Category Archives: Press Releases

Union County CEO Class Held At Courthouse


Union County CEO Class Held At Courthouse

JONESBORO—The Union County CEO program held its January class meeting at the Union County Courthouse.  CEO board chairman Rollie Hawk was the guest speaker and discussed his experiences in consulting, government, communications and how those sectors have intersected in his business, Union County Technology Solutions.

“In many ways, it’s one of the smallest businesses you can have with only one full-time employee,” explained Hawk about his company.  “But that also means a lot of variety and getting to spend time doing the things you enjoy while constantly tackling new challenges.  There are a lot of things you can’t do in a solo operation but you also avoid a lot of the hassles you’d otherwise face.”

Even though his core business revolves around information technology and communications, Hawk described the greatest challenges in consulting as being more interpersonal in nature.

“When you come in as a consultant, it’s a different kind of management.  You are charged with managing a project or task of some sort but you aren’t the boss of the people you are working with so you have to build those relationships and that takes time.  The people who contract you will care how much you know but the people you interact with the most are more interested in how respectful you are and how you will interact with them.”

Acting contractually as Union County’s Chief Information Officer takes that relationship building to a whole new level, according to Hawk.

“County government has a different authority structure than a typical business client.  When you have different elected and appointed officials, they are all coming at things from different perspectives and with different concerns.  Being able to build consensus with everyone involved isn’t easy but it’s critical to success.”

Hawk spent much of the class discussing the history of his company and how it ended up happening.

“I always had all these different things I wanted to do before my business started but I was too scared to make that leap until circumstances forced me to start being less conventional,” said Hawk.  “For me, flexibility has been the theme.  If you pay attention, God places all of these challenges in front of you that you can either run from or turn into opportunities.  So over time, as a consultant, you gain more expertise and are able expand upon the kinds of services you can offer to clients.”

The Union County CEO Program is on schedule to have its first full class year in the 2015-2016 school year with a total of twenty students—representing each of the four high schools in Union County—attending a daily class on entrepreneurial thinking and business.  In addition to seeking more business investors, the program’s primary focus right now is finding the right teacher/facilitator for the class.


Gerald And Collin Cain Present $10,000 Check To The Union County CEO Program

check presentation
Collin Cain presents Chairman Rollie Hawk and daughter Madi Hawk with $10,000 check. Gerald Cain is seated in front with Rascal on the floor below.

WARE—The Union County CEO Program received a huge pledge of support from Gerald and Collin Cain on January 19, 2015 at the Grassy Lake Hunting Club.  The club’s owners presented Union County CEO chairman Rollie Hawk with a check for $10,000 to invest in the program.

“This is such an unprecedented investment that we’ve created a new investor category for Gerald and Collin Cain: executive level investors,” said Hawk.

Hawk presents Gerald Cain with letter of appreciation.
Hawk presents Gerald Cain with letter of appreciation.

Hawk then presented Gerald Cain with a framed letter expressing his and the board’s deep appreciation for this enormous investment in the future of Union County’s students.

Quoting from the letter:

My vision for Union Thanks to Cains - SignedCounty CEO is twofold.  Getting across to students the ways to succeed in business—whether on the first, second or subsequent attempts—is critical to the long-term health of our county.  That said, what I see as perhaps an even more fundamental goal is to develop the future leaders that our region needs to carry us through the twenty-first century!

Gentlemen like yourselves who are willing to put their words, their names and their money behind something that will improve the lives of Union County students are setting an excellent example to the young people in the CEO Program and the greater community.  Because of your investment in CEO, the futures of Anna-Jonesboro, Cobden, Dongola and Shawnee high school students just got notably brighter.


Union County CEO Class Held At The Old Feed Store In Cobden

COBDEN—The Union County CEO program held its December class meeting at The Old Feed Store in Cobden.  Presenter Craig Lindvahl led discussions covering many areas of technology and their retail applications, reasons why oil prices have been dropping, the importance of building personal networks and the publishing process.

As always, Lindvahl shared how impressed he was with the Union County students.

“At the end, I spent a few minutes talking with the kids about how incredible the discussion we were having is, how they can take that back to their other classes, how to own your own learning, and how many things we accept around us without really engaging our curiosity,” said Lindvahl. “As always, the time passed much too quickly.”

Union County CEO chairman Rollie Hawk was very appreciative of this opportunity for the students.

“Any time the kids get to meet with Craig, it’s time that you know is well-spent,” said Hawk.  “He’s on the pulse of so many things that are happening in terms of new technologies and how the ways to reach people are changing but also staying the same.”

Hawk also expressed appreciation for Ray and Rose Hogan allowing the class to meet at The Old Feed Store.

