June 23, 2018
  • 66.2 °F
  • Overcast


We asked four community advocates to share their thoughts on one word

Amber Embrey

“Everyone encounters stressful moments and situations in their lives. You can let the stress consume you, or endure the pressure in order to grow into a better person and help others. Some people naturally strive in stressful situations. For example, take members of our military, a police officer, a firefighter, or an emergency room physician — they deal with stressful situations every day. They see unpleasant things on a daily basis and still show up for work the next day, ready to tackle any challenge thrown their way and make our lives better. They make the choice daily not to allow these stressful moments define them but use them to grow and make a positive change in our community. I applaud our local military and service personnel. Thank you for your ability to thrive under pressure.”

Amber Embrey is the assistant director of development and communications for the Indiana University School of Medicine-Evansville.

Joseph Holtz

“I Googled the word ‘stress.’ ‘Six Simple Secrets for a Stress-Free Life,’ ‘10 Simple Ways To Lead a Stress-Free Life,’‘19 Ways to Live a Stress-Free Life,’ or ‘Top 20 Tips for a Stress-Free Life.’ It started so simple — only six secrets. Secrets? Then, just the top 20 tips? The top 20? There are more than 20? This whole thing is getting stressful! Stress is everywhere, woven into the fabric of our day-to-day lives and our interaction with others. Stress, like change, is unavoidable. It is inevitable. For me, stress can be both good and bad. At times, the stress can be intense. I know it’s time to step back, ask God for a little help, and begin again. Almost always with a different perspective. Sometimes stress can be a motivation, to find a solution to a situation, problem, or opportunity I have been avoiding. Again, prayer and meditation provide a clearer vision of a solution, a way to alleviate something stressful. A stress-free life? I think not, not for me!”

Joseph Holtz is the parish manager at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

Olivia Panella

“As a collegiate student athlete, I understand coping with a high amount of stress. There are many things I must juggle, and it took me a while to find a balance between it all. Once I understood what I was striving for, I developed a plan; and once I have a plan, I can attack anything. Be proactive. Avoid late night stress by getting your work done early. Getting plenty of sleep is a great stress deterrent. Stress is inevitable, contagious, but manageable. I only concern myself with the things I have power to change. Ask yourself, ‘Is what you are stressing about going to matter in 50 years?’ Likely not. Ninety percent of the things people worry about don’t even apply and probably won’t happen. Prayer is a great benefit as God is in charge. After giving it my best, I leave it to him. Don’t let juggling your stress weigh you down. Remember, stressed spelled backwards is desserts.”

Olivia Panella is a junior at the University of Evansville studying civil engineering, minoring in mathematics, and playing on the women’s division 1 soccer team.

Matt Wagner

“I try to think of stress more from an external perspective. Stress is cyclical and has a way of multiplying, especially when we put it on others. No two people have the same life experience, and everyone has a different reaction to the same external stressors. Perception is reality, and we must try to stop measuring others’ reactions to stress through our own lens. It’ll stress you out! You never know the burden someone else is carrying. When you relate to, respect, and empower others through the lens of empathy, you reduce the stress on those around you and, in turn, limit the stress on yourself. When we can focus our energy on stressors in our life we can’t control, we can deal with them more constructively. Life will never be completely stress free, and it shouldn’t be. But, we can make life a lot less stressful by embracing an empathetic perspective. Empathy is the greatest stress reducer that money can’t buy.”

Matt Wagner is the owner of Matt Wagner Design and the marketing co-chair for the Evansville Trails Coalition.


Cosmopolitan? I’ll just have a beer.

When my wife Kristen and I decided to leave corporate life and launch Tucker Publishing Group in 1999, let’s just politely say there were many skeptics. The three big reasons I repeatedly heard while doing research and putting together our business model were:

• Evansville is just not ready for “something like that.”
• Evansville is just not “cosmopolitan enough” to have a readership for a city magazine.
• “There just isn’t enough going on here to write about.”

The reason I bring up this almost 20-year-old argument of why we “shouldn’t” is because after two decades, the reasoning now looks downright ridiculous.

I had the good fortune to spend an hour with new Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce CEO Tara Barney last week. Her enthusiasm is downright contagious. I was particularly surprised at how many discussion points in our conversation we were in total agreement on (Tara … that might doom you).

