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Mark Ritter

One Vandal’s Journey to Forge His Town’s Future

By Barry Engelhardt

“This project allows many different people to use the facilities and the fitness center.”

It feels fitting that Mark Ritter serves in a central role in Forging Our Future, a project designed to further unite Vandalia High School with the community that supports it. For Mark, who helped found WRF Engineers, LLC in 2012 after growing up in Vandalia, it’s more than an engineering project; it’s also a full-circle moment. “We’ve done engineering consulting services for the district for quite some time. It’s an opportunity to benefit the entire community,” says Mark.

“This project allows many different people to use the facilities [and] the fitness center. Vandalia has a strong wrestling program, and it will only help them to improve on that program,” adds Mark, displaying pride for his hometown.

Forging Our Future is a five-million-dollar-plus project designed to provide needed updates and enhancements throughout the campus athletic facilities. It has three main goals: to create an athletic fitness facility (complete with a wrestling room and golf simulator) in a purchased building across the street from the high school, update the football field, bleachers, and concession stands, and replace the old tennis courts (adding pickleball courts).

Through a combination of government funding, grants, and community donor support, project funding is just under halfway complete, and a committee has been working to establish and execute a fundraising strategy to push the project forward. While the project is ambitious, it’s designed to improve the lives of Vandalia’s youth and create significant opportunities to increase community involvement and support. Upon completion, residents will enjoy the spoils by using the athletic facility, playing tennis and pickleball, and enjoying a Vandals’ football game in comfort.

As a Vandalia High School graduate and a long-time resident, Mark views the project from multiple viewpoints. He playfully admits that if his wife had not accepted a position as school superintendent in Ramsey, his family would likely still call Vandalia their home. Mark is a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering consultant and a former student who has lived in Vandalia for most of his life. While his primary goal is to ensure building integrity, emphasizing keeping the electricity running and water flowing, he also sees the value it’ll add to his community.

Upon graduating from Vandalia High School in 1991, Mark attended Southern Illinois University—Carbondale and graduated with an engineering degree. He says he realized he wanted to study engineering early and that Vandalia’s education system left him fully prepared to enter SIU’s engineering program. A three-sport athlete who played golf, basketball, and baseball, he also understands the connection between academics and athletics.

As Mark looks back, he laughs and says that while he wasn’t a wrestler in high school, he remembers the team practicing in the same cramped and less-than-ideal space they’re currently using, remarking that it’s been the same for over thirty years. While one of the most respected (and, as a former high school wrestler, I’ll add, feared) wrestling programs in the state have made the best with limited resources for decades. Mark anticipates that better practice facilities will only improve the team’s performance and admits that this could be the squad’s final season in their current facilities under the right circumstances.

“The wrestling building could be complete by the end of the year. Obviously, it depends on funding,” comments Mark. “We’ve talked about getting some early bid packages out to start construction. I think if that stirs some more donations, completion by the end of the year is possible. Obviously, if they don’t have the money, the project can’t keep going.”

Looking ahead, Mark acknowledges that while the fitness center across the street from the high school is ambitious, the athletic facility and wrestling room are simply the beginning, with each of the three phases designed to further improve the entire community’s lives, bringing students and non-students together.

The residents of Vandalia could soon benefit from a newly constructed athletic facility for cardio and weight training, watch their Vandals play on turf under newly improved Fright Night Lights, complete with new concession facilities and bleacher seating, and enjoy newly constructed tennis and pickleball courts. But he also understands that significant hard work and community support are needed for the project’s full potential. As a Vandalia native, he also believes the community will get the job done the same way they’ve gotten the job done throughout his life; by rallying together.

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