July 30, 2015
Clear sky
  • 71.6 °F
  • Clear sky

Good Job, BUB!

Feline social media star calls Indiana home
Bloomington, Indiana, resident Mike Bridavsky holds his famous cat Lil BUB, who as more than 2 million Facebook likes.

As the sharing of cat videos and memes sweep social media, the face of one special feline is Indiana’s own. Known for her large eyes, small body size, and lazy, drooping tongue, Lil BUB and her “Dude” call Bloomington, Indiana, home. Cleveland native Mike Bridavsky, 35, who attended Indiana University, received a text from a friend in the summer of 2011 of a bottle-fed feral runt kitten living in another friend’s toolshed. Later that fall, Bridavsky created a Tumblr, a blogging tool, to document Lil BUB and her popularity caught on quickly.

Lil BUB, now 4 years old with more than 2 million Facebook likes, was born with several deformities. She has one extra toe on all four of her paws, her lower jaw is distinctly smaller than her upper jaw, she has no teeth which allows her tongue to hang, and her legs are disproportionate to the rest of her body. She is considered a “perma-kitten” or a permanent kitten, meaning she will always stay around four pounds.

Bridavsky says before she became the Internet sensation she is today, it was a joke between him and his friends that she would be famous. T-shirts were made long before Lil BUB had her own merchandise line. Today, the cat’s store and website are designed and maintained by Evansville resident Aaron Tanner of Melodic Virtue. Evansville Living recently caught up with Lil BUB and Bridavsky during a break from her many engagements.

What is it about Lil BUB that makes fans flock to her?
Some people find her exceptionally cute, others find her exceptionally weird looking. I find her a bit of both. She has big eyes, and people are drawn to that. What people find inspiring is her energy and determination and all the obstacles she’s overcome. She has portrayed that in images and videos. People are just mesmerized by her.

What do you enjoy about living in Bloomington?
Indiana is beautiful. Bloomington has a lot of creativity, a lot of artistic people, and that climate is nice for someone who wants to play and make music. (Bridavsky opened a recording studio, Russian Recording, in 2008 in Bloomington. He is now married and has a son, who is a few months old.)

Proceeds generated through Lil BUB’s web store, appearances, and events help other animals with special needs. Why was that a priority for you?
We started a national fund for special needs pets as a way to do it fairly, because I can’t just give all of her proceeds to my local shelter and be done. I want to be able to say with confidence exactly where the money is going. This has given us a reason to do all of this with BUB, otherwise, what is the goal? I always donated here and there, but I never had the money to do more.

What’s Lil BUB’s schedule currently like? How do you feel when fans flock to her?
We travel out of town twice a month (Chicago, Cincinnati, and Denver this summer) and probably traveled 100,000 miles in three years. At all of our appearances, we offer meet and greets, which raise the most money for charity. I try to be humble and take it very seriously and respect people who believe in her magic. It is very flattering. I just go with the flow and separate myself, and remember my job is to make sure she is safe. I make sure things are BUB-approved. That requires a high level of intuition,
because she doesn’t talk.

For more information about Lil BUB and her Dude, visit lilbub.com.

Don't Worry, Be Happy Now

Don’t feel guilty about watching cat videos. According to a new study by Indiana University Media School assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick, watching funny felines ranging from Lil BUB to Grumpy Cat boosts viewers’ energy and positive emotions and decreases negative feelings. BUB’s owner Mike Bridavsky helped distribute the survey to almost 7,000 people to find out how it affected their mood.


Dinner Theater

Local couple hosts Easter dinner for UE students
Judy and Larry Steenberg have welcomed UE theater students into their home for Easter Dinner since 1987.

As the hosts of the University of Evansville Theatre Society’s annual Easter Dinner for nearly three decades, Judy and Larry Steenberg have amassed their fair share of tales. One story involved a student and a large amount of plastic eggs he planned to hide in the backyard of the Steenberg’s Warrick County home.

“He brought a lot and he hid them very well. They only found half of them. So for weeks after when I would go out to mow my lawn, I would run over plastic eggs,” says Larry with a laugh.

April 2015 marked the last Easter the Steenbergs would host the annual dinners. While they are not sure if the tradition will continue, they do see themselves continuing to contribute. Judy says next year will be a little bittersweet.