I was pleased to take the time to discuss what Tucker Publishing Group’s role is in helping to attract and retain companies and people in the area, which is what made me reflect on the initial community opinion of our magazines — how many people here were more than ready for something like a city magazine. Many of us might not give a damn about being “cosmopolitan enough,” but we certainly have had no difficulty in finding stylish people, beautiful homes and gardens, exotic vacations, etc. Our story files relating to things “cosmopolitan enough” hold more story ideas than we can ever get to.

And lastly, the “nothing to do” argument is just plain silly now. As the keepers of the calendar in many ways, please trust me when I say not even the most determined individual could possibly participate in all of the fun and interesting things occurring in our city and region at any one time.

In my conversation with Barney, I found myself opining a few times that, “Maybe that thought process was different a decade ago,” or “We tend to look at things differently now.”

Evansville has evolved, and in a positive way. We just sometimes don’t see it as much as we might because of our very close proximity. But Barney sees it — she moved here because of it. And in an hour-long conversation, I saw it too through fresh eyes. I still am trying to come up with some type of forest/tree analogy.

When longtime friend Glen Miller, who is an executive business coach, called to tell me he had what he felt was a “really good story idea,” he was right.

Glen has worked several years with Shawn King, co-owner of Mr. Fence and several other businesses in Evansville. In all of my years writing and reading about our region’s business leaders, I don’t believe I have ever encountered anyone with the energy level Shawn has.

Read Managing Editor Trista Lutgring’s profile of Shawn, "Full Throttle" on page 9, to get a glimpse of what his days are like. As Trista said to me, “I just don’t see how he does it.” I concur.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.



Todd A. Tucker


Business Partner

Tara Barney takes the helm as Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce CEO

Tara Barney was a fan of Evansville and the Southwest Indiana Chamber long before she ever considered joining it.

“I’ve actually paid attention to this chamber for quite a few years because we were in a shared association, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives,” says the Columbus, Ohio, native. “When the Southwest Indiana Chamber won the Chamber of the Year award a few years ago, I was right there cheering for them.”

Barney has spent the majority of her career working in chambers and economic development throughout the Midwest, while also doing a stint in Florida. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Ohio State University, Columbus, and a bachelor’s degree in the same field from Miami University, Ohio. Her previous position as CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce in Davenport, Iowa, prepared her well for taking over the Southwest Indiana Chamber head role.

“The position in Quad Cities was a little bit of a different model,” says Barney. “With the Southwest Indiana Chamber, I am most interested in how we are doing all we can to help the business community to really build sustainable regional economies. For me, the biggest challenge — and opportunity — probably is to learn to be an effective colleague to a great staff who we have here at the chamber.”
For Barney, her goals are focused on the organization being the voice of businesses in the region while also being a partner to continue the growth and success of the business community.

“As an example, completing the I-69 corridor and building the new bridge are huge opportunities for our region,” she says. “It’s going to change the shape of our labor shed.”

While she settles in her new role, Barney also is taking time to get to know Evansville and the surrounding areas. Every weekend has brought a visit to a new location, from Victoria National Golf Course in Newburgh, Indiana, and New Harmony, Indiana, to the museums and popular outdoor parks throughout region.

“I certainly enjoy the welcoming attitude of everyone I’ve met,” says Barney. “I think this community is extraordinarily aligned around its interests in being a stellar part of the Midwest.”

For more information on the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce, visit swinchamber.com.


Jonathan Weinzapfel

Jonathan Weinzapfel

Hometown: St. Philip, Indiana

Job: Chancellor, Ivy Tech Community College Evansville campus

Education: Reitz Memorial High School; bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana; master’s degree in liberal arts and sciences/liberal studies, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; law degree from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indianapolis.

Resume: Public relations director, Old National Bank, 1993-1995; State Representative District 76, Indiana General Assembly, 1999-2003; attorney, Bowers Harrison LLP, 2000-2003; City of Evansville Mayor, 2004-2011; attorney of counsel, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, 2012-2014.

Family: Wife Patricia and three children, Nathaniel, Benjamin, and Eleanor.

Four years into his service as chancellor of the Ivy Tech Community College Evansville campus, and Jonathan Weinzapfel now is the most senior higher education chief administrator in the city.

“Who would have thought that?” he says with a smile. “I chuckle when I think about that.”

A native of southern Indiana, Weinzapfel has spent his career in service to Evansville and the state. From his time in the general assembly to his two terms as mayor of the city, he now devotes his time working to strengthen Ivy Tech’s ability to help local businesses and students, as well as the community college’s role in the city.

