DIXON – Dave Hellmich is ingrained in the Sauk Valley, from cycling across its country roads to filling a seat at community tables as an advocate for the community college that’s shaped generations.
Hellmich came to Sauk Valley Community College as its president in 2015; he has worked more than three decades in higher education, including serving as an administrator and English professor at community colleges in Florida, Minnesota and Kentucky.
Points of pride during his time at the college include the resurrection of the agriculture program, the multicraft extended internship program and the Promise Impact Program, as well as the Sauk Valley Community Leadership Program.
The Promise Impact Program is in its early stages and would allow qualifying high school students to earn tuition and fees for up to three years in a career or transfer program at Sauk if they meet certain requirements, including 100 hours of community service.
“I believe it will be the most important thing to launch in the Sauk Valley since the college,” Hellmich said of the program, adding that school officials think it will increase enrollment by 20%.
The agriculture program came back to Sauk in fall 2017 after being absent for about two decades. It features agribusiness and career technical tracks, as well as test plots on campus for hands-on learning.
The extended internship program is a partnership with area industries and allows students to get paid work experience while earning a two-year associate degree in the Multicraft Technology Program, which includes fields of electronics; electrical; welding; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Lori Cortez, dean of institutional advancement at Sauk, said Hellmich, who is a first-generation college graduate, is a student advocate who believes everyone deserves an education.
“He truly does believe he’s here to serve everyone in our community,” Cortez said. “He always makes sure people feel welcome here.”
Hellmich joined the college during the state budget crisis, and as colleges and universities were making layoffs and shuttering programs, Hellmich went on a listening tour in the community, found that agriculture education was in high demand and worked to get it off the ground despite obstacles, Cortez said.
“Under his leadership, we’ve been able to implement new programs, policies and procedures that are responsive to community needs,” she said.
He also pushed for the college to fund Project Vital, an adult literacy and English as a second language program that’s usually funded by the state. Many colleges closed down those programs during the budget impasse, but Hellmich saw the importance of the program, which serves more than 200 people a year, Cortez said.
The college is integral in growing the community as a place to work, raise a family and stay, Hellmich said.
“I think the college is the linchpin in the Sauk Valley becoming a destination,” he said. “Lots of folks want the quality of life that the Sauk Valley can provide.”
He also values open discussions in collaborations to grow a smart, invested team working hard to critically analyze situations and make informed decisions.
Hellmich, 60, is the president-elect of the Dixon Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Board, serves on boards for Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital and its foundation, is a member of the #DixonStrong Leadership team, is chairman of the Sauk Valley Community Leadership Program and a board member of the Sterling Rotary Club.
“It’s important for the image of the college, and it contributes to the expansion and contemplation of ideas,” he said.
His staff also serve in roles on boards for a variety of groups and organizations to promote widespread community involvement.
“He’s heavily invested in the community, and he encourages all of us to be connected,” Cortez said.
He’s also part of the Shaw Media Illinois Corporate Advisory Board, a collective of leaders from throughout the Shaw Media footprint, which includes Sauk Valley Media.
Hellmich, who started as a paper boy when he was 8 years old, is a strong advocate for the importance of newspapers, as they serve as the “critical conscience of democracy.”
“The rights of the free press have been critical in this country’s history, and it’s critical now,” he said.
He’s concerned about the growing partisanship divide in the country and the danger of fake news, making it more important than ever to have a free, vibrant press digging into the truth.
He earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana; his Master of Arts in American literature from Indiana University; and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Florida.
His wife, Linda, is a clinical psychologist at KSB Hospital. They have three daughters and two granddaughters, with another on the way.
Hellmich cycles 4,000 miles a year, favoring the scenery of the rolling hills north of Dixon as well as rides toward the bison of the Nachusa Grasslands.
Off the bike, he enjoys area events and attractions such as the Grand Detour Arts Festival, the Dixon riverfront and Rock Falls sculpture walk and the Northwest Territory Historic Center.
He grew up in a small Indiana town with similar industry as the Sauk Valley, heavy in agriculture and manufacturing. He’s the fourth of 11 children, and his parents always taught them to treat others with respect.
“Coming here was like coming home,” he said. “It’s a close-knit community with Midwestern, small-town values where we feel accepted.”