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Kankakee's Jyaire Hill breaks through the Kays' banner before the start of the IHSA Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game against Marion at Kankakee High School. The Kays earned a 44-38 victory to advance to next week's semifinal game against Morton, which they will host at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Volunteers from the Hearts of Hope youth group help load donations for Kankakee food pantry Center of Hope on Sunday during the 30th Annual Harvest Sunday event at Bishop McNamara High School. The event, organized by Ken and Michelle Barrie and led by the Youth of the Kankakee County Catholic Community, collected food donations from individuals and parishes around the county to benefit nine local food pantries. MORE PHOTOS.

Ken Barrie helps unload donations Sunday during the 30th Annual Harvest Sunday event, organized by Barrie and his wife, Michelle, at Bishop McNamara High School. The event, led by the Youth of the Kankakee County Catholic Community, collected food donations from individuals and parishes around the county to benefit nine local food pantries.

KCC names new vice president for student affairs

KANKAKEE — An internal candidate was selected after a national search for a new vice president for student affairs at Kankakee Community College.

The KCC Board of Trustees confirmed Meredith Purcell as the college’s next vice president for student affairs at its Nov. 8 meeting.

Purcell’s new job is effective immediately, and she will earn a salary of $115,000 per year, according to KCC.

She is the college’s chief student affairs officer, responsible for areas including enrollment management, student activities, support services, recruitment, advisement, financial aid, testing services and athletics, according to a KCC news release.

Before Purcell, the most recent chief student services officer at the college was Jose da Silva, who left the college in July to accept a position at the University of North Texas at Dallas, according to the release.

Purcell has been a KCC employee since January 2008, holding various student-focused positions, and was most recently director of student success.

She has also served as director of advisement services/counseling and academic advisor at KCC.

“In recent years at KCC, Meredith has been integral to the college’s progress toward re-energizing approaches to student engagement, support, and development,” KCC President Michael Boyd said in the release. “For example, she has led efforts to modernize recruitment and retention efforts, she has championed the design and implementation of our Cav Days freshman orientation, and she has secured partnerships which connect our students to the mental health resources which are so important to their academic progress.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with Meredith in her new role, and I’m even more excited to know that the college will continue to see the dynamic progress and momentum we’ve experienced in recent years as we’ve worked to re-focus KCC’s student engagement efforts.”

Purcell has a master’s degree in counseling from the College of Education at Northern Illinois University and a bachelor’s degree in education with a major in applied psychology from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

Before working at KCC, Purcell was assistant director of student affairs at Rush University in Chicago. She also has worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Kishwaukee College in Malta.

“I want to thank Dr. Boyd, the search committee, and the board of trustees for placing their trust in me to continue to serve the KCC community as vice president for student affairs,” Purcell said in the release. “In almost 14 years at KCC, I have been dedicated to assisting students in achieving their educational and career goals. I am excited to lead our talented student affairs team in working with our faculty and staff to provide the quality services and programs our students need to thrive and succeed.”

Purcell and her husband, Andy, have three children. They live in Manteno.

Michelle Barrie greets food pantry volunteers as members of the Hearts of Hope youth group help load donations Sunday during the 30th Annual Harvest Sunday event at Bishop McNamara High School. The event, organized by Barrie and husband, Ken, and led by the Youth of the Kankakee County Catholic Community, collected food donations from individuals and parishes around the county to benefit nine local food pantries.

Wanted: Kankakee County workers

Where has the Kankakee County workforce gone?

It appears the number of available workers in this eastern Illinois county are vanishing and that presents an obvious concern for the businesses and industries that call Kankakee County home.

According to data from the Illinois Department of Employment Securities, Kankakee County had a 47,200-member workforce in March 2018. At that time, Kankakee County had an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.

By comparison, Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, pointed out at the recent Economic Alliance board meeting that this September, the county had an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent — very similar to the March 2018 figure — but yet the workforce numbered just 43,900.

Those numbers represent a 7 percent drop in the current workforce. Is it possible there are 3,300 fewer workers in Kankakee County?

Pandemic or no pandemic, the question is “Where are the workers?”

Nugent is wondering the same thing.

“Our employment base is shrinking,” he said. “What has happened to those people?”

Operating businesses or expanding those businesses becomes a difficult task when the number of available workers becomes fewer.

As has been well documented, the Kankakee County population has declined, according to recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county’s population dropped from 113,449 in the 2010 count to 107,502 in 2020. Those numbers equate to a 5.2 percent decline. The accuracy of the 2020 data can be argued as the census count was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic — perhaps not the greatest idea.

Numerous organizations and businesses have brought this issue to the table in recent months. But the worker shortage cannot be blamed solely on the pandemic. This issue had been discussed prior to March 2020 as the county business leaders routinely discuss the fact there were 3,000 to 4,000 job openings here.

Nugent checked off what many employers believe are the culprits from a worker shortage: Extended unemployment benefits due to COVID, pandemic-inspired stimulus payments, COVID-related health concern, childcare and transportation needs, and expanding businesses.

He also noted available workers may be declining due to an acceleration in the baby boomer generation (those born from 1946 to 1964) leaving their jobs; COVID masking and guidelines; and corporate downsizing and restructuring.

On the flip-side, others argue pay is too low and opportunity for advancement are limited.

Whatever the explanation may ultimately be pinned to, the call remains the same: Help is wanted and needed. The county’s economic future may depend on it.

There is good news on the employment front, however.

Nugent reported the county has 7,558 jobs based in the manufacturing sector and according to October projections from EMSI Labor Market Analytics, a Boston-based economic data analysis firm, those numbers are expected to grow here by 16 percent from 2021 to 2031 projections.

The average earnings for these manufacturing jobs is $96,622.


There is a new face, but one which is familiar to the area, on the alliance board of directors.

Kankakee County Farm Bureau manager and Kankakee County Board member Chad Miller is the newest addition to the 16-member board.

An appointment from the Kankakee County Board, Miller takes the place of Ron Kinzinger, who recently left the county board. The public-private board of directors is comprised on 12 members from the business community and four from the county board.

The three other county board members on the Alliance board are Stephen Liehr, Sam Payton and Andy Wheeler.

Miller, 45, will obviously bring a strong voice from the county’s agricultural community to the board. He has been with the farm bureau since March 1999. He’s been manager of the farm bureau for 19 years. He has been a county board member since March 2019.

A resident of Bradley, Miller and his wife, Diane, have three children.

“This is a great opportunity to further represent the ag community,” he said.

Body of man who fell in Kankakee River recovered

The body of a man who fell into the Kankakee River on Oct. 30 was recovered on Friday afternoon.

Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said Robert L. Gaddis Jr., 60, of Riverdale, was found near where he fell while he was working on an irrigation system near Aroma Park.

His body was discovered by a person on the east side of the river in the area of Marquette Lane at approximately 4 p.m., Gessner said, adding that an autopsy was scheduled for Saturday.

The search for Gaddis had continued in and around the river and river banks since he fell into the river. Sonar and other technologies were employed in the search.

Officials had asked that people kept an eye out in and around the river as the search continued.