“On the surface, it would seem to be obvious, but one of our challenges is making sure people understand what a community college does,” says Weinzapfel. “There are a lot of people who still simply think of us as a trade school. We are much, much more than that.”

What is the biggest difference between your former job as mayor and your current job as Ivy Tech chancellor?

Frankly, there are a lot of similarities. Ivy Tech is a public institution, funded through state appropriations and federal financial aid. Accordingly, I am accountable to the public, management of the college, students, and employers.

Similar to the position of mayor, I manage employees, fundraise, and think strategically about how Ivy Tech engages with the community. Ultimately, I work to figure out how we can best meet the needs of students and the businesses likely to employ those students or the universities where they may continue their education.

What is an average day like for you in this job?

What makes this job rewarding is that no two days are the same, yet every day I get to see the difference Ivy Tech makes in the lives of the students we serve.

Just in the past week, I have worked with Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation officials to strategize on the OptIN program and how we can best prepare high school students for area employment opportunities. I visited with economic development officials in Tell City to talk about workforce development. I also made a call on a donor to talk about investing further in Ivy Tech students.

Every day is just different.

What in your opinion is the best quality Ivy Tech provides to Evansville?

We can be very nimble in addressing the needs of our students and employers in the area.

For example, we just announced a partnership with SABIC to develop a training program and create a strategy for attracting young people into this area of employment.

It’s pretty special to work really closely with businesses and align what we offer or develop new opportunities to meet workforce needs and at the same time, create life-changing opportunities for those in our community.

What is something that you enjoy doing outside of the office?

I like to fish. I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals fan. I’ve only been to one game so far this year, but I do listen to games on the radio, or watch them on TV to the extent I can.

I also try to run and work out. Of course, Patricia and I still have three kids in high school — that is a job within in itself. But just enjoying and sharing in their experiences also is something I enjoy doing.

For more information about Ivy Tech Community College, visit ivytech.edu/evansville.


Fight for Life

Lori Lofton raises awareness about suicide prevention
Lori and Brock Lofton hold a picture of Brody, who ended his own life in 2016 when he was just 12 years old.

There is just something about Lori Sullivan Lofton.

Her energy is palpable, her smile infectious, and she knows no boundaries when going after what she wants. But she wasn’t always such a powerful force — at least not quite this powerful.

“People say it is a passion,” she says with a shrug of her slight shoulders. “I don’t know if it is a passion really. I call it more of a mission. But whatever it is, I keep thinking about Brody. The mission is to make something positive out of a horrible situation, to save somebody, to help somebody. I just don’t want anyone else to ever have to go through what I’ve gone through. That is why I do all of this.”

This chapter of Lofton’s story started just two years ago, the day her son, 12-year-old Brody, ended his own life by suicide. By all accounts, it was a normal September day. He got off the bus, called his mom to check in, and began his usual afternoon routine of heating up a bowl of Ramen noodles and settling in at the kitchen counter to sift through a pile of homework.

But later, Lofton got a text that sent her spiraling.

“It was a long message. I remember I was on the Lloyd (Expressway) when I got it,” she says of her drive home from her job as a senior sales consultant at Viamedia in Evansville. “It was a deep text, not something a 12-year-old would normally send. He said he was sorry, told me how much he loved me and his brother but that he wanted to end the pain of life.”

Panic-stricken, she raced to Newburgh, Indiana, calling a friend on her way to check on him. She would learn Brody had instantly passed away from a single gunshot wound. It was a scene Lofton had never expected.

“He was popular,” she says. “He was the kid who gave high-fives to all the other kids getting on and off the school bus. He never met a stranger, and he was always in everybody else’s business.

“He was a happy kid, the center of attention. He made good grades, was on the track team, wore colorful socks and hats,” she says with a laugh. “But he was broken on the inside, and I didn’t know it.”

The void left by Brody’s sudden death Lofton has filled with information and statistics, ones she’s devoted much of her time to sharing with others to prevent more people — people of all ages — from taking their own lives.

She immediately joined the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition; got involved with the HOPE (Helping Other People Everyday) organization, a group of professionals and survivors who offer immediate help and resources to those affected by suicide; and she has spoken to every church, women’s group, and civic organization that will have her. She even gave a talk to patients at the Evansville State Hospital.

“People ask me when I started talking about all this and I say, ‘That day, the day of Brody’s funeral,’” she says. “I grabbed a microphone, and I was going around talking to all these kids, telling them that they matter.”