“It’s one thing to see the talent of these students on stage and off stage and it’s another thing to have these students as friends. The department’s history with the national American College Theatre Festival over the years is unequaled. It makes us feel proud to be connected with it all,” she says.

The couple, married for 53 years, has been a part of the UE Theatre Society since the early 1980s. The society was experiencing a low spell during this time, says Judy, when Barbara McKenna formed a new group to revive the organization. Judy was one of the people who had been approached.

One of the ways the Steenbergs helped create a sense of community among students was by hosting their first Easter Dinner in 1987 and welcoming eight theater students into their home that April. This year, the dinner hosted more than 120 students.

“Back then, it just seemed like a nice thing to do. Theater students are fun,” says Judy. “They usually have a production in April, and if it falls close to Easter, many students are still in town as they are rehearsing.

“I don’t know if people realize, but not all the theater students are performers. There are so many facets; there are students who handle lighting, costumes, public relations, and more,” she adds. “John David Lutz (recently retired chair of the theater department) has really brought about a professional atmosphere where every student’s job is important.”

As the number of students attending increased, so did the help the Steenbergs received. This past Easter, 35 people contributed home-cooked food dishes to the dinner. The couple provides the meat for the event — turkey, ham, and grilled salmon — and herb bread. Members of the society board and the adopt-a-student program donate side dishes and desserts.

Judy says some of the crowd favorites at the dinner are their herb bread and Jingle Hagey’s macaroni and cheese.

“And there are several million calories just sitting on the dessert table,” adds Larry. “It’s a mass of them — a long row of brownies, cookies, strawberry cake … unbelievable stuff.”

After hosting the event for 28 years, the couple says seeing people come together and pitch in for the students is one of their favorite aspects about the dinner.
“I get to watch all these people come together. People begin bringing stuff Thursday or Friday, so our refrigerator begins to fill up,” says Larry. “On Saturday, people show up to cut flowers, chop onions, and all of the things that need to be prepared.”

And when the Sunday arrives, the day brings an avalanche of food and students to the Steenbergs home. “They’re happy, they’re well behaved, they’re very nice people, they respect our house, and us,” adds Larry. “It’s just a nice thing, a joyful thing, and it happens year after year after year.”

For more information on the UE Theatre Society, call 812-488-2744 or visit evansville.edu/majors/theatre/society.cfm.


Saturday Night Fever

Memories of Funky's nightclub linger long after its 1980 closure
For the full Funky's feature, pick up a copy of the July/August issue of Evansville Living.

To adequately explain the legend that is Funky’s, a hugely popular discotheque open in the late 1970s at 18 S. Third Ave., one must take a step back to a time before cell phones or social media, before Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and before AIDs clinics.

In the mid to late 1970s, the cultural phenomenon of the disco era raged, which gave birth to a thriving dance club scene. Just as disco music began topping the charts in 1974, Evansville native Robert Folz used money earned from his successful record store and clothing boutique, FolzCity Boutique, to create a nightclub in a large, 120-year-old dirt-floor Holtz foundry located on the riverfront of Downtown Evansville.

He enlisted the help of B.J. Hungate, an acquaintance, who specialized in club and restaurant management and worked at the Hadi Shrine. They hired a team of carpenters and laborers to turn Funky’s into a 14,000-square-foot center of the universe.

The Gong Show, February 1977

After all, when the nightclub opened in 1975, it became the envy of every bar statewide, says John Steinhauer, vice president and co-owner of Oswald Marketing. Steinhauer was working for the Evansville Printing Corp. when he was recruited to join the Funky’s team in 1976 and eventually became the corporate public relations and advertising manager. The management team at Funky’s included Steinhauer, Folz, Hungate, and Jack Laroy.

“I remember in those days, which is so hard to believe, but there were 500 people in line to get in, and it could have 1,000 people already inside,” says Steinhauer. “It was like a movie, really, and you couldn’t believe you were in this movie.”

Sixties Night, December 1978. John Steinhauer pictured above.

Folz, who passed away in 2009 at 61, opened Funky’s at 27, and later opened Mr. Funky Monkey, a teen night club on the East Side which lasted only three months before morphing into Good Time Bobby’s. The restaurant, located at the corner of Washington Avenue and Green River Road, lasted several years and was later sold.

