April 25, 2017

CARTERVILLE — Known as the “Southpaw” because of his left-handed pitching, George Hopkins, Jr., could have gone in any direction after graduating from John A. Logan College in 1971. He chose to stay close to home.

“And thank God he did,” says former West Frankfort mayor and longtime community journalist Bob Ellis. “His contributions to our community, and Southern Illinois as a whole, have been immeasurable.”

But as a teenager — graduating from West Frankfort High School in 1969 during a time of war and the first manned landing on the moon — Hopkins, like most his age, was just beginning to route out his future.

John A. Logan College would be his first step.

Taking that path would lead to something great: For more than 40 years, Hopkins has had a far reaching arm in West Frankfort’s educational system. He was a beloved principal and superintendent of schools before retirement from District #168. He currently works for the Regional Office of Education #21.

“When it comes to Southern Illinois education, not just West Frankfort’s, one name, George Hopkins, Jr., stands out and that name denotes decades of public service,” Ellis said. “He’s just extremely talented in so many ways.”

Besides his dedication to the classroom and education administration, Hopkins continues to mentor youth interested in baseball, especially those who seem to migrate toward the pitching mound. He is also a skilled musician, known for playing the guitar and singing Irish folk songs on St. Patrick’s Day throughout the West Frankfort community.

Dave Broy served on the West Frankfort Board of Education when Hopkins was hired as an administrator in District #168. He also played baseball in some of the same yards Hopkins did during the summer and — like most of the other boys — feared his curveball.

“He worked on his pitching skills as much as anyone I have ever seen,” said Broy. “His work habits and his desire to learn always impressed me.”

Jon Rivers, too, was impressed and when he began to put together his first baseball team at John A. Logan College. Hopkins tried out.

“He had the best curveball in town,” Rivers said.

Hopkins said he loved baseball and he would go on to become an All-Conference pitcher at John A. Logan — he even had a shot at playing for the St. Louis Cardinals — but, he said, this was not the reason he chose to attend.

“At 17 years of age, I was far from settling on a course of study or career,” Hopkins said. “I had known some people who moved from one university program of study to another and that seemed to negatively affect their timeline for graduation. Choosing John A. Logan College helped me immensely to make better decisions about my future education and career.”

In addition, Hopkins says, “I also wasn’t ready to leave home at that time, so the opportunity to remain close to family and friends was important.”

The final factor was affordability. “I come from a family of five children, three of whom attended John A. Logan College. Dad insisted that we all get a college education, and Logan’s lower-cost option helped him and us to get those college degrees without being a financial burden.”

Hopkins remembers a time when, during a double-header, he was credited with being the winning pitcher in both games. “I pitched and won the first game. In the second game, Coach Rivers asked me to pitch in relief. Well, that game turned out in our favor, too, so I was credited with winning two games in the same day.”

While that is an incredible memory, Hopkins said what happened the next day after the game is what he remembers the most.

“My English instructor, David Packard, to my surprise, made a big deal of that accomplishment in the class the next day, which, of course, was a fun moment for me,” Hopkins said. “There was absolutely a special kindness that pervaded Logan’s faculty, and though they insisted on good work and scholarship, they were very approachable and helpful. From what I understand, that faculty characteristic continues today.”

The notoriety Hopkins gained on the mound at John A. Logan College captured the attention of the baseball coach at Murray State University. He was offered a scholarship to play at Murray State.

“Having completed all my general study courses at Logan, I was able to transfer seamlessly to Murray State to pursue Bachelor of Arts degrees in communications and political science,” Hopkins explained. “Absolutely all of my Logan credits were accepted at the university level. This is how Logan helped me take another big step toward the future.”

Today, after decades of service in the area of education, Hopkins said the effect of John A. Logan College on the Southern Illinois community continues to be “enormously positive.

“As many young people move into post-secondary schooling with limited financial resources, but with dreams of a degree and a better future, John A. Logan College, like it did for me, becomes their first step,” Hopkins said. “It didn’t exist in my day, but now many high school students take dual credit courses and are racking up college credits while in high school. That’s a money-saving endeavor that also prepares them for college in advance.”

Hopkins said that names like “Packard, Moore, Gold, Greenlee, Rivers, Sala, Bechtel, Ivey, and Middleton, along with so many more” will forever be ingrained in his mind. “Students of all ages must be amazed and inspired toward life-long learning and, while observing John A. Logan College staff doing these things on a daily basis when I was a student there, I wanted that to someday be my mission also.”