Lofton listened and researched, committing herself to finding out as much as she could about suicide so she could help prevent others from suffering the same kind of pain.

Globally, she says, suicide takes a million lives each year. In the U.S. alone in 2016, 44,965 people ended their own lives by suicide. Last year, there were 57 suicides in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties combined, she says.

“It is staggering,” says Lofton of the numbers. “And I’m shocked when people tell me it doesn’t ever happen here. Because it does.”

But there’s one number that shook Lofton to the very core. Brody’s own father Andy — Lofton’s ex-husband — took his own life with a firearm in 2009. Brody and Brock, now a senior at Castle High School, took their father’s death hard, but Lofton had no idea the dangerous potential it held. A child is 400 times more likely to commit suicide if an immediate family member has, says Lofton.

“Four hundred times,” she says, reiterating the staggering number. “And of those, 70 percent do it the exact same way. That just went through me. I started asking myself, ‘What would I have done differently had I known?’ Well, I would have asked more questions. I would have looked at his phone more. I would have known that Brody’s behavior was classic masking. Then I thought, ‘I’ve got to get in front of people and tell them.’”

Lofton also got involved with Youth First Inc., an Indiana-based nonprofit that focuses on grief counseling, family therapy, and the placement of social workers in schools. Lofton now sits on the organization’s board and has made it her goal to get more social workers in Warrick County schools.

Parri Black, president and CEO of Youth First Inc., has been working alongside Lofton for the last two years. After helping to raise funds for the organization early on, she now sits on its 33-member board of directors.

Black called Lofton “a passionate and inspiring person,” and one she’s especially grateful for these days.

“I’m always touched by her desire to help others and try to prevent the same tragedy from happening to other families,” says Black. “She just cares so deeply about others, and even long before this tragedy she wanted to be a force in her community for good. Youth First is just fortunate we’re one of the organizations she wants to contribute to in a meaningful way.”

Lofton also started the Brody Lofton Suicide Awareness Fund, and during Castle High School’s annual Give Back Football Game last year she raised more than $20,000. She also has sold T-shirts featuring Psalm 50:15, a project that has garnered another $12,000. All of the funds raised go either to Youth First Inc. or to other education and prevention endeavors.

And her phone, it seems, never stops ringing as a result.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for two years,” she says. “People call me. They ask for my help. I’ve gotten calls from as far away as Florida from people desperate for help.”

Lofton has stopped at nothing to offer that help, even taking to the Internet in the middle of the night to find someone in need a mental health counselor or calling a principal directly about a suicide threat from a student on social media. She even broke up a suicide pact between a boy and a girl in Newburgh after a frantic call from a desperate father.

Through it all, she has evolved and healed. Her rhetoric has been transformed, over time, from one of grief and shock to finding a new purpose. And she has only just begun.

“It is still horrible. Every day,” she says. “Most days I go to bed thinking about Brody. I wake up thinking about Brody. And the guilt, for a long, long time, overrides your will to live. But I want people to know that it is OK to not feel OK. Go, talk to somebody. Tell somebody what you’re feeling. Then just breathe — take lots of deep breaths because life is hard. I just count my blessings every day, because it’s the simple things that can keep us going.”

For more information about the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition, call 812-423-7791 or visit southwestern.org.



Evansville welcomes back basketball great Walter McCarty
Walter McCarty

Purple Aces basketball fans are buzzing with excitement for the 2018-19 season already. And though the team won’t hit the court for their first game for a few months, the city can’t stop talking about University of Evansville’s new men’s basketball coach, Walter McCarty.

“I don’t think you can contain the excitement to just the UE community as Walter has people from all around the Tri-State pledging their support,” says UE director of athletics Mark Spencer.

Highlighted along with Calbert Cheaney in the story “Fieldhouse of Dreams” in the May/June 2000 issue of Evansville Living when they joined the NBA’s Boston Celtics, McCarty returns home to take the helm of UE’s men’s team after the departure of Marty Simmons. A Harrison High School and University of Kentucky graduate (and a member of UK’s 1995-96 “Untouchables” basketball team), McCarty comes to UE after serving as assistant coach of the Boston Celtics since 2013.

He also has held assistant coach positions at the Indiana Pacers (2010-11) and the University of Louisville. He began his 10-year NBA playing career in 1996 as the 19th overall draft pick (New York Knicks) and saw time on the court playing for the Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers.