“Bob was absolutely a wild character,” says Steinhauer. “He would walk in and say, ‘We are all going to Aspen.’ And we would all fly out to Aspen for 10 days. It was crazy. We saw it all.

“He was one of the most creative individuals. It was really all his vision to make it look the way it was. He was very unique, creative, and artistic.”

Hundreds of thousands of people drove to experience how “the magic is in the mingle,” a phrase coined by Folz because of Funky’s cocktail party mingle atmosphere with eight bar stations producing heavy beverage sales. Funky’s sold 8,000 to 10,000 glasses of beer each week and about as many mixed drinks. Drinks were served with the help of an Easybar system.

One push of a button and the liquor filled the glass. Funky’s was one of the first bars in the country to have this installed, says Steinhauer.

The discotheque featured light shows, strobes, mirror balls, and eight projectors displaying photographs of customers on white scrim shrouded over carpeted walls with 35-foot ceilings. Steinhauer joked that once in a while when the pictures would flash on the wall, someone would call Steinhauer to take the image down right away because someone’s wife was with someone other than her husband.

Wet T-Shirt Contest Night

The entertainment didn’t stop there — Funky’s game room had fountains, dozens of exotic plants, and electronic and traditional game machines. This room had the original stone foundry floors, Steinhauer remembers. The nightclub also had a restaurant with hoards of antiques, stained glass, and a famous fish tank. Fred Williams worked as the kitchen manager at Funky’s and later went on to open Fred’s Bar & Grill, 421 Read St.

Funky’s introduced the innovative concept of regularly scheduled major, large expenditure, and high-return promotions. A regular ongoing promotion was Ladies Night, which featured a fashion show. The very popular Wet T-shirt promotions were held several times a year. Steinhauer, at 25, was promotions director, handling most of the promotions like the Gong Show, the ‘50s and ‘60s nights, and the Wet T-shirt and Wet Gym Short contests. The biggest moneymaker of all was “Fast Freddy and the Playboys,” which featured male strippers. The Sunday Evansville Courier printed a story about the event titled: “Freddy: We hardly knew ye” and quoted Dr. Ann Brandt, a psychology professor at Indiana State University Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana).

The Dating Game, July 1979

Brandt described the scene as women experiencing a tremendous freedom to express feelings and sexuality. “This was probably the first these secretaries and housewives had been sanctioned to get wild,” she said.

The promotions cost from around $1,000 to $2,000 to arrange, but returned a high profit percentage. Folz accepted the disco-era industry was short-term and in 1980 after a poor earning projection, he announced the closure of Funky’s that March. The nightclub hosted one final party on March 30, which Steinhauer called “unbelievable.” The event was called “Funky’s Last Dance,” which was fitting, as the No. 1 song on the chart was Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”

“Not everyone got in,” he says. “Everyone was crying. That was where we met all of our friends. There were about 15 of us who became friends and we are still friends today. People loved Funky’s and they still talk about it. Those days are long gone. They can’t be brought back.”


Paint the Way

Jon Siau’s legacy shapes Evansville’s art and education
Jon Siau stands with pieces of his artwork including a drawing of Johnny Bench, who was a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds.

Who is Uncle Vinny? He is a muscled, grinning character Evansville artist and educator Jon Siau designed for Turoni’s Pizzery & Brewery and has been drawing for around 20 years.

“It’s cartoons,” says Siau, while sitting in Turoni’s Newburgh restaurant. “It’s for the restaurant and walls. It’s what a lot of people know me for.”

Siau also designed a large mural inside the front door of the restaurant, depicting “Wizard of Oz” characters dancing down a pizza-lined road leading to the three Evansville restaurants, with Uncle Vinny perched on a motorcycle on an adjacent wall.

But the 65-year-old retired North High School art teacher has won honors that extend far beyond his Evansville roots. He has done work for the U.S. Olympic committee, including a magazine that went worldwide, and completed artwork for celebrities such as Don Mattingly, Garth Brooks, and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.

And he has passed on his talents to his students, with more than 100 winning national art awards. One former student designed the interior of luxury jets for the late pop star Michael Jackson and the prince of the Southeast Asian country of Brunei. Another former student studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, served apprenticeships with Vera Wang and Victoria’s Secret, and now works for Polo Ralph Lauren.

