s Forum, campus ministry God’s Squad, on the Executive Board of Black Student Union, President of Watterson Unity, and co-founded a black male leadership organization called Bridge Builders. Ford briefly wrote for the Daily Vidette, cementing his love for writing. He even created his own black, independently-published student-newsletter called the Truth-Seeker’s Journal which served as the voice of the black campus community for three years.

While at ISU, James made good use of his time. He could be found in the classroom leading thoughtful discussion on social issues, as well as on campus protesting police brutality, sweatshop labor, and other human rights abuses. While serving as President of Bridge Builders, they sponsored a trip to Washington, DC for students to attend the 5th anniversary of the Million Man March. Perhaps Ford’s most visible moment as a leader came in 2000, when he led a march with the Black Student Union across campus in response to anti-black graffiti. Atop the hill outside Watterson Towers he addressed a crowd of a hundreds encouraging them to take pride in their heritage and continue to fight against racism. James was widely seen as a connector, supporting events sponsored by other registered student organizations and fostering collaboration whenever possible.

Ford earned a bachelor of science in mass communication from Illinois State University in 2003 and a master of arts in teaching (MAT) from Rockford University in 2009. He is currently the Program Director at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, an education think-tank and advocacy organization. Prior to this, Ford taught World History at Garinger High School in Charlotte, NC starting in 2010. In 2014, he was awarded the distinguished honor of North Carolina Teacher of the Year. He, along with 54 other state teachers, was invited to the White House to be honored by President Obama in the Rose Garden during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Ford was additionally recognized as Charlotte Magazine’s 2014 Charlottean of the Year, the 2014 National Alliance of Black School Educators’ Teacher of the Year and is a Carnegie Fellow. Ford is a self-professed “equity warrior” who believes education is a human right. He writes and speaks extensively on the topics of race, class, and education equity advocating for the most disadvantaged student populations. He writes for Education Post, Charlotte Agenda and EducationNC. His work has also been featured in Ebony Magazine. Before deciding to become a teacher, Ford’s early career cemented his connection to children and youth. He worked as a truancy intervention specialist in high schools and director of a teen center that provided educational and after-school activities for youth at risk of dropping out of school. He considers his work and extension of his greater life-calling.

Andrew Purnell

Andrew Purnell

While attending Illinois State Normal University (ISNU) during the mid-fifties, many friendships were made with students from all over the state of Illinois as well as out of state and out of the United States. In addition to taking many classes on campus, there were various social activities for students to participate in such as seeing a movie in Capen Auditorium or off campus, intramural sports, conference games to attend, Big Four Dances, Formals in all dormitories, tennis and a variety of club activities which included religious and nonreligious activities.

Purnell's induction into Iota Lambda Sigma, an honorary Industrial Arts Fraternity, serving on the Junior & Senior class advisory boards, and making a presentation on Flux Density in class are some of his special moments at ISNU. There were challenging times as a student such as only being allowed to skate at the roller rink in Bloomington once during a month or being allowed to swim once a month at the Bloomington YWCA and not being served at some restaurants. There was a University bowling league held off campus in the next town and it was his privilege to be on one of the teams. One weekend, he and his roommate decided to go bowling but we were not allowed to bowl because the manager thought if they were permitted to bowl, they would drive business away.

Students at ISNU met and decided to organize by forming a student chapter of the NAACP to see what could be done about the discrimination encountered. The plan was to test all public places in Bloomington/Normal and to document how the testing teams with a minimum of two students each were treated. There were several teams consisting of different racial backgrounds in most visits. After a period of several months, it was time for us to take the findings to the local State’s Attorney to discuss the unlawful practice of discrimination in public establishments in the State of Illinois. After a good conversation with the State’s Attorney, the President and Purnell (who was Vice President) were told that all public establishments in the Bloomington/Normal area would be contacted about ending discrimination. This practice was not ended overnight, but it was ended.

After graduating from Illinois State Normal University in 1957, Purnell was drafted into the United States Army, completed basic training in Colorado and was assigned to Aberdeen Proving Grounds to a company of special troops. With a major in Mathematics, Purnell was assigned to do classified work in Mathematics and Statistics for the United States Government. The work was very interesting and upon being released from active duty, he continued his study and taught high school Mathematics. In 1970, work was completed for a Master’s degree in Administration and Supervision. One week after graduation, he interviewed for a job in Administration and was hired.

Another part of Purnell's life was being active in a Christian Science church by participating in various committees, teaching Sunday school, Ushering, First Reader and serving on the church board as Chairman and Treasurer, as well as assisting a chaplain at penal institutions and mental health hospitals. Later on, it was his privilege to serve as chaplain at Manteno Mental Health Hospital.

In 1983, along with other Illinois State University alumni, a group of colleagues applied for and became part of the Illinois State University Alumni Association. As an affinity group (Illinois State University Black Colleagues Association) we were concerned with assisting African American students financially, helping to raise the retention rate and increasing the number of graduates. As of today, we have given more than 100 scholarships, increased our membership, and solicit donations for additional scholarships. Members of the Black Colleagues Association, including Purnell, have been active members of the Alumni Association Board and various committees including the executive committee, chapter and clubs, awards and others.