“I first met them at a charity event last year where we shared a table and they are quite a couple!  I’m a fan of anyone trying to build up the local community and they are definitely focused on that.”

The Union County CEO Program is currently working to complete fundraising for its first full class for the 2015-2016 school year.  The modified program meets monthly but next year the class will be meeting daily for two hours.

The CEO Program is completely funded by investors so buy-in from the local business community is critical.  Hawk says several new board members have been doing great work in terms of fund raising.

“Three of our newest board members—Mark Chamness, Ryan Carter and Cindy Cain—have stepped up for us in huge ways.  They’ve really gone out of their way to meet with local business leaders to bring them in as investors for the program.”


Lambdin Farms Hosts Union County CEO Class Meeting


Lambdin Farms Hosts Union County CEO Class Meeting

WOLF LAKE—The Union County Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities Program—CEO for short—recently met at Lambdin Farms for class.  Exchanging their normal business attire for jeans and work boots, the students from each of Union County’s high schools learned about a broad arrange of topics.

“It’s not what a lot of people would expect,” said Union County CEO chairman Rollie Hawk.  “For those of us without an agricultural background, we tend to think of farming as a guy riding a tractor all day.  The reality is that these are people with a better understanding of what’s happening in the world in terms of markets, government actions and economic policies than almost anyone you’ll meet.  Everything that’s happening in the world affects their decision making.”

Owner Randy Lambdin began the class by discussing different types of grain and their uses, the microeconomics and macroeconomics of agriculture and the importance of diversifying.  Guest speakers Wayne Funkhouser, Brad Dodd and Larry Derrosett covered topics such as the effect of world events on markets, agricultural insurance and unmanned aerial drone technology.

“Each of these gentlemen made a point of mentioning the many business opportunities that exist in this and related sectors,” explained Hawk.  “That’s something I want these kids and everyone out there to catch onto.  No matter what you are hearing to the contrary, if you are willing to work hard then you can create your own opportunities for success.”

The Union County CEO Advisory Board thanks Randy Lambdin and his guests for taking the time to meet with these students.

“I really appreciate Randy and the other gentlemen taking the time to host us and our students.  We heard so many stories from the schools about how inspired the students were after this meeting,” added Hawk.  “Once you learn how to look at the world, there are limitless possibilities out there.  With every class meeting, I think our students are seeing that more and more.”


Union County CEO Program Hosts Informational Meeting At The Brick House Grill


Union County CEO Program Hosts Informational Meeting At The Brick House Grill

ANNA—On the evening of November 10, 2014 the Union County CEO Program hosted its “Dine With a Purpose” event at The Brick House Grill.  After light appetizers and drinks, the crowd was addressed by advisory board chairman Rollie Hawk and four students participating in the program.

CEO—short for Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities—is a high school education program that takes twenty students out of county schools for two hours a day to learn about business, entrepreneurship and life.

“Much of school at this point is about memorization and regurgitation.  We have educators here tonight and I don’t think they are any happier about that than the rest of us,” Hawk pointed out early in his presentation.  “One of the central ideas in CEO is let’s teach students how to think instead of what to think.”

Hawk sees the CEO Program as a way to take young people’s natural desire for freedom and independence and to channel it into entrepreneurship.

“I’ve met very few people in my life who never dreamed of starting their own businesses, of experience that sort of freedom and control of their own destinies.  So why don’t we have more people starting businesses?  It’s partly because every time one of us has a business idea, we have ten people around us telling us why it will never work,” explained Hawk.  “With CEO, we want to take young people—people who haven’t yet learned to be scared to dream—and teach them that you can do this and you can do it here and now!”

“Most of you in this room have probably had the experience of succeeding at something that other people said you couldn’t do.  Maybe you weren’t even sure you could do it.  Once you succeed like that, that’s a feeling that very little in this life can match,” continued Hawk.  “That’s something that CEO can provide to students.”

Towards the end of the presentation, students in attendance addressed the crowd.  Samantha Smith and Kaitlin McWhorter of Cobden High School, Mason DeLashmutt of Anna-Jonesboro High School and Hunter Levan of Shawnee High School each took turns introducing themselves to the business owners and community leaders in attendance.  Each described their CEO experience so far and the need for this program in the community.

“I’m more impressed every time I see these kids in action,” bragged Hawk.  “They give me a lot of hope.”

“When we weren’t able to find a teacher in time to have the full class this year, a lot of us were ready to curl up and cry.  But then something happened that gave us hope,” said Hawk.  “These students had reached out to the staff at the Midland Institute and Midland ended up offering to provide a modified program with monthly student meetings led by their own staff.  These students took control of their own lives and destinies.  Those are the beginning signs of the kinds of self-actualizers that this community needs.”