Born and raised in Evansville, Siau attended Harper Elementary School, Harrison High School, and completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Evansville. He taught art at North High School from the fall of 1971 until the spring of 2013, when he retired for health reasons.

“It was hard for me to walk away,” says Siau. “It was a tearful decision.”

Siau’s awards include the 2002 Power of Art award presented by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (Washington D.C.) for outstanding work with students with disabilities. The award was presented at a formal banquet held at the National Gallery of Art.

In 2006, he was named recipient of the American Stars of Teaching program. The award is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Siau was selected from more than 60,000 teachers in the state of Indiana and the only art teacher in the nation to be chosen for the national honor.

“I don’t care about awards,” says Siau, who is single and lives on Evansville’s North Side. “I want to get back into the show scene.”

In addition to teaching, Siau coached boy’s track, girl’s golf and tennis, and boy’s and girl’s cross-country.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” said Siau. “I’ve led a very blessed life.”

When did your interest in art begin?
I’ve just always loved it. It’s the one thing I had confidence in. I love being able to sit down with a blank piece of paper and create.

What medium do you enjoy most?
Watercolors. I enjoy just sitting down and painting what I want to paint. I love to observe. I’m very visual.

What are the current projects you are working on?
I’m writing and illustrating a book. The subtitle will be “Life’s Lessons.” The book is about awkward moments and the things you learn along the way. Then after that, I’m going to write a song. I scored miserable on the tone pitch test as a child. The teacher asked me to pantomime instead of sing. My father said, ‘Son, don’t feel too bad. None of us has any musical talent.’ Someone in our family had all the music talent — I later learned through a relative who had done genealogical research that my family is related to Johann Sebastian Bach.

Why do you want to write a song and author a book?
It’s definitely the challenge part of it. And creating something outside my normal safety net of arts. The song and the book are painting with words.

Do you consider yourself a teacher or an artist?
I’m not teaching anymore. When I was a teacher, I was all in. I just loved it. You get to take the one thing you’re really good at, pass it on, and share it with young minds who really want to know. I didn’t have a job for 42 years. To me, I had a career. I got to work with great students, parents, and other teachers.

Have you seen students make positive changes as the result of being in art class?
I have seen some students change a lot. I’ve seen kids come into class shy with no confidence. Then they discover they can draw and it’s just amazing the transformation. We all need someone to believe in us. You need two people to believe in you — yourself and someone who believes you can do things.

Where would you like to be in a year?
I would like to be immersed in my artwork and my community. I believe in giving back. I’ve worked with every medium except computers. And I want to do plein air work (French term for painting outdoors) and sit there and talk to people. Art has soothed my troubled soul many times.

For more information about Jon Siau, visit jonsiau.com.


Piano Man

We’re all in the mood for Matt Clark’s melodies
Evansville native Matt Clark punches the clock at the Piano Bar at Cavanaugh’s in Tropicana Evansville.

Evansville native Matt Clark is at the top of his game. Newly married, he carries himself like a man who has found his center. Wander into the recently renovated Cavanaugh’s at Tropicana Evansville on one of the “14 or 15” times he plays there a month, and you’ll feel it, too.

The Harrison High School and University of Evansville graduate sings and tickles the ivories at the Piano Bar, bringing a unique and time-tested vibe to well-known hits to help you ease into your evening. “I’ve been doing Cavanaugh’s since they opened the Piano Bar in 2002,” he muses. “As long as they keep asking me, I’ll keep showing up.”

The Piano Bar at Cavanaugh’s has live entertainment nightly and is open evening hours seven days a week. Clark says he sees a free-flowing parade of faces and characters and he does his best to accommodate requests. There have been dozens of special moments, says Clark, although one stands out.

“My mom had just passed away, and I had a raging cold,” he says. “Folks started filtering into the bar and I was doing Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer.’ I looked up and the piano was surrounded by people singing along with me and holding up lighters. I think it was my mom saying hello.”

His typical day is not what you associate with a musician and part of his appeal. He has worked in finance and mortgage industries for 20 years, and also worked in media sales. He recently started emerson 37 Advertising, an advertising agency in Newburgh, Indiana.

