Difference Maker:
Kevin Blickhan

Difference maker?

“I don’t think of myself as a difference maker.”

-Kevin Blickhan

Story By Kari Vogel & Kaitlyn Wegs

Making a difference is a goal most people in the service field have, but they don’t always know the ways in which they are making a difference unless someone points it out or honors them in some way. Even then, those who truly and profoundly influence and inspire those around them, don’t understand how they could have done so. For our dad, Kevin Blickhan, this is exactly who he is and how he has lived his life. We’ll reference Kevin as Dad in this article simply because that is who he is to us, and calling him Kevin just doesn’t feel natural.

Dad has always been an inspiration to us, and there has never been a better man to be our hero. He has always shone us by example as well as lectured us on how to behave, present ourselves, write, play sports, speak to others, respect others, how to be a solid spouse and parent, as well as countless other life lessons. However, throughout our childhood, we didn’t always know how much he impacted others and made a difference outside our loving home until we became adults. 

I (Kari) watched my Dad in his career throughout my life, and he was so dedicated to his work as a social worker with children, that it inspired and fueled my own career. It’s a family legacy of sorts. He would tell you he did not necessarily want me going into the same field as him as he knew the heartbreak, stress, time away from family, and toll it takes to do this work well. But I watched how much kids and their families mattered to him. I saw how he would get home late because he wouldn’t stop advocating for a child in need.  He would sit with them and make sure they were safe no matter what, and that alone made me dedicate my own career to advocating and protecting children in the child welfare system.  

He was raised in a loving, modest home and brought up in the Catholic religion. He attended grade school at St. John’s the Baptist Catholic Church and School when this was still in existence.  Dad graduated from Quincy High School in 1972 in one of the largest class sizes in school history; 640 students. He then attended Quincy College in 1972 while living at home to save money. During this time, he was recruited to join Circle K, which is a preliminary student organization to Kiwanis and Kiwanis International. The focus is to volunteer and provide primary help to children through fundraising or work projects to help community areas in need. “What drew me to them was my personal desire to help children and to teach others the value of community service. The reason I still stay involved is to stay active and to show others they can be helpful as well. I’m still learning.” He graduated with a degree in Sociology. Dad didn’t go to work in his field until 1979, as he managed a bar in town for a couple of years: The Fortique.  

In 1979, Dad began employment in his field at the Adams County Youth Home as a counselor, then in 1980 as the Assistant Director. The youth home is a detention center for youth in trouble with the law.  Dad worked there for five years. “I married the love of my life, Sandy, in 1981. She was beautiful! All my guy friends couldn’t believe it and wondered how I got her. We were blessed to finally add to our family with two wonderful girls in 1987 and 1988.”  He started classes for his master’s degree in the mid-1980s, taking one class at a time. He finally completed his degree after stopping and starting in 1994 with a master’s degree in public administration. His employment changed to Chaddock in 1983.  He was a Cottage Coordinator, Assistant Director of Residential Services, and Admissions Coordinator.  He then went on to work for The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in 1988.  Dad worked for the DCFS Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline in Springfield, Illinois, from 1988-1989, then as a caseworker, casework Supervisor, and Supervisor of Foster Parent Retention for the Central Region of Illinois, at DCFS, (1988-2016).

“I retired in 2016 from DCFS after 26 years, and a total of 36 years in the field of child welfare. I was worn out, working for the state, and had paid my dues, so to speak, but felt that in retirement, I could pick and choose what I wanted to do, at my own time at a pace that would not interfere with family needs, and my own desire to do what I want and when I chose to do it! I love children! They need so much! I love sitting down and talking and problem-solving with them.”

We were born in 1987 and 1988, so Dad was doing all this while we were very little. We didn’t have a clue about the sacrifice he was making as far as time with us to better himself in a career that would eventually help and guide hundreds. This has always taken a toll on him. He has mentioned many times over the years, the guilt he used to feel having to isolate himself away from us to study and to miss out on play, dinner, and bath time during those years, but we never knew a time when he wasn’t there as we were so little. “Boy, do these three (mom, Kaitlyn, and Kari) keep tabs on me! It was absolutely the most wonderful time watching Kari and Kaitlyn grow up! They were the best little girls, with long blond hair and blue eyes! Sandy did a super job raising them, as she parented them predominantly. I’ve always been very proud of them, and have been so thankful when considering and reflecting on many of the less fortunate children and families I worked with in my career. Too many funny stories to tell about all three of my girls, and they know them all!”

When asked why our Dad got into the field of social work, he said, “I love children, especially the little ones. I worked predominantly with teenagers in my work at the Youth Home and at Chaddock, but the little ones were always special in my heart. I always wanted to make sure we protected them and kept them safe. I also wanted families to succeed. My parents were caring people, as well as many friends, relatives, and professionals I worked with.”