“I’m excited about getting the team and the university involved with the community, and about just being here, being home,” says McCarty. “Also, being around these young men; helping them prepare for the upcoming season, but also to do well on and off the court. I’m excited about the group we have and the staff I’ve hired. We’ve got some really good guys.”

As the spring semester for UE comes to a close, McCarty says he and his team have already been hitting the court. Along with practice sessions, the new coach and his staff are working with the players on becoming familiar with his coaching methods, something McCarty looks forward to carrying over into the fall season.

“It’s great to see all the purple and orange, going out and seeing the buzz about the season,” he says. “It makes it all worth it being home.”

For more information on the UE men’s basketball team, visit gopurpleaces.com.


In Focus

William Snyder reflects on his career behind the camera
William Snyder and Roger Daltrey of The Who

William Snyder has won four Pulitzer prizes throughout his career, but the famed photographer got his start shooting football games for The Gleaner in Henderson, Kentucky.

At 14 years old, he shadowed a photographer working for the paper after receiving a camera as a gift from his parents to take with him on a trip to Europe.

From his early experience at The Gleaner, Snyder went on to graduate from Evansville Day School and later the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, with a bachelor’s of science in photography. He began his career at The Miami News before moving to The Dallas Morning News, where he would go on to win four Pulitzer prizes — 1989 in explanatory journalism for coverage of a 1985 airplane crash, 1991 in feature photography for coverage of Romanian orphanages, 1993 in spot news for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and 2006 in breaking news photography for coverage of Hurricane Katrina during his time as director of photography for the paper.

“If you look at the four, they’re all vastly different. It’s not like I did them in the same genre; everything is different,” he says. “They were all rewarding and they were all interesting in their way.”

Two years after winning his most recent Pulitzer, Snyder returned to his alma mater, the Rochester Institute, as a professor in the photojournalism program, which he now heads, and is leading a new generation of photojournalists into the field.

“If I can fill the world with people who are right thinkers and who push and are aggressive and can make the good arguments and are talented and can tell a story, then I’m going to have a bigger impact on the industry,” he says.

Snyder also keeps his feet fully in the field and currently is working on a book, “Join Together (With the Band),” of images during his time touring as a photographer with The Who, which can be ordered at jointogetherwiththebook.com with half of the proceeds being donated to Teen Cancer America.

From shooting historical events and exciting rock concerts to the emotional experience uncovering the conditions inside Romanian orphanages, Snyder says telling a story through photos always comes down to the same element.

“At the bare minimum you strip everything away and it’s about emotion,” he says. “If you concentrate on the emotion, at least that will take care of everything else.”


New Kid on the Block

University of Evansville President Christopher Pietruszkiewicz

At the end of March, the University of Evansville announced the appointment of Christopher M. Pietruszkiewicz as the institution’s 24th president following the retirement of Thomas Kazee. As he finishes his duties as dean and professor of law at Stetson University’s College of Law, Gulfport, Florida, Pietruszkiewicz visited Evansville on May 9 to sit down with various media outlets.

The informal one-on-one with the newly-elected president — who will officially take over his position as of July 1 — allowed us to sit down, get to know him, and ask a few questions about his move to the city.

Evansville Living: What are you most excited about in your new position?

Christopher Pietruszkiewicz: I think it is building the relationships. It’s figuring out different ways to collaborate, to bring in the business community, to talk with guidance counselors and high school students and their families. If you develop those relationships, then the University of Evansville becomes top of mind when students and their families are making decisions.

My hope is that we’re a school of first-choice for those families. But if we’re in the running with other schools, stop by the University of Evansville and see what kind of transformational place it might be.

EL: What do you believe are some of the challenges you will face in your new role at UE?

CP: I think the challenges are the same challenges of most universities, and that is how do you distinguish yourself from everybody else? How do you make a difference in the mind of students as they are thinking about where they want to go to begin their professional careers?

We have a number of fabulous programs, and I think if you look at the statistics, they really are fabulous. More than 90 percent of our students do an externship, experiential learning, while they are still here. If you look at the employment statistics of what is going to happen to our students after they graduate, median salary is a little more than $48,000.

If you take a look at the number of students who are graduating from the University of Evansville and more than 95 percent of them are either going to graduate school or graduating with great jobs waiting for them, to me that’s how you are able to sustain growth. You have to have unique programs, but you also have to have a foundation that our students are going to see what’s going to happen to them after they graduate from the University of Evansville.