Southern Illinois Electrical Cooperative Hosts Union County CEO Class Meeting

SIEC1DONGOLA—The  Union County CEO Program held its second class meeting at the headquarters of the Southern Illinois Electrical Cooperative.  At that meeting, the class continued its study into various facets of entrepreneurship with a presentation and activities geared towards learning about different personality types and how they interact and impact businesses.

SIEC2The class session started with Susan Hanfland from the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship administering a True Colors examination of the students and CEO advisory board chairman Rollie Hawk.

TrueColors“These kinds of self-studies are always an interesting combination of confirmation and surprise,” said Hawk.  “With True Colors, there is a series of inventories that lead you to a set of scores in four colors, usually with one strongly defining you.  In my case, I scored the highest in the room on green and the lowest on gold.  That really put me in my place because it tells me I’m a very analytical thinker but not always the most organized.  Guilty, as charged.”

SIEC3After completing the inventory, everyone filled out name badges showing their scores in each color.  They learned the strengths and weaknesses of each of the color personality types and how each best functions within a business environment.

Following the True Colors inventory, students were given a tour of the Electrical Cooperative’s facilities.

SIEC4“This is another classic example of what we were told would happen in CEO.  Suddenly these buildings that we’ve driven by much of our lives become more real,” explained Hawk.  “There are all of these huge operations taking place just beneath the surface in our community that we never even realized.  We’re very appreciative to SIEC for opening up their operations for us and hosting the class meeting.”

Union County CEO also made a presentation at a recent Locally First event by the Union County Women in Business at Anna’s Main Street Center.  Both Hawk and student Clare Bunyan spoke on behalf of the program.

“Clare stole the show, as far as I’m concerned,” said Hawk.  “She spoke very clearly and with power and sincerity about the influence CEO is already having in her life and the importance of expanding the program.”

In the coming weeks, Union County CEO will be having its third class meeting at Lambdin Farms and also hosting an informational event at The Brick House Grill at 6:30PM on November 10.  Business leaders interesting in attending can contact Hawk at or (618) 925-2470.


Union County CEO Program Holds First Class Meeting

ANNA—The Union County CEO Program held its first class meeting at Union County Hospital in September.  Facilitated by Midland Institute staff members Craig Lindvahl and Elizabeth Roepke, the main goal of the session was to get students thinking and interacting as a group in ways that they may not be used to.

“Craig did a fantastic job of getting the students out of their normal comfort zones,” said program vice president Rollie Hawk after attending the meeting. “He can really get people out of their shells.  When the class started, it was the typical situation where you have someone leading and asking questions with students hesitating to answer.  But about thirty minutes in, it was like a different bunch of kids.  Suddenly, they were the ones asking the questions and challenging each other.”

A few students even described businesses they already run or are working towards starting.

“After seeing these kids in action, it’s easy to see why we had such a huge response from students wanting to be a part of the CEO program here in Union County,” explained Hawk.  “There’s already a lot of entrepreneurship among our kids.  We want to grow that, both horizontally and vertically, in the sense we want more young people thinking along those lines and for those that already are we want them to dig even deeper into what it takes to start and run a successful business.”

Hawk expressed the Union County CEO Program advisory board’s appreciation for Union County Hospital hosting the event.

“This is exactly the kind of business and community involvement that it will take to make this program a success.  We all talk about how we want things to change and to make the world better but it’s only by getting involved in our own communities that we can make that happen.”


Union County CEO Program Holds Orientation Dinner

Press Release - Union County CEO Program Holds Orientation Dinner1ANNA—The Union County CEO Program kicked off its inaugural year with a dinner on Wednesday, August 5.  The program—designed to promote entrepreneurship among high school juniors and seniors—is beginning a modified version of the program for its first year, starting with this opportunity for students to meet with Craig Lindvahl, facilitator and teacher of the original CEO program in Effingham.

Press Release - Union County CEO Program Holds Orientation Dinner2Lindvahl spent most of the evening engaging students, expressing the importance of posture, eye contact, an effective handshake and other subtleties essential to entrepreneurs projecting confidence while seeking out investors for their ideas.  “You’re my kids,” stated Lindvahl several times as he expressed how impressed he’s been with so many Union County students contacting him directly to share their enthusiasm and desire for the program to expand into the area.

Press Release - Union County CEO Program Holds Orientation Dinner3“He’s such an engaging speaker,” commented Union County Treasurer and CEO Advisory Board member Darren Bailey.  “I wish we had him speaking to the people I work with every day.  He’s so inspiring and I wish everyone around here could experience that.”