“I generally get up about the same time everyone else does,” he deadpans. “The gigs end about 11 p.m. I’d be staying up that late anyway.”

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. He led the stereotypical lifestyle for years. “The band thing was different — 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. and getting home at 5 a.m.” He smiles warmly, “I was younger then.”

Clark is regularly joined by local music legend Bob Green on the saxophone. Clark says he loves the simplicity of the solo and duo life.

Clark started piano lessons at six years old and later began performing at youth clubs and bars at 17. Now 56, the Evansville native has been a working musician for nearly 40 years.

His parents had other ideas.

“They only wanted me to play in church, but eventually they quit complaining.” In a nice twist, he has had a regular gig playing at Methodist Temple, 2109 Lincoln Ave., since 2004. He also performs three nursing home shows a month.

For more information about the Piano Bar at Cavanaugh’s, visit tropevansville.com/nightlife/piano-bar-cavanaughs/.


This Time It’s Personal

Owner of three businesses strives to help the community
Winetree Liquors owner Robert Jarrett II started running the company after his father’s death in 2006.

It could be said Robert Jarrett II is a version of James Bond. He can install and use surveillance equipment, ignite explosions, and offers a Bond-worthy cocktail. Jarrett just happens to work as an entrepreneur, owning three companies in the Evansville area.

Jarrett Security Solutions, 4031 E. Morgan Ave., sells security and surveillance equipment to local residents and businesses. The store originally began as CDS Video Security, but Jarrett changed the name when he purchased the company in 2007.

Jarrett, 43, prides himself on ensuring Evansville citizens, including his wife and son, feel secure. He says he could write books on the different ways his company has been able to catch criminals. His main goal is to make the Tri-State area a better place.

“I love the fact that I can help people protect their homes or their businesses,” he says. “If you don’t have peace of mind, you don’t have anything.”

Having a pleasant community is important to Jarrett, who has lived in the area his entire life. His father Robert Jarrett worked in Evansville real estate for roughly 40 years and was the first owner of Winetree Liquors, expanding it to three locations. Jarrett II has been its official owner since 2012.

Jarrett’s father designed the company logo and registered the trademark, but Jarrett created the name as a boy. After his father’s death in 2006, Jarrett started running the company and says he learned the value of marketing.

“I’ve always liked marketing,” he says. “You could have the best business in the world, but if you don’t market properly, nobody is going to know what you do or what your business does.”

Jarrett says some patrons assume Winetree Liquors sells only wine because of its name, but it houses a full range of beer, wine, and spirits. Customers at Winetree Liquors East can choose from more than 500 selections of beer, some of which are difficult to find.

Using his passions to give customers the best possible product is critical to Jarrett, which is why he started Jarrett Pyrotechnics last February. He completed electronics classes at Harrison High School 27 years ago, and later began performing shows. He programs fireworks to launch at specific intervals using a remote control system, which connects electronic boxes through igniters.

The audience’s reaction is Jarrett’s favorite aspect of “painting the sky.” He is directing the fireworks display in Mount Vernon, Indiana, on July 3. Owning three local companies is more than just business to Jarrett.

“It’s not just about making money,” he says. “It’s about giving back to the community.”

For more information about Jarrett Security Solutions, call 812-475-1779 or visit jarrettsecurity.com. For more information about Winetree Liquors, call 812-476-8141 or visit winetreeliquors.com.


Philanthropic Ways

Robbie Kent Sr. continues legacy of giving
Evansville native Robbie Kent Sr. is known for his many philanthropic efforts.

Robbie Kent Sr. is a man who has a hard time saying no. Known for his philanthropic acts, the 67-year-old says the one thing he believes in most is giving.

“You have to sacrifice for your family, for your fellow man,” he says. “The ones who are more fortunate need to continue to assist those less fortunate.”

Born and raised in Evansville, Kent received his undergraduate degree from Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Southern Indiana, and an honorary degree from the University of Evansville. The former owner of Kenny Kent Chevrolet, Toyota, and Lexus and his team expanded the dealership into 11 franchises at one time. Since 1971 he has served on 14 different boards in the community.

“There are individuals and causes around Evansville that have touched my heart,” he says. “And it’s not the fact that I was able to give money, time, and energy, but the fact that others benefited from it, including myself.”