And the statistics show that, and my hope is that we’re able to continue to build in that direction.

EL: What attracted you to Evansville?

CP: There are some fabulous things that are very similar to my current institution (at Stetson University) and that is if you think about where legal education, in my case, is going, and where undergraduate education is going in the future, it is all being based on how prepared are your students when they graduate.

If you take a look at some of the important metrics — like what are they doing while they are here — the opportunity to be involved in externships while they are here I think is the future of what’s going to happen in undergraduate education.

Not only does something happen inside the classroom, but also outside the classroom. And being able to continue to build those models for our students I think is most attractive.

There are lots of schools that will try to build in that direction and the University of Evansville is already in those places. And that’s what we have to continue to do, is to build on those and continue to grow and prosper.

EL: Have you had a chance to explore the city at all yet?

CP: Just a little. We’ve walked around Downtown and seen the possibilities. I’ll be back on campus May 22, and so I’m expecting to be able to spend some time with Mayor Lloyd Winnecke when I get back in then. I’m looking forward to figure out how we can continue to work together.

EL: Have you gotten tips or hints on where to visit in Evansville?

CP: Well I’ve been reading Evansville Living. We have four or five magazines on our dining room table, and we have been exploring the city virtually through your magazines.

EL: What are your plans for the summer?

CP: It will be a transition period for me. We will move in shortly before July 1. It’s been a great six years at Stetson University College of Law. I’ll be finishing some things up there before I make the formal move, but I’m really excited to the opportunity. But I’m looking forward to the transition also.

EL: Do you have a favorite spot on campus yet or are you still wandering around and getting to know UE?

CP: I’m working on it, but I will say whereever the students are will be my favorite place on campus.


A Tale of Two Presidents

Bennett and Kazee prepare for life after leading Evansville’s universities
Dr. Linda L.M. Bennett and Dr. Thomas Kazee

The landscape of post-secondary education in Evansville has seen many changes over the years, but one of the biggest is set to occur at the end of the spring 2018 semester.

In July 2017, University of Evansville president Dr. Thomas Kazee announced he would leave his post with the private institution on May 31. The news marked the end of his eight years leading the university. Then, in August, Dr. Linda L.M. Bennett also announced she would retire from the presidency of the University of Southern Indiana, ending her decade as head of the school.

As both institutions prepare for the departure of these two respected educators — searching for replacements and continuing to build upon the growth and changes they have implemented — we sat down with Bennett, Kazee, and a few of their colleagues to discuss the successes, the challenges, their impacts, and more.

Intentionally Driven

“Decide what you want to achieve, and then leave. Don’t stay too long.”

This was a bit of advice a friend had given Dr. Linda L.M. Bennett when she accepted the position of president of the University of Southern Indiana in 2009. It was something that stuck with her, telling her to find a focus for her tenure at the public university, she says.

▲ Dr. Linda L.M. Bennett says she hopes the faculty and students of the University of Southern Indiana remember her as a president who was approachable. As she regularly met with students in different capacities and worked closely with the staff of the university, it is a reputation that is likely to stick. “When I think about retirement, the exciting things going on give me a great peace about retiring now,” says Bennett. 

As Bennett prepared her retirement announcement in August 2017, she felt ready for the step; that it was time and she had achieved what she set out to when becoming president.

“Then I got up there, and looked at that room full of people, and the enormity of it just hit me,” she says. “I think that is the measure of how much I have loved being here.”

A graduate of the University of Cincinnati in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Bennett began her career in higher education at the private liberal arts college Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, as a professor of political science (she holds a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the field). After 13 years, she moved on to Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, in 1996. Then in 1999, she was hired at Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, for a time before she accepted the position as provost and vice president of academic affairs for USI in 2003.

“From each institution I feel as if I’ve gained important experience, and it all came together here at USI,” she says. “I liked the energy of USI when I first arrived. It’s a young university; it’s not locked in the hierarchical bureaucracy. People talk to each other. You get to know students.”

Through her near-decade as president of the public university, Bennett has led the campus through one of the largest growth periods in the school’s history. From USI’s first strategic plan and doctoral program (doctor of nursing practice) to renovations of the Physical Activities Center and addition of the Griffin Center, USI has expanded by leaps and bounds under her guidance.

“I am amazed at what she’s been able to accomplish in her time here,” says Dr. Ann White, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at USI. “And she’s had to make some pretty hard decisions, but she’s been successful at making them.”

