DECATUR — Greg Florian’s dad built the house that Cindy Laegeler grew up in and the Florians lived on the same block.

“Our friendship goes way back,” said Florian, Richland Community College vice president of finance, in his speech at the Partners in Education Partners’ Salute on Monday at Richland.

This year’s honoree, Laegeler was executive director of Partners in Education from 1996 to 2009 and spent the majority of her career working with education in some capacity or another. When she became the mayor of Progress City, running its programs for Richland prior to her retirement in 2011, Florian was theoretically her boss, but their working relationship was more of a collaboration, he said.

And she is very organized.

“She has a pair of work boots that match a purse she has,” he said, making Laegeler laugh.

The Partners’ Salute celebrated its 25th anniversary on Monday. In addition to Laegeler, Partners in Education named Millikin University this year’s Outstanding Business Partner, and Stephen Decatur Middle School teacher William Pitts is this year’s Outstanding Educator.

Orv Graham, 2002 honoree, gave a history of Partners in Education at the event. Before Partners, he said, schools and the business community had no real connection. Today, business and education work hand in hand to provide real world applications and remind students that skills they’re learning in the classroom will be the same skills they’ll need on the job one day.

The Partners Salute began as a way to recognize achievements in the community of business and education and as a fundraiser to support Partners in Education. The event also recognizes the top high school graduates in the county.

Laegeler’s friend Kit Paulin of Benjamin F. Edwards & Co. has known Laegeler since they were in college, though they didn’t become close friends until the 1990s. Laegeler majored in business at the University of Illinois at a time when few women did, and women were discouraged from entering business, Paulin said.

“Cindy and the other women in that program knew they had much to contribute,” Paulin said.

Laegeler said she couldn’t have accomplished all she has without her family including husband, Pat, and their three grown children.

“It’s important that students see school as their first job,” she said. “School is more than a place to gain knowledge. It’s the road to a fulfilling life. I can’t tell you how important it is to be part of your community, if you want the best life ever. I’m very blessed. The Lord is there for me.”

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