Kent was the first chairman of St. Mary’s Health Foundation’s Heritage Open Golf Scramble, which benefits St. Mary’s Center for Children. The event raised about $11,000 during its first year, Kent says, and now it collects more than $200,000. He still does not shy away from helping; he’s also co-chaired the 10th and 25th scrambles.

“St. Mary’s has already agreed that if I live long enough, I can chair the 50th Heritage Open,” he says with a laugh.

He is humble to a fault and credits the successes in his life to those around him. First and foremost, he shares how his family’s support allows him to pursue his philanthropic efforts.

“I have my wife of 46 years, Marguerite, and four children, Robbie Jr., Christopher, Jennifer, and Lauren. My family always gave me the rope to be able to do what I wanted to do, when I needed to do it, and for the right causes,” says Kent. “My second family, which was my employees, supported me as well. They made my job easier so I could go out and do what I needed.”

He also gives credit to his late father Kenny Kent, who taught his son the lesson of serving those around him. “I was fortunate to have my father as a mentor; he was a prime example of what life should be,” he says. “I could never walk in his shoes, but I could make him proud. That’s been my goal.”

Kent hopes Evansville’s future is filled with a younger generation stepping up to take charge of the city. “We need a next level of entrepreneurs to move the city forward,” he says. “Let’s look at the positive things about Evansville. We need to find the good because Evansville has a lot to be proud of.”

For more information about the St. Mary’s Heritage Open, call 812-485-5850 or visit stmarys.org/foundation.


Jon Mark Hall

Hometown: Murray, Kentucky

Job: Director of Athletics at the University of Southern Indiana

Resume: Assistant athletic director at the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg, 1994 to 1995; assistant athletic director at the University of Southern Indiana, 1995 to 2002; head men’s tennis coach at USI, 1995 to 2002; director of athletics at USI, 2002 to present.

Family: Wife, Patti, five sons, Nathan, Garland, Ty, Owen, and Calvin, and one daughter, Mary Claire.

Recently selected to the Great Lakes Valley Conference Hall of Fame, former University of Southern Indiana Men’s Tennis Coach and current Director of Athletics Jon Mark Hall is nothing but humble. The Western Kentucky native says it’s the student-athletes who are responsible for the honor, and it’s those young men and women Hall continues to focus his attention on. Hall attended Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, for his bachelor’s degree, and Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, for his master’s degree.

From your view as director of athletics, how have college sports changed in the last 10 years?
The landscape of intercollegiate athletics has changed a lot. At times, at our level (USI has Div. II athletics) it has become more of a business than in the past. The change has been greater at the Div. I level with all the schools switching conferences and how TV has become so involved in everything. It has trickled down some to our level where you are really trying to think of all the different ways you can create revenue, create buzz for your department, and the tough balance with that is not losing sight of what you’re doing that for. Especially at our level, you keep in mind the balance between academics and athletics.

You worked as both the assistant athletic director and the men’s tennis head coach at the same time. What was that experience like for you?
I was the assistant athletic director and right when I accepted that job, the men’s tennis coach at USI retired. They asked me to do it. I had a tennis background — I played in college. I really didn’t know if I wanted to do it because it wasn’t on my radar. The current athletic director at the time, Steve Newton, told me that he felt like if I could live a little bit in the coaches’ shoes it would help me become a better athletic administrator. I would know how it would feel to recruit, schedule, travel with the team.

How are you creating a buzz for the athletic department?
We are starting the process of renovating the Physical Activities Center — a $16 million project. It is going to be very important for us to figure out what we can do to put our student athletes and coaches in the position to succeed. These next couple years could change the way folks look at us. This facility is such a multi-purpose facility and it will continue to be that. When you come to our campus, our buildings are so new, vibrant, and inviting and this building really isn’t right now. This opportunity will give us a chance to get more people to campus for events — not just for athletics.

How will the new facility impact recruiting opportunities?
Student-athletes want to know where they are going to live and not just where they are going to play. We have a fair amount of student-athletes who are sport management and kinesiology majors and those students are in this building, too. They want to know what the weight room looks like, what the locker rooms look like, where the athletic trainers are, and what the training room looks like. Our facilities are OK, but now is the chance for us to make a splash and give us an opportunity to recruit at a higher level.