For White — who has been with the university for 28 years — the relationship she has had with Bennett has been one of listening and observing.

“She’s just amazing. She listens, she asks thoughtful and sometimes very hard questions, but they also are very important questions,” says White.

Bennett attributes the success of her tenure to the idea of being intentional in all the university worked toward, which plays back into the advice she received when she first became president.

“People always think about growth only in terms of numbers,” she says. “But I think about the broader definition of growth. We wanted to see growth in our geographic reach, in the understanding of the strength of this university, in the number of programs and the diversity of programs we’re offering.

“I took on that notion of growth and then wanted to be very intentional about how we started to tackle some of those issues,” she says.

That intentional drive has shown in the results — growth in the number of degrees granted, in number of students completing degrees in four years, as well as strategic plans and a signature initiative to continue the impact and reach of USI. The signature initiative is something Bennett is particularly excited about.

“There’s so much we do in terms of outreach and engagement with our partners in the region that if we can capture the impact of that through research, I’m excited about the potential of that for the university,” she says.

Through this initiative, the university will encourage faculty and undergraduate and graduate students to research the impact the university and its outreach programs have on the communities and organizations with whom they partner.

“We’ve just been very fortunate she’s been a part of this university for as many years as she has,” says White. “She has become a huge ambassador for this university. At multiple levels she has been the ambassador to say USI is doing great things, come and see what we’re doing.”

For Bennett, retirement still will be busy but it is something she looks forward to. She and her husband Stephen plan to stay in Evansville, which was not a difficult decision for them at all, she says.

“My husband and I love the community. Our friends are here, our connections are here,” says Bennett.

While she is stepping down from her role at USI, she will continue to stay involved in the community through different organizations she has served (WNIN, Deaconess Health System, and Welborn Baptist Foundation boards to name a few). Bennett also looks forward to getting back to writing.

“I would like to do some reflective writing on some of our experiences here and things I think we do that I don’t see happening at other institutions,” she says.

As she nears her retirement date of June 30, Bennett says there is much about the university she will miss — the people and students of the campus, her day-to-day work, and the excitement of being a part of USI. What she hopes she leaves behind, however, is a sense she was approachable and accessible to those around her.

“I think that’s so important — not just from the perspective of the student, but to me in terms of what I learn when I listen,” says Bennett. “If you’re not listening to the people who are experiencing the organization in all kinds of ways, then you’re not thinking in a broad enough way.”

Bennett may not realize it, but it is a quality recognized by her staff; one White says she will miss.

“She was that transparent and communicated that well so we all felt we were a part of this university,” she says. “I will be sad to see her leave, but she’s put us in a very good position to continue forward.”

“I have so loved this job. It’s the best job on the planet,” says Bennett.

An Unplanned Path

Being the president of a university was never something Dr. Thomas Kazee had imagined for himself. In fact, he had no desire to be an administrator at all. But when he was offered a chance to assume that role, he took it.

“As recently as a couple of years before moving into administration, I would have bet you a lot of money I would never become an administrator,” says Kazee. “But I thought, I also don’t want to be 75 years old and look back and say, ‘I never tried anything different.’”

It wasn’t until 1999 that Kazee had the opportunity to move into such a role at The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, serving as the dean of the college. He then served as provost at Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina, for seven years.

Having worked closely with a university president before, Kazee thought he had an idea of what the position entailed, but he admits there is nothing to prepare one for such a job.

The last eight years at the University of Evansville have presented challenges, but proved to be rewarding for Kazee. Whether it’s working with potential donors, interacting with students and faculty, or shaking the hands of new graduates, Kazee says he will miss it all.

▲ Kazee does not shy away from assuming the role of Ace Purple as he leads a group in cheering on the Aces. He also often makes time to speak to students and faculty members to listen to their ideas and learn from their perspective.  

There is no doubt those who work closely with Kazee feel the same way about his departure. Dr. Michael Austin, executive vice president for academic affairs at UE, has worked with Kazee nearly every day.

“He’s the best boss I’ve ever had,” says Austin. “He’s very thoughtful. He is kind.”

Though it was UE’s reputation that first attracted Kazee, he says those personal attributes are what further interested him in the university. He noted the people weren’t pretentious or putting on a show; they were welcoming and real. Kazee says that showed through the most when he visited UE for the first time and met faculty members.