This first year will involve monthly interactions with Lindvahl and other staff from the Midland Institute.  It will also begin the work to connect students with mentors from the local business community while continuing to raise funds and find a facilitator/teacher for the 2015-2016 school year.

Press Release - Union County CEO Program Holds Orientation Dinner4The event was hosted at Mac and Jenny’s by owner and CEO Advisory Board co-chairman Anthony Edwards.  Union County Technology Solutions owner and CEO Advisory Board member Rollie Hawk sponsored the event.

“The event itself was a great example of exactly what CEO is about,” explained Hawk.  “A guest speaker sharing from his wealth of knowledge and experience, a site provided by one local business and paid for by another local business.  This is exactly the kind collaboration we want to model for these students.”

The program’s financial committee is currently planning an event for September where some of the top local entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to meet with Lindvahl and learn more about how the program works and the vital role they will play, whether as investors, mentors, guest speakers or some combination of those roles.


Union County CEO Program Website Goes Live


Union County CEO Program Website Goes Live

JONESBORO—The Union County CEO Program—a county-wide program to teach high school juniors and seniors about entrepreneurship by working with local business owners to develop their own business plans and actual businesses—has announced the launch of its official website at  The site promises to be a one-stop shop for the latest information on the program as well as a place for students to host their own sites once classes start.

“In addition to the program’s information, we’re really planning this as a resource that students will be able to utilize,” said program spokesman Rollie Hawk.  “One of the realities of doing business in this era is having an online presence, so we need to be able to facilitate that.  Once students begin classes we’ll be able to provide them official email addresses and websites that they’ll be able to customize with their own content, links and graphics.  As they begin developing their businesses, being able to manage their own websites will be extremely practical business experience.”

The website also features information regarding donors to the program and how other interested individuals and business owners can help out.

“We have two categories of donors in the CEO Program with separate pages on the website: investors and friends.  Anyone who pledges any amount to the program is considered a friend,” explained Hawk.  “Those who are willing to commit to three years of pledges at or above the $1000 mark, we consider full investors in the program.”

“We’ll take any donations but we’re really looking for three-year investors,” added Hawk.  “That’s going to provide us with more long-term stability and predictability.”

The program is still looking for a part-time teacher.  The position will pay $18,000 a year and will start immediately so that the teacher can attend training at the Midland Institute and begin coordinating with area businesses.

Donations to the program can be paid in lump sums or installments to the Southern Illinois Community Foundation, the funding agent for the Union County CEO Program.  Any interested donors can contact Rollie Hawk by email at or by phone at (618)925-2470.

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Union County CEO Investor Beck Simonds Sees Huge Value In Teaching Entrepreneurship


Union County CEO Investor Beck Simonds Sees Huge Value In Teaching Entrepreneurship

A lot of people consider southern Illinois to be a region running out of job opportunities. Beck Simonds of E.T. Simonds Construction strongly disagrees and has pledged a donation towards the Union County CEO Program—an entrepreneurship program for Union County high school juniors and seniors—to help to change that perception.

“I believe one of the biggest misconceptions by our youth today is what southern Illinois truly has to offer as a job marketplace,” says Simonds. “There are many opportunities in southern Illinois at companies such as E.T. Simonds and others.”

Simonds sees increasing exposure of students to industry as key to opening young people to the possibilities all around them and that success in business doesn’t always have to mean reinventing the wheel.

“If you are not exposed to the business industry growing up then there is reason to believe that these opportunities might not exist,” explains Simonds. “I think when students first think of an entrepreneurship class it is a little intimidating as they might feel pressure to develop a new product or service that no one has ever come up with before. My advice to them is that as they are exposed to the local business community to watch for ways to assist a current activity or provide a service for an existing company that they are currently outsourcing to someone out of the area at a higher price. It may even be a service that a local company is currently doing yet would be glad to outsource.”

Simonds describes his company as one that does a lot to build this region, both in terms of their core business and their positive effects on the region.

“E.T. Simonds Construction does heavy highway road construction work in southern Illinois. We are proud to provide good paying jobs for many people in southern Illinois. We also shop locally to purchase many products that are incorporated into our road projects such as stone from local quarries, concrete from local suppliers, lumber from local hardware stores, and many others.”

Programs like CEO could help to provide fresh insights into long-standing businesses by stirring up young minds, according to Simonds.

“It is hard to keep the mind fresh after operating in a certain industry in a certain area for many years,” Simonds points out. “That is what these young individuals have to offer, the ability to think outside of the box.”

The Union County CEO Program has selected students for the 2014-2015 school year and is currently focused on hiring a teacher and securing additional investors. Further information on the program is available on their website at

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