Purnell passed away in 2020 after a long illness, but will be forever remembered as a member of the Redbird family.

Steve Smith, MS CAE

Steve Smith

Steve Smith has been an active member of the Illinois State community for 30 years. He first arrived to campus as an undergraduate student – with no declared major and a desire to get involved in student life. After taking a “career choice” class, he decided to pursue a major in Public Relations and a minor in Sociology. He later ended up working as a peer advisor and instructor in the Career Center, helping other students discover their strengths and explore potential occupations.

Steve joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity during his freshman year which afforded him numerous leadership opportunities, including serving in various officer positions and as president of the campus Interfraternity Council. He later worked as a student Greek Relations Specialist in what was then known as the Office of Student Life and Programs and was one of 100 college students selected nationally to attend the first-ever LeaderShape program, launched in Champaign, Illinois in 1986.

The following year, Steve became a Preview Guide and later went on to serve as an Assistant Coordinator for the program while working in the Admissions Office. He also worked as a Graduate Student in the former College of Continuing Education and ultimately earned a Master’s degree in Communications with a concentration in healthcare and aging before relocating to the Chicago area.

Steve’s career has focused on improving the lives of older adults and supporting family caregivers. He held a variety of positions at the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Today, he serves as CEO of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, a professional medical society that supports nearly 5,000 physicians who care for those with serious illness, through education, advocacy, research and leadership development resources. He is employed by Association Management Center in Chicago where he is also a member of the senior management team.

Steve is also a committed volunteer who has served on several professional boards and committees within the American Association of Medical Society Executives, Association Forum of Chicagoland, American Society of Association Executives and the Council of Medical Specialty Societies. He was the recipient of Association Forum’s Distinguished Service Award in 2014 and its “Inspiring Leader” Award in 2009. Steve was also recognized as a “Top Association CEO” by CEO Update magazine in 2012.

Steve also volunteers at a local hospice and serves on the AMITA Health/Alexian Brothers Hospice Advisory Board. At Illinois State, he is a member of the Alumni Board of Directors and School of Communication Alumni Advisory Board. He chairs ISU’s Half Century Committee -- which organizes programs to celebrate and reconnect alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago -- and has helped organize and promote reunion events for Preview ISU and Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity. In 2015, Steve received ATO’s Eric & Karin Burwell Outstanding Community Service Award in recognition of his continued service to his community, fraternity and University.

Steve and his wife, Karen, also an Illinois State alum, reside in Elk Grove Village and are the proud parents of three boys, Blake, Logan and Zack, who is currently a junior at ISU.

Heidi Voorhees

Heidi Voorhees

Voorhees graduated from Illinois State University in 1980 with a degree in Political Science and a minor in English. While at Illinois State, she served as the Assistant News Editor for the Daily Vidette, the Student Member to the Board of Regents and the Student Association President. She then attended Indiana University where she was a fellow in the Eli Lilly State and Local Government Fellowship Program and obtained a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Following graduate school, she was accepted into the Kansas City Public Management Internship Program. At the conclusion of her internship, she was hired on as a Budget Analyst for the City.

She returned to the Chicago area to work for the Village of Schaumburg, where she served as the Assistant to the Village Manager. Then, in 1986, she accepted a position as the Assistant Village Manager for the Village of Wilmette, Illinois. After four years in that role, she was promoted to Village Manager, a position she held for more than 10 years. During her tenure, Voorhees focused on delivering high quality municipal services, streamlining administrative and management functions and team building throughout the organization that employed 200 individuals. Under her leadership, the organization developed a collaborative budget process, formalized its long range capital improvement program, and developed budget and financial policies that led to the achievement of a AAA bond rating for the community.

Voorhees is currently the President and co owner of GovHR USA, a national firm that focuses on recruitment and selection, management consulting and compensation analyses for local governments throughout the country. She has conducted more than 200 recruitment and selection processes for city and county managers, police chiefs, fire chiefs, public works directors, finance directors and similar local government positions. GovHR USA has served clients ranging in size from Austin, Texas to Lake Lure, North Carolina. Ms. Voorhees and her business partner, Joellen Earl also founded GovTemps USA, a temporary staffing agency focusing on local government.

She has been an Adjunct Instructor at Northwestern University's Master’s Degree Program in Public Policy and Administration and at Northwestern’s Center for Public Safety. She is a frequent speaker on recruitment and selection issues and has conducted training programs throughout the country including the Northern Illinois University Civic Leadership Program, and the Great Lakes Leadership Academy.

She has been an active Rotarian for 26 years and has served on the Boards of several not for profit organizations. She is a founding member of the Legacy Project, an organization dedicated to the advancement of women in local government.

Voorhees has been married to Edward Walchak for 28 years and they have two children, Annie who is a teacher and David who is a law school student.