“They really cared about their students. They talked about their students in a way that faculty at great schools talked about their students,” he says. “They knew who they were. They cared about what they were going to do with their lives.”

Kazee has spent a large part of his professional life as a faculty member in higher education. After getting his bachelor’s degree in political science from Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, and his Ph.D. in political science from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, he taught political science at Tulane University in New Orleans for three years before accepting a teaching position at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina. He remained there for 18 years before making the jump into administration.

While in administration, Kazee always had taught. The first five years at UE, though, he didn’t teach and found he missed it. After working out a schedule, Kazee was back in the classroom and happier than ever.

▲ Kazee strives to welcome new students while getting involved in various Welcome Week activities and says shaking the hands of new graduates is one of the things he will miss the most.  

“I just love the teaching,” he says. “I would highly encourage presidents to teach if they can work it out. It keeps you in contact with students, which is very important. It helps you identify with your faculty.”

Teaching is just one item on his long list of presidential duties, but it’s an important one. Another duty is working with the board of trustees. Dr. Rose Mays, at-large trustee of the university, recalls working with Kazee on issues like diversity on campus. She says he encourages others to make students feel welcome and to understand diverse perspectives.

“He’s really sincere in his approach, he does his homework, he really researches and tries to understand issues, and really makes an effort to take everyone’s perspective into consideration,” says Mays.

Kazee brought this same approach to each issue he has faced at UE. At the top of his priority list is valuing ideas.

“He genuinely likes people but he also genuinely likes ideas and believes in them,” says Austin. “So he’s a very, very good person to lead an academic institution.”

And while the university has seen changes in academic programs and campus appearances, such as the renovation of the Bower-Suhrheinrich library, Kazee says there is a lot that has not changed.

“Our core mission hasn’t changed; our values haven’t changed. We still want to offer a world-class, residential, four-year undergraduate education that is second to none,” he says. “That’s been our focus, and my successor, I’m sure, will embrace that focus as well.”

For Kazee, it is hard to leave because of the great things happening on campus and in the community, but he realizes that would be true any year. Though he is leaving a lot behind, Kazee says he knew it was time to move on and hand over the reigns to someone who is just as passionate about UE as he is.

“I’m excited about leaving new president Christopher Pietruszkiewicz in a position where UE can continue to be the great place it is,” he says.

Kazee is looking forward to returning to South Carolina after his term at the university ends. He and his wife Sharon have owned property in Pawleys Island for 15 years and have often vacationed there.

“It’s been a great getaway place, and it’s going to be a great retirement place,” says Kazee. He adds they are both looking forward to having access to several golf courses and being within walking distance of close friends.

“He’s just really a top-notch leader and his shoes are going to be very hard to fill,” says Mays.

“Working with the very good people that are at a place like UE can do something pretty magical,” says Kazee. “So I’m retiring with very few regrets.”


Collector’s Items

Mike Linderman began collecting radios when he was 12 years old.

Mike Linderman is no stranger to curating collections. As site director for Angel Mounds State Historic Site, it is his job. But Linderman has been a collector his whole life, starting with an antique Dahlberg Pillow Speaker Radio purchased when he was 12 that today holds a special place in his office.

While he purchased his first radio as a kid, he didn’t truly start his radio collection — now including close to 70 vintage radios — until the last 10 years. Today, his collection includes everything from old jukeboxes to model vintage cars that fill his space at Angel Mounds.

Some of his favorite items to collect are pieces related to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchise and items from different world’s fairs, including a Ripley’s sign, an autographed Ripley’s Believe It or Not! book, and a compact, menu, ash tray, model of Seattle’s Space Needle, and toy bus from the Chicago World’s Fair.

“One of my favorite things is a combo of world’s fair and Ripley’s,” says Linderman. “Ripley’s had a museum at the world’s fair in Chicago, and this guy would write your name on a grain of rice. They would glue it on this little card that would say ‘From the Ripley’s Odditorium.’ That’s one of my prized possessions.”

His fascination with Ripley’s began in elementary school with a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! book in his school’s library he would read again and again. He loves world’s fair items, he says, because it was where new technology and inventions were revealed before the days of the internet.

“I like to put things out that people will ask questions about,” says Linderman. “It’s the museum guy in me. I’ll sit and explain things to them. This is my own pop culture museum I guess.”

For more information about Angel Mounds State Historic Site, call 812-853-3956 or visit indianamuseum.org/angel-mounds-state-historic-site.