Touching the intangible: NCEF president Al Rider promotes education

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By Robert Villanueva

Al Rider took a leave of absence from his job in Tennessee to help the North Central Education Foundation in Elizabethtown, his former town of residence.


That was 20 years ago.

“I came back with the intent of helping the foundation raise money for the college,” Rider said.

Rider, now NCEF president and chief executive officer, recalled being contacted by Jim Collier, a founder of the organization, asking if Rider would be interested in helping with a fundraising campaign. The scope of the fundraising  was unprecedented in that they were seeking large financial contributions for what was then Elizabethtown Community College, Rider said.

The largest contribution was more than $300,000.

“I think we raised the bar in philanthropic giving,” Rider said.

Orchestrating a successful capital campaign of that magnitude is labor intensive and requires an enormous amount of volunteers, he said. Such a campaign generally should run no longer than 18 months to prevent wearing out those involved, Rider said.

The campaign drew to a close and Rider’s original task was complete, leaving him uncertain if he would return to Tennessee or continue working with NCEF.

Rider recalls the pivotal moment when he knew he would not be returning to the Volunteer State. He was sitting in his Elizabethtown Community College office, which is where the NCEF was located at the time, when a nontraditional student clutching a $5 bill showed up.

She had tears in her eyes.

“She said, ‘I want to begin to repay the foundation for the scholarship you gave me,’” Rider said.

The woman, he said, was a single mother from a neighboring county and had been a student volunteer. She lived in a mobile home with no running water and had graduated from ECC with a nursing degree.

“As she stood there I wondered if she had had lunch that day, if she even had enough gas to get home,” Rider said.

It was a powerful incident for Rider.

“That was the moment I knew I couldn’t walk away,” he said.

Rider’s decision to stay on with NCEF included another consideration, too.

“First of all, I was born and raised in Hardin County, so it was a coming home for me,” Rider said.

Since his association with NCEF, the organization has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships, Rider said.

NCEF provides scholarships and loans and serves and supports post-secondary education institutions and educational

facilities, among other roles. Rider also described NCEF as “the catalyst” for ideas to be brought to life.

“We’re kind of a go-to entity for dissemination of information about education and economic development,” he said.

Rider credits the NCEF founders with being visionary about the importance of education. He strives to build on that foundation by evolving as the community evolves.

“We begin each day here with the question, ‘Are we relevant to the community conversation,” he said.

The recent structural breakdown in the finance world and increasing strides in online education are opportunities, he said.

“We have to embrace these changes,” Rider said.

In fact, he said, he’d like to see more core college courses streaming live online 24/7 for free from publicly supported institutions.

“It’s something that’s going to happen,” Rider said, explaining it is just a matter of when it will happen.

By understanding the assets available and focusing on opportunities rather than challenges, Rider believes NCEF and the community can benefit. Looking at the “entire spectrum” of how a community grows, including tangible elements like jobs, wealth and population, will trace the source of growth back to knowledge.

And education, Rider said, is the source of knowledge, so it’s important to start there.

“Intangibles drive tangibles,” Rider said. “And sometimes we reverse those.”

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.


Place of birth: Hardin County
Favorite music:
'60s but likes all genres.
Favorite TV shows:
News, business news, westerns.
Favorite books:
“The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics” by Eric D. Beinhocker;  “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters” by Richard Rumelt.
Favorite movies:
“Clear and Present Danger,” “High Noon.”
Accomplishments/other roles:
2008 Joseph W. Kelly Award recipient, given by the Kentucky Board of Education for exemplary leadership in education; education liaison for Fort Knox transformation; chairman for Hardin County United education subcommittee.
Wisest advice he ever received:
“Al, sometimes you have to leap without knowing where you’re going to land.”