What are your current goals with USI?
We’ve really worked hard at developing a strong relationship with the Evansville Sports Corp. We’ve tried to bring as many collegiate athletic events to this community as possible. We’ve hosted the Div. II Elite Eight Men’s Basketball Championships, the GLVC basketball and baseball championships for multiple years, and will start a run of the NCAA cross country events (at Angel Mounds State Historic Site in Newburgh, Indiana). Our goal is to improve the quality of life here in Evansville. Our hope is that Evansville sees USI as a great partner.


Giving Thanks

Easter Seals representatives happy to give back
Amy Clark and Abby Wells were chosen as the 2015 Easter Seals Rehabilitation Representatives.

It’s not all work for Amy Clark and Abby Wells when they visit Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center at 3701 Bellemeade Ave. The 2015 Easter Seals representatives sometimes struggle to stifle laughs as they work. Clark jokes with her physical therapist Patty Balbach and Wells has a bright smile and giggle for everyone.

Clark, who lives in Evansville, says she found her way to Easter Seals by accident. After a 2010 operation on a spinal tumor, she woke unable to move her legs. Doctors thought her paralysis would be temporary, but when her feeling did not come back, she began to seek therapy options and discovered Easter Seals.

“When I came here, I couldn’t transfer out of my wheelchair. Patty strengthened everything back up,” says Clark, who was able to go back to work at the Vision Service Corporation in Evansville thanks to Easter Seals.

Easter Seals gave hope to Wells and her family, who live in Newburgh, Indiana, says her mother Amy Wells. When Wells, now in the third grade, started to miss her first milestones as a baby, her mother says she knew something was wrong. After several evaluations, the diagnosis was cerebral palsy. Her mother says Easter Seals has helped teach the nine-year-old how to adapt and learn to care for herself.

“There is no other place like Easter Seals in our community,” she says.

The decision to be representatives for Easter Seals was not necessarily a quick one for either family. However, both looked at the opportunity as a way to give back to the organization. One of the biggest events for Easter Seals is the annual telethon aired on WEHT-TV in April. This year, with Clark’s and Wells’ help, the organization raised more than $1 million. Their other duties include visiting organizations and media outlets, attending events such as Frog Follies, and helping Santa open Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights in Garvin Park.

“(Being a representative) was my way of saying thank you,” says Clark, “and making people aware, because I didn’t know about Easter Seals and I’m sure there are other people who don’t know either. This isn’t just where kids go, it’s where adults can go too.”

“I just want everyone to have the same opportunities. I don’t like the term, ‘We have a disability.’ I like the term, ‘We have abilities,’” says Abby’s mother.

“There was never a thought that we wouldn’t do it.”

For more information on Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, call 812-479-1411 or visit EasterSealsSWIndiana.com.


Where the Wild Things Are

Misfit Island Rescue Center dedicates lives to saving animals
Linda Williams and Max Soaper of Henderson, Kentucky, dedicate their lives to rescuing Kentucky’s wildlife.

One foot into the log cabin home of Max Soaper and his girlfriend Linda Williams, which sits on 500 acres in Henderson, Kentucky, and you realize it’s a cabin occupied by more than just two humans.

A playful skunk waddles through the dining room, while two cats lay at your feet with bellies up and a dog begs for a head pat. The living room fills with sounds of baby raccoons’ purrs eager for their next round of bottle-feeding. Just beyond those four walls the ultimate goal awaits the animals the couple rehabilitates through their sanctuary Misfit Island Wildlife Rescue Center — releasing those creatures back into the wild.

Outside of the cabin doors less than 50 feet away the couple’s dream is realized as more than 20 deer descend the hill to wait for feeding time, while several more graze in the front yard and watch the catfish splash in the pond. Squirrels, ducks, geese, peacocks, opossums, pigs, even a beaver named Tyler, who just celebrated her first birthday, all have a home at Misfit Island, which was founded as a nonprofit in 2011. Williams is a permitted licensed wildlife rehabilitator through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, who provides medical care to the sick, injured, and orphaned animals. She has been rescuing animals for nearly 15 years since she began dating Soaper who has made it his life for the past 35 years.

“Every animal we have can come and go as they please,” says Soaper, who works on burping two baby raccoons after being bottle fed, “but they choose to stay.”

