Laurel Ridge honors community supporters and retirees in ceremony

For Immediate Release:
May 23, 2023

Primary Media Contact:
Sally Voth
Public Relations Specialist
[email protected]
Phone: 540-868-7134

Judy Rinker receiving award at ceremony
Left to right: Russell Rinker, a medallion recipient, pictured with his mother, Judy Rinker, named an emerita staff member, and Professor Emerita Andrea Ludwick

Community members, along with two retired professors and three retired staff members, were honored by Laurel Ridge during a Medallion and Emeriti Recognition Ceremony on May 10.

This year marked the first time that staff emeriti recognitions were awarded by the Classified Staff Council.

“Similar to the recognition of professor emeritus, the purpose of the staff emeritus is to recognize staff members’ exceptional service and contributions to the college,” Laurel Ridge President Kim Blosser said.

The inaugural class of staff emeritae were Janet Heishman, who worked at the college from 1972-2012; Eileen Rexrode, who was at the college from 1989-2016; and Judy Rinker, who served from 1972-2010.

Professor Emerita Andrea Ludwick presented the designation to Rinker, who was the first Shenandoah County resident to enroll in the college in 1970, and became the first Outstanding Graduate in 1972. She would later come to work at Laurel Ridge, serving in various roles, including executive assistant to the president and administrative coordinator of planning and compliance. Among the accolades she received during her service were the Support Staff Showcase Award from the Virginia Community College Association and Laurel Ridge’s Distinguished Staff Award.

“Judy, you have done so much to make this institution what it is,” Professor Emerita Ludwick said. “For many, Judy was the face of the college.”

Rexrode retired as the administrative assistant to the dean of humanities, mathematics and social sciences. She was the Distinguished Staff award winner in 1996.

“Eileen demonstrated selfless support of the faculty and staff and was a key contributor to the instructional mission of the college,” academic advisor and Staff Council Chair Sarah Pangle said. “She loved everybody. Eileen is the embodiment of what community colleges are all about – lifelong learning.”

Heishman, who was a fiscal technician at Laurel Ridge, also was a Distinguished Staff award winner, receiving the honor in 2001. She also received a Medallion of Recognition in 2012.

“Janet was the cornerstone of the college business office,” said library archivist John Owens, who serves as the council’s vice chair. “Janet was woven into the fabric of college life.”

The two retirees given professor emeritus status during the ceremony both taught math at Laurel Ridge. Professor Frank Borleske was on the faculty when the college first opened in 1970 and continued until his retirement last year, although he still teaches as an adjunct.

“We all hope to have the same type of impact on our students that Frank has had on his,” said History and Humanities Professor Nicole Martin.

Professor Borleske taught 7,455 students during the course of his career, with a total enrollment of 10,286 students.

“You have to be doing something right if you have more than 3,000 students take more than one math class,” Martin said.

“I’m really glad that I have a job that I really enjoy doing,” said Professor Borleske, who received the Distinguished Faculty award in 2010.

When introducing Professor Cyril Petras, who was with the college from 1989-2022 and was the 2009 Distinguished Faculty award winner, Business Management and Administration Professor Rachel Dodson described him as a “master instructor whose courses and labs were dynamic and engaging, and they were rigorous.”

Professor Petras talked about being hired by the college.

“This is the place I was looking for,” he said. “When I came here, Frank immediately came to me and said, ‘You will be an integral part of the department.’”

President Blosser told ceremony attendees that the Laurel Ridge Community College Medallion is the highest non-academic honor awarded by the college and the College Board. The honors have been presented since 1972.

Judy Rinker’s son, Russell Rinker, an international entertainer – he has performed with Blue Man Group, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Los Angeles Opera, on “Arrested Development” and “The Tonight Show,” among others – got his acting start with “The Follies” at Laurel Ridge while just in preschool. His parents and sister also performed with him, and he has taken over directing duties from Professor Emerita Ludwick.

“The college has benefited greatly from Russell’s talent, enthusiasm, and his caring approach to encouraging students and community members to explore the performing arts in a supportive environment,” said President Blosser.

Russell Rinker said Laurel Ridge “is such a special place.”

“I wouldn’t be who I am without this place,” he said. “The things that you do, there’s a real effect. It has really been an honor to continue to come back here and to give.”

In her nearly 20 years with Laurel Ridge Community College, Medallion recipient Brenda Byard “launched several crucial operating units that are now tightly woven into the fabric of our organization and serve so many youth, adults and underrepresented populations in our community,” said President Blosser.

Prior to her recent retirement, Byard was the dean of Early College and High School Partnerships. Among her many accomplishments in this role, Byard grew the college’s dual enrollment program to record numbers; procured resources for the college through management of Perkins Post-Secondary and Claude Moore Charitable Foundation Grants and procurement of numerous VCCS Chancellor’s Innovation Grants and Career Coach Grants; and developed teams of career coaches in the region’s high schools.

Byard, who was awarded the Distinguished Administrator award in 2014, shared that she went into foster care at age 17 and was placed with a wonderful family. Her foster mother, who was in attendance, told her college was an option for her.

“Having someone tell you that you can go to college is life changing,” she said. “Every single person who works here on any given day has the power to be a life changer.”

The third Medallion was awarded to Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Winchester, and the Rev. Martha Miller Sims and the Rev. Jonathan Boynton. The church has offered classroom and nursery space for the college’s Adult Education program for more than 20 years.

The church has developed a program for the children of Adult Education students and offers them nutritious snacks and enrichment. During a class visit one day, a Laurel Ridge employee observed Shenandoah University music therapy students leading a group of toddlers singing in English. With their parents coming from all over the globe, the children likely weren’t exposed to English in their homes.

Laurel Ridge has served more than 800 students at Grace Evangelical Lutheran, and more than 1,000 have been served since the church first opened its doors to adult education programming. Many of the adult students are mothers, and they have formed a cohort that positively impacts them inside and outside the classroom. Recent registrants have included many refugees from Afghanistan, and these classes provide vital social and cultural exposure and opportunities for assimilation.

“The congregation has highly valued this partnership and we will continue in the future to do that,” said the Rev. Miller Sims. “It has brought us a lot of joy seeing the students come in and out of the building and having them with us.”


Founded in 1970, Laurel Ridge Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With three locations — Middletown, Warrenton, and Luray-Page County — the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. Laurel Ridge offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. Laurel Ridge also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. Laurel Ridge serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.

Laurel Ridge Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees. Laurel Ridge Community College also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Laurel Ridge Community College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (

Laurel Ridge Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities. Laurel Ridge shall promote and maintain equal employment and educational opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age (except when age is a bona fide occupational qualification), status as a veteran, national origin, or other non-merit factors. Laurel Ridge also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment. Inquiries may be directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources, [email protected]173 Skirmisher Lane, Middletown, VA 22645, 540-868-7226.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.