by Mike Plunkett, Journal News, Hillsboro, IL
The Hillsboro Education Foundation will be honoring two Hillsboro High School graduates, a local pastor and a retired teacher, with the Distinguished Alumni award.
Honorees are Pastor James R. Hayes and Betty Jean Bledsaw. The awards will be presented at a reception in their honor during the Old Settlers celebration on Thursday, Aug. 2, beginning at 2 p.m. at Mulligan's Restaurant at the Hillsboro Country Club.
Pastor James R. Hayes was born in Hillsboro on July 28, 1954, to Andrew Hayes, Jr. and Catherine Hayes. He attended Burbank Elementary School, Hillsboro Junior High School and graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1972. Hayes' mother died when he was very young, and he was raised by his grandparents and his father and stepmother. He has remained in Hillsboro his entire life.
Hayes has worked in many different fields, including cable line work, coal mining and all aspects of construction work. He is now the co-owner/co-operator, along with his wife, of International Filter Manufacturing Company in Litchfield. He owns numerous rental properties in Hillsboro that he maintains. He is also the caretaker of Bluff Cemetery in Hillsboro.
Pastor Hayes married Cecilia Ewing Hayes in November of 1993. The two share a daughter, Nicole Hayes.
He became a Deacon of St. James Baptist Church on April 17, 1994, and served as Deacon for 12 years. On June 4, 2006, he was ordained as the Pastor of St. James Baptist Church. He serves the church in every capacity, from pastor and spiritual leader to mowing the grass, shoveling snow, emptying trash and numerous remodeling jobs. Under his leadership, St. James has purchased property adjacent to the church, completed many major remodeling jobs within the church and also replaced the roof and paved the parking lot.
Hayes refuses to take a salary from St. James but continuously gives monetarily, physically, emotionally and mentally. Since becoming pastor, he has performed many wedding ceremonies and funeral services for people of all denominations, all of which he did not accept payment for or donated the payment for same to the church.
He supports many mission projects, both local and afar. Under Pastor Hayes' leadership, St. James Baptist Church sings carols and provides gifts to the local nursing home residents at Christmas, supports financially challenged children at Christmas, financially supports The Laetria Project and the Haiti Project.
Pastor Hayes was instrumental in the success of the all-denominational tent revival held in 2013 at the Hillsboro Lake. Pastor Hayes has paid for people's medicines, rent, power and water bills, bought groceries, performed house remodeling projects for the less fortunate, counseled the sick and dying and the families of the sick and dying, most of which he did with no acknowledgement or recognition. He has brought many of his friends to Christ.
Betty Jean Bledsaw was born and raised in Schram City. She attended Schram City Grade School from 1944 to 1952 and Hillsboro High School from 1952 to 1956. She graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1960 with a bachelor's degree in education. In 1965 Bledsaw attended the NDEA Science Institute at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Then in 1978 she earned her master's degree in education at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville.
Bledsaw is a member of the Illinois Retired Teachers' Association, the Montgomery County Retired Teachers' Association, Illinois Education Association, National Education Association, the Phi Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, Edwardsville Education Association and the Madison County Historical Museum in Edwardsville.
She heads class reunions for Schram City School and Hillsboro High School, the Vacation Bible School and Ladles of Love programs at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, she provides private tutoring for over 20 students free of charge and she volunteers for the TEAL and GED programs at Lincoln Land Community College.
Ms. Bledsaw taught grades one, four and five at Glen Carbon School from 1960 to 1993.