As of early April, Misfit Island has rescued 491 animals and released 473, leaving just 18 that either were shared with its network of rehabilitators who could possibly better care for the rehabilitated animals or they were euthanized. Misfit Island does a soft release with their animals; they are released on to Soaper’s property, which has been in his family since 1775, and continue to feed the animal for the rest of its life.

“If they are ever hurt or sick, they will come back,” says Williams.

“The bonding that we do now,” adds Soaper as he observes Williams feeding two-week-old raccoon babies, “some rehabbers say you shouldn’t bond with them and you should always wear gloves, but since we release them on the property, when they get injured, we want them to come back, and they do — and they bring their little ones.”

The task requires a lifestyle completely dedicated to saving the lives of animals and continuing to feed them. During the spring season, Williams and Soaper rarely sleep as caring for orphaned newborns occupies their time and the phone never stops ringing. Callers report foxes trapped in septic tanks, raccoons in attics, or injured deer on their property.

“It’s an amazing thing what we do, because we can coexist with animals,” says Williams. They acknowledge that coexistence is becoming less and less common.

“People really don’t care that much about wildlife,” says Soaper. “They like it, but they really don’t want it in their yards — they want to see it in a neighbor’s yard, in a zoo, or in a magazine.”

Soaper explains that people don’t realize that their homes and suburbs were once a wild animal’s habitat or breeding ground that has been uprooted. When the animals return each year to have their babies, they are having them in a newly built residential community. Members of the community will call the police department or the Department of Fish and Wildlife and those calls are later forwarded to Misfit Island.

The dedication of Williams and Soaper goes even further than losing sleep and opening their home to these furry creatures. Because the nonprofit has not yet received its 501(c)(3) designation (they are currently in the process of submitting the paperwork), the donations they do currently receive are not enough to keep the wildlife rescue center functioning. Soaper covers the cost to care for the animals including food, medical supplies, and vet bills. Misfit Island spends about $1,200 each week on food. Last year, the center spent about $38,000 in vet bills.

The high costs of running the center were a major influence on their decision to grant permission to JWM Productions, a production company based in Takoma Park, Maryland, to film their work in a four-part one-hour reality show titled “Bandit Patrol” on Nat Geo WILD, a sister network to National Geographic Channel. The show premiered in January 2014.

Soaper says he hopes the show’s popularity will entice people to donate supplies, their time, or money to help keep Misfit Island alive.

The show follows Williams and Soaper as they answer calls from the community and law enforcement, and the process it takes to rescue and care for the animals. The filming for the second season began in April and will last four to five months. The air date has not yet been announced. When the producers at JWM Productions first began pursuing the show idea and leaving voicemails in August 2013, Williams says she thought it was a prank — until the calls kept coming.

Soaper finally encouraged Williams to answer the inquiry one evening. One month later, after a practice taping for a promotional video for the network, they were “jumped to the top of the stack and were chosen over 1,000 other programs,” he says.

Filming lasted about four to five months beginning in February, just in time for the influx of newborn wildlife in spring as the producers followed the couple and two other local rehabbers Nancy Reynolds of Manitou, Kentucky, and Kristin Allen of Owensboro, Kentucky, during their rescues and rehabilitation work.
Soaper is quick to say that the care of the animal comes first and nothing is staged. If the crew misses a moment or it didn’t turn out how they wanted, Soaper says they don’t repeat it and it’s all real.

Soaper built the log cabin where he and Williams live on the edge of the farm about a mile into the woods, instead of living in the historic house visible from the road across from Henderson County High School where his family grew up. Signs warn trespassers and poachers to turn back, a common problem with their well-fed deer, and three separate gates can deter entry. Misfit Island is open for tours by appointment due to the couple’s hectic feeding schedules and rescues.

Both Soaper and Williams reiterate that they prefer spending time with animals rather than people.

“These animals suffer and no one pays any attention, because they are silent,” says Soaper. “When you look an animal in the eye, you know what it is thinking. It knows when you are trying to help it. We’ve walked up and let coyotes out of traps. They could tear you up, but they know you are there to help them and they won’t even growl at you.”

For more information about Misfit Island Wildlife Rescue or “Bandit Patrol,” call 270-577-3409, visit misfitislandwildlifecenter.org, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.