(Cicero, IL) While Morton College’s Joe Albanese received the Illinois Community College Trustees Association’s 2021 “Lifelong Learning” Award, the Berwyn native considers this honor being about many others above himself.
It’s for his late mother, Loretta, who sat side-by-side with Albanese among the graduates at Morton College’s 1989 Commencement ceremony. It’s for his sister, Colleen, a registered CNA, who accompanied Joe to the June 4th ceremony in Normal. It’s for everyone else at Morton College who came here to re-enter the workforce or enhance their job skills.
“This means a lot for the people who go to school here because they’re going through a career change,” Albanese said. “They’re trying to improve the quality of life for their families by being able to earn a better living. Morton College just doesn’t help one person, but whole families when someone comes here making a career move.”
But the spotlight belongs to Albanese. Circumstances have forced the 58-year-old retired military veteran to reinvent himself a number of times. Morton College always has been there to support Albanese, who has accumulated a whopping 366 semester credit hours with three associate degrees and a certificate from Morton College.
“Morton College enabled me to go on to Governors State in the 1990s,” Albanese said. “Morton College was there for me after I retired from the military. I was getting back into the workforce and needed to recertify myself for a profession.”
Albanese’s approach of when one door closes, another one opens has served him well.
“The best example I can tell you about is my 20 years in the U.S. Navy,” Albanese said. “I started off one class of a destroyer and it was decommissioned. Just because it went away didn’t mean the people weren’t needed. I went back to the Navy school and got retrained.”
Morton College was there when Albanese started a career as a health inspector for the state of Illinois. He earned associate degrees in business management, business administration and marketing in a two-year span in 1988 and ’89, then completed his bachelor of arts from Governors State University in 1991.
“It was a hurry-up type of thing,” Albanese explained. “I needed it for the job as a health inspector. At that time, it was any type of degree would do. I finished my BA and became a health inspector. But after time, that job went away.”
When that job went away, the former standout swimmer for the late Jim Ellinger and Jim Will at Morton West who earned a scholarship to the University of New Mexico, needed to recreate himself. Albanese was John Nolan long before ABC cast Nathan Fillion as “The Rookie,” a current TV series about a police department’s oldest newest member. Instead of law enforcement, Albanese enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 33.
“I wanted to get into a reserve position,” Albanese explained. “I talked to a Navy recruiter. It sounded like a lot of neat stuff, so I enlisted at the age of 33. I didn’t seek a commission, but at the tender age of 34, I was in boot camp.”
Albanese decided to retire 20 years later at the age of 54. Again, Morton College was there as Albanese prepared for the next phase of his life.
“I used the GI Bill to start going back to Morton College,” Albanese said. “I was trying to figure out what I was going to do.
“Morton College is an excellent place for re-upping skills and retraining,” Albanese added. “Morton College’s family-oriented atmosphere brings out the best in all students. I’ve found all my instructors are very concerned about what you took away from the class and the information that went into your head.”
Albanese came away with his Nursing Assistant certificate in 2018. He’s involved with Morton College’s Nursing Club and volunteers for the Spina Bifida Association, the Red Cross and VA Hines Hospital.
He was in the nursing degree program, but stepped away when the COVID-19 pandemic shifted most of the instructional to an on-line format.
“I’m not sure if it’s temporary or permanent,” Albanese said. “Even though I’m in the middle of the program, I may look into something else.”
His next possible career move? Of course, it involves going back to school.
“I may retire and move to Arizona where I’d study HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning),” Albanese said. “They have swamp coolers there. The air is so dry, you’ve got to use chilled damp air.”
That’s so Joe Albanese. His commitment to lifelong learning never stops.