Dad has been awarded and nominated for his service to children, families, and the community over the years. It just shows that people really do appreciate and recognize how rare and important he is in this field, in this community, and to the lives of the people who love him. He received a national award in 1988, and again in 1994 as an Outstanding Young Man of America, nominated in 1988 by a Chaddock administrator and a foster parent with DCFS in 1994. Other accomplishments have been simple recognition by supervisors in his work with kids and foster parents. Gem City Breakfast Kiwanis accomplishments are as follows: Board of Directors 2004-2006, President 2006, Richard Walz Distinguished Service Award 2010, The Dr. Luis V. Amador Award (the most distinguished award one can receive in Kiwanis regarding neuroscience research for central nervous system diseases)- 2022-2023, and Kiwanian of the Year – 2022-2023. “What inspires me to do the service work I do with Kiwanis and the fundraising and childhood reading, mentoring, and so on, is that I have been blessed and that I need to give back, with whatever talent or effort I can.”

One impactful and incredible accomplishment started back in 2005 when Dad began mentoring for the Quincy Public Schools. “I began mentoring in approximately 2005, at the Early Childhood Center at the request of a high school friend of mine that felt I could provide some help to this three-year-old young boy, who had lost his mother the year before in a drug shooting. He was attending the Early Childhood Center at the time, and our Breakfast Kiwanis Club provided members once a week to read to a couple of classes. I was one of those readers. I began meeting with this little boy, who at the time was a real wild child. Losing his mother at the age of two was obviously devastating! Anyway, I continued to meet with him each week for approximately thirty minutes to an hour, depending on his behavior, and 15 years later, he graduated from high school at QHS. This young man struggled, but our friendship grew over the years, and is still alive today! He played football at QHS, and was a first-team all-conference player, receiving a scholarship to Eureka College in the Peoria area! We were both chosen and honored to do a recruitment video for the mentorship program that can be viewed today! Thanks to editing, I am very proud of that video with that young man! I also mentor currently, 5 young men at QJHS, and 1 young man at QHS weekly. I look forward to seeing and talking with them each week, and honestly, they do with me as well. I love it!  What inspires me about the kids and families I have worked with in my career and now in my retirement, is when they are problem-solving, having success, and doing for themselves. That’s when they’re happy. That’s when they smile!” How do you want to continue helping this population? “Time will tell, but I want to continue helping the young people I work with the same way I’m doing now, or if the schools want me to do something else….as long as I know it’s best for the kids!”

Social workers have high burnout because of the depth and rigor it takes to get children and families to make changes, deal with trauma, conquer addiction and mental health issues as well as fighting THE SYSTEM, so it says a great deal to have a person who has the dedication and stamina for longevity in this field of work. Our dad is the exception to all the rules. He is a humble man. He’s never been one, at least in our eyes, to brag about himself and his accomplishments. He has three women in his life to do it for him! When asked, you have two daughters and grandchildren that think the world of you, as well as a wife that brags about your accomplishments to others; how does that make you feel that you are held in such high regard as a husband, father, and grandfather?  “I think the world of my family, and I am very blessed. I am very grateful to have these women in my life, and, hopefully for many more years to come. It makes me feel very lucky that they think of me the same way I feel about them.  As far as my grandkids, they are my life!”

A support system, whatever that looks like, is also essential for a social worker. Dad described his support system as his family. While we know we are the ones writing about him and how much he means and supports us, he definitely gave it back to us. His parents, our mother, and we suppose we are his support system. “My parents, for sure, were my support system years ago, encouraging me to go to college and eventually graduate school. My dad was especially encouraging as he had a couple of college courses, but never completed. It was important for him to have a son that attended and graduated college. My wife Sandy was especially supportive, taking care of our two little girls while I traveled twice weekly to classes to complete my master’s degree. She has always been supportive whether it was to go to school, play in a band, play sports, or work on our antique cars. Kari and Kaitlyn always knew Dad was doing something, as they also were involved in their activities of sports and dance, or theatre.”

Dad’s advice is, more often than not, reliable, consistent, and trustworthy. So, when asked, you can always know he means what he says, and whatever he says will make a difference in your life. “What I would say to others at this point in my life, is to work hard for what you want. It takes time, but don’t ever quit. Utilize the support of family around you to re-energize you. Spend more time with them. Real time. Meaningful time. Child welfare is tough! Don’t get into it unless you put your whole self into it. Embrace it; otherwise, it will overwhelm you. There are rewards, maybe few and far between, but they are there and worth the wait. Volunteer with a community service group if you don’t get into the field itself. There are a multitude of organizations that could use your expertise. As an old graduate professor once said to me as I was struggling with an assignment and I was looking for guidance, he simply said, ‘keep working, don’t quit!’”

This article is supposed to be about difference makers in our community, but Kevin Blickhan, our Dad, is more than that to us and to many others he would not want us to specifically highlight. He does so many things under the radar because he is in a position to help, whether it be a kind gesture, a joke that made someone’s day, a monetary contribution to a cause, or a specific person that touched his heart or just talking at a restaurant or bar because he doesn’t really know a stranger. “I do not consider myself a role model. I have too many flaws. I just want to help kids any way I can, and if that helps them currently or down the road, hopefully they can pass it on to others.”

He is our difference maker!