ROCK FALLS – When Forrest Tabor was an administrator at Rock Falls High School, he called a student into his office and asked her what she wanted to do with her life.
She replied that she wanted to be a nurse, but she didn’t have the means to achieve her goal, according to a former secretary at the school, Sheila Geeting.
So Tabor arranged an internship for the student at a doctor’s office. She went on to study nursing and became the school’s nurse, Geeting said
That student was one of many Tabor helped get into college in the 1950s and 1960s, Geeting said.
“He was a very nice gentleman,” Geeting said. “He really cared about the Sterling-Rock Falls community. He was very helpful with students. He was just that kind of person.”
Tabor, who was principal, then superintendent, at the high school from 1950 until about 1973, is remembered by many as a man who put students first and cared deeply about the Sauk Valley.
Tabor, 99, died Sunday at CGH Medical Center in Sterling.
Tabor served on the committee that studied the feasibility of starting Sauk Valley Community College, and later was elected president of Sauk’s first board of trustees. Tabor served on that board from July 1965 to May 1967.
He resigned when he was asked to chair (after proposing the effort) the bi-county special education cooperative between Whiteside and Carroll counties.
Tabor also was president of the Illinois High School Association from 1968 to 1972, and secretary in 1967.
Sterling Mayor Skip Lee, who taught at Rock Falls High School while Tabor, or “Tabe,” was there, remembers him as a person with many interests and a passion for community involvement.
Lee said he became interested in community service because of Tabor and similar educators.
“He firmly believed that educators had a wider scope than just the school,” Lee said.
Even at age 99, Tabor continued to follow his work as mayor, Lee said.
“He was a great example to me ... of community service,” Lee said. “He was there when no one else was. He taught me that you need to be a leader, not just a member. We need more people like Forrest Tabor who view leadership as a noble thing, not something to be avoided.”
Tabor, whom Lee called an “old school superintendent,” opposed unionization in the 1960s, believing the school board and superintendent should run the district, not the teachers, Lee said.
But, Lee said, he “ran the school like it was his family,” advising and, if needed, disciplining teachers.
“He was a very caring man, a very warm man,” he said.
The early struggles with the teachers union were “really intense,” Lee said. The Illinois Education Association sanctioned the school because of the resistance to the unionization by Tabor and the board, he said.
But “eventually he understood. ... He showed that he could change with the times.”
Tabor was a hard worker, Lee said.
“When school was closed, that didn’t mean Forrest wasn’t there,” he said. “He spent much time there making sure things worked right.”
Tabor and Jim Hindley, the former science department chair, took advantage of grants to rebuild the science lab and buy new science equipment. Government grants were being given as the country competed with the Russians after they launched the Sputnik satellite, Lee said. In 1958, Tabor and Hindley built an addition for the science department with classrooms and laboratories.
Tabor also created an atmosphere in which the school’s band could flourish, Lee said.
“He was always expanding the school and looking to new horizons,” he said. “His attitude was, If you’re going to have a program, have the best program you can have.”
Pete Dillon, 78, also was a founding trustee of the college and worked with Tabor and others on Sauk’s feasibility study, starting in 1964. The study was a “huge effort” that “looked like the Holy Bible” after the year it took to complete, he said.
The college’s classes began in temporary buildings in 1966.
“He was instrumental in getting this thing off the ground and making the contacts we had to make,” Dillon said of Tabor. “All of us just really respected his educational background and his contacts. He just was a super person. I never met anybody quite like him. He was the perfect person for the time.”
At the time, the state didn’t have a community college system, but Tabor “could see the need” for educating “war babies,” some of whom couldn’t afford tuition at a 4-year university, Dillon said.
Tabor is remembered by some as a fine dresser.
“When you saw Tabe at school, he was always impeccably dressed,” Lee said.
But, he could be seen wearing bib overalls while he worked outside of his home.
Lora Hott’s late husband, Phil, worked with Tabor as one of the high school’s administrators, then succeeded him.
“He was really a common man,” she said of Tabor. “You could drive past his house, ... and see him in his bibs. He was a very well-dressed person; that’s why it was noticeable.”
Barbara Osborn’s late husband, Philip, was the first dean of instruction at Sauk and worked closely with Tabor.
“Oh, my goodness, he was a great educator,” she said of Tabor, noting that he taught math in Milford before becoming a school administrator.
“He was not just a great educator, he was a great person,” Osborn said. “In today’s world, you don’t find many people with the integrity he had. He was a strong person.”
Many remember Tabor as having patience and a rapport with students.
“Tabe loved kids,” Lee said.
When a child needed intervention, Tabor was willing to attend conferences with the student, parents and teachers, Lee said.
Lee remembers a conference with a student who had been misbehaving.
“He wasn’t yelling at the student,” Lee said. “He was talking to her like he would talk to his own daughter.”
Marlee Finch, 83, of Seminole, Fla., was a secretary in the high school’s office, starting in the early 1950s. She worked with Tabor until he retired, she said.
“You couldn’t ask for anyone nicer to be in charge of your children,” Finch said. “He did a wonderful job as far as I was concerned. He was so caring for everyone. We were very lucky in Rock Falls to have such a wonderful man.”
Richard Haselton was a cross country and basketball coach and physical education teacher at the high school from 1955 to 1958.
“He was a very wonderful person, very understanding, very patient with the students and had a nice rapport with them,” he said of Tabor.
“He’s the best superintendent that I ever worked for,” Haselton added. “He was very nice, very helpful.”