Longtime legislator, NASA engineer first 2 recipients of new GCMS award

Longtime legislator, NASA engineer first 2 recipients of new GCMS award

GIBSON CITY — A former Congressman and a retired NASA structural engineer are the first two recipients of Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School's newly established Distinguished Alumni Award. The awards, which will be given during halftime of Friday's boys' basketball game, are a way of celebrating alumni beyond athletic accomplishment, said Principal Chris Garard.

"We already have an athletic hall of fame," Garard said. "We don't recognize some of the great things people have done outside of athletics."

Garard said formal talks of creating the award began last year, and when the award and nomination processes were finalized, there were 10 nominees.

"Once the idea was proposed, it just kind of took off," he said.

Of the 10 nominees, 40-year Republican congressman Leslie Arends and Air Force veteran-turned-NASA engineer Royce Forman were chosen for the inaugural awards.

Forman, no stranger to accolades over the course of his career, said this one is the most meaningful yet.

"This high school award means even more to me than the awards I got from NASA," Forman said. "Just knowing my name will be carried on means a lot more than these awards I got at NASA and the Air Force."

For Arends, the honor comes posthumously, as the 1912 graduate died in 1985. Relatives of Forman, who graduated in 1949, will accept the award on his behalf, as the 87-year-old retiree was unable to make the trip from his Houston home.

Garard said he hopes students see the lives of the two men as inspirations for what they can become.

"Some kids and families don't believe they can be successful because they are in a small town," he said. "And these people are prefect examples of what you can do."

Forman said he thought the same thing growing up.

"When I went to high school, I just never imagined I'd end up doing what I did," he said. "I was fortunate the way it turned out."

Forman grew up a farm, but he knew he didn't want to be a farmer. He worked for a casting factory in Champaign after graduating from high school but knew he didn't want to spend his life doing that, either. So he joined the Air Force, went to technical schools, and ended up working as an engineer for Boeing and eventually NASA after being discharged from the service.

"My career started before the first flight to the moon, and then ended after they stopped flying the shuttle," Forman said.

Although he credits the Air Force and the University of Illinois as key stops in his career, he said high school in Gibson City was the real start of it all.

"The reason I did so well was the education I got in high school," Forman said. "I got a good taste of things at Gibson City."

Forman said he believes one way students from any school can succeed is by learning their inherent abilities. While in the Air Force, he said he struggled with electrical engineering until a test revealed he was more suited for mechanical engineering — a fact that changed the course of his career.

"I think it's important for high school students to know what they're inherently good at so they know what to do later," Forman said. "Don't get into something you're not good at."

Although it's easy to track his career by one milestone after another, Forman still considers himself a beneficiary of luck.

"I've just been very fortunate the way things worked out," Forman said. "You have to take advantage of the luck you get."

Forman said most of his friends and first cousins are no longer living, but he takes solace in the fact that his name will be carried on in the place where everything started for him.

"From Gibson City, I'll get to be remembered where I was born and grew up," he said.

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