PEKIN — In the 1980s, a family emergency played a role in preventing Peggy Runyon of Pekin from completing high school.
“My parents didn’t graduate from high school,” said Runyon. “When I got to a certain grade level, they couldn’t help me and I didn’t know how to do it. I just gave up. My heart wasn’t there. Then, when I got older, my parents found out my dad had terminal cancer. He had three tumors of the brain and had eight months to live. My mom took care of him on her own, so she signed papers for me to quit school to help take care of him.”
After her father passed away, Runyon made two other attempts to finish high school before enrolling in the Young Women’s Christian Association Adult Literacy program.
“I want to get a better-paying position at my job,” she said. “So, I wanted to get my GED (General Equivalency Diploma). I started looking for somewhere because I knew there were resources out there. Because I live in Tazewell County, I thought I’d look in the area. I called the (Pekin Public) library and they gave me this number (for the Pekin YWCA).”
Runyon’s journey toward her coveted GED began with instruction in reading and mathematics. From there, she moved on to social studies and language arts.
“She was not a person who read for pleasure and her math skills were low,” said YWCA Adult Literacy tutor Rosemary Vieira Kennedy. “From the initial assessment that the literacy program does coupled with what I figured out on my own, we decided to start out with the reading and the math. Reading is essential to everything. Her goal was to pass the GED and for so much of that, you have to be a good reader.”
Runyon has become a person who now reads for pleasure. She has taken and passed a test on the United States Constitution, as well as the social studies section of her GED tests. The Illinois Adult Community Educators Association (IACEA) recently recognized her hard work and her commitment to self-advancement by naming her the 2019 IACEA Adult Learner of the Year. The awarded is presented annually to the Illinois adult learner who has most improved their own life situation or that of others.
“I am so proud of Peggy and Rosemary for diligently working toward the goal she’s trying to achieve and receiving this award,” said YWCA director of adult literacy Tonja Ohnemus. “She has really put forth the effort. She has not only been working with her tutor toward her GED, passing the content exam and the Constitution test, she has also come into the program office and was an intern. She would work all day at Methodist, and then she would come in on Tuesday and Thursday nights and do typing for us. That helped her, I think, as far as building her confidence and strengthened her typing skills, which she needed to take the GED test, because it’s computerized. It helped her learn grammar, punctuation and new vocabulary. It helped her with office skills and at some point, she wants to get an office position. Just in the six months I’ve known Peggy, she has blossomed.”
Her father’s illness was a factor in Runyon’s failure to complete high school in the 1980s. Her own illness prevented her from accepting her award at the IACEA statewide conference March 7 in Springfield.
“I was in the hospital,” she said. “I found out that I have diverticulitis. I had an abscess and they had to go in and do a bunch of work on my colon.”
Ohnemus was able to procure the award and presented it to Runyon privately as she was recovering from her surgery. Runyon currently works in Environmental Services at Methodist Hospital in Peoria and hopes to transfer into either a technical position or registration. Having been convinced of the value of education by her own experiences, she is encouraging two of her three daughters to pursue GEDs of their own. She is also teaching her seven grandchildren to value education and become lifelong learners, according to Ohnemus.
“Peggy can be considered a role model for adult learners,” Ohnemus said in her nomination letter to the IACEA. “She is intelligent and test results indicate that she has progressed in the areas studied. Reading comprehension, fluency and vocabulary have increased considerably due to her study ethic and determination.”