March 29, 2015
Clear sky
  • 50 °F
  • Clear sky
Comment

Uncommon Courtesy

Tommie Wilson enjoys a cigar break and conversation with passerby in the Old National Bank park.

Only their mothers could show members of the Petroleum Club more love than Maitre d’ Tommie Wilson. Mom knows your favorite dish. So does Tommie. Mom knows your favorite dessert. So does Tommie. Mom never forgets your birthday. Neither does Tommie.

There is one difference. Mom will always call you by the name she gave you. Tommie never will, even though he insist you call him by his first name.

“Hi, Mr. Wilson, I’m Rany Moore.”

“Mr. Wilson? That’s my daddy. He’s six feet under. Please call me Tommie, Mr. Moore.”

“Okay then, Tommie, and you can call me Randy.”

“No problem, Mr. Moore.”

For Wilson, it’s a matter of common courtesy.

But there is nothing common about Tommie Wilson and the exquisite personal service he lavishes on everyone who enters the Petroleum Club.

“I’m here to make them feel warm and wonderful so they’ll want to come back to us,” Tommie says.

Sherianne Standley is an administrator at the University of Southern Indiana and long-time Petroleum Club member.

“Tommie is the quintessential Maitre d’,” Standley says. “He never overlooks a detail. Seeing to the members’ needs is the most important thing for Tommie.”

The Petroleum Club is a business and social club on the 18th floor of the Old National Bank building Downtown. A group of oilmen founded the club in 1948, hence the name Petroleum Club. The purpose then, and now, is to promote business and commerce in the Evansville area.

Tommie’s purpose is to promote pleasure. He’s perfectly suited for the task. In his soon-to-be-published book, [Mastermind: Seven Secretes of Total Success], Evansville psychiatrist Dr. Louis B. Cady uses Tommie as a case study in happiness.

“I met Tommie soon after I arrived in Evansville in 1993,” says Cady. “Tommie always impressed me as a happy, outgoing guy who is really high on life.”

Dr. Cady, who routinely sees people who find happiness elusive, wondering what in the world makes Wilson so happy and positive? So he interviewed him. If psychiatry can diagnose clinical depression, can it not uncover the source of clinical glee? Dr. Cady concluded that Wilson’s happiness is rooted in service to others. In Cady’s book, service is one of the seven secrets of total success and Tommie is the example.

Cady says, “Tommie is one of the most positive, delightful people I know.”

Wilson is 62 years old. He’s been at the Petroleum Club for 35 years. He started as a bus boy and moved up to server, waiter, supervisor and finally Maitre d’.

“Have you ever been to the moon and back?” Wilson asks as he recalls the day he was hired. “Every man wanted to work at the Petroleum Club. When you wore the uniform of the Petroleum Club, you were the elite, the epitome of what a man desired.”

In this era of drive-through fast food, one might think fine dining is dead. It is not. It might be as rare as sushi, but fine dining is alive and well at places like the Petroleum Club.

Wilson says, “It’s artistic when you’re able to stand in a dining room, flame a baked Alaska, do a Chateaubriand, to carve it and serve it. It’s an art.”

Wilson surveys his domain. As Maitre d’, Wilson’s job is to notice everything, to meet every need. His vision is 20/20, yet he is legally blind.

“I could practically walk through this room backwards without touching an table because I’ve got a feel for it,” says Wilson, who lost an eye when he fell through a plate glass window years ago.

“What you do is visualize things before you look. Then look at the room and see where everybody is at. Anybody moves, I’ve got ‘em!”

Not only Wilson do his job blindfolded, he could do it gagged. Some of the best in the business serve in silence. For them, silence is an essential and distinctive element of excellence in service. But for Tommie — and his guests — that would take the fun out of it. He’s always ready with a smile and an encouraging word.

“If I can take that dining room and have 50 people and send 50 people home happy, I’ve accomplished something,” Wilson says with pride. “If I send 30 home happy and 20 mad, then I ain’t done nothing. I ain’t done my job.

“I’ve got to make sure I give 100 percent, and that’s what I try for 100 percent. Every time a table sets up, I go to it. I’ve go to every table in that room and make sure I give them 100 percent. And that’s what I try for every day. Not one day, not tomorrow, not the next day, but every day.”

Gene Brooks, the former federal judge now in private law practice, has known Tommie for more than 30 years.

He says, “Every time you go there, he makes you feel special. But just when I think I’m special, I look around at some other guy is getting the same treatment.”

Says Ron Lankford, who is now retired after 43 years at Old National Bank, “If you really want to impress a group of people, be sue to ask for Tommie. I traveled a lot: New York, Chicago, San Francisco; Tommie is the yardstick.”

For Wilson, it’s all pay back. The Petroleum Club is a good to Tommie as Tommie is to the Petroleum Club. When Tommie left the hospital after another expensive eye surgery, anonymous members of the club had already paid the bill.

“I can’t dig down and get it out enough to tell you how good they’ve been to me,” Wilson says with a lump in his throat and tear in his eye. “As far as friendship is concerned, they’ve been right there. They helped us (he, his wife Janice and their six children) through crises I didn’t see no way out of. That’s why I walk the extra mile when I’m here. You want a cup of coffee; I’ll get you two. You want a donut; I’ll go across the street and get three.”

Katie DeJean was Wilson’s first friend at the Petroleum Club. The long-time club manager hired Tommie in 1965 and probably had every opportunity to fire him. Wilson arrived at the Petroleum Club with a head full of potential and bell full of beer. She chose to tap Tommie’s potential.

“That’s all I ever did was drink,” says Tommie, who remembers following every impulse that beckons a red-blooded American. “Every young man in the food business has a wild side.”

DeJean tamed Tommie.

As Wilson recalls, she says, “If you want to be a man, you got to walk like a man. That means, for example, you mind your own business. You don’t mess around with nobody else’s woman; you go home to your wife and you take care of your family. When you do those things, you become a man. She would tell me anybody can be a fool. You can play around and have a good time, but it will bounce back on you. I’ll beat you in the face and hurt you where it hurts most — right here,” Tommie says, pointing to his heart. “Every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. That lady was good to me. She took a snotty-nosed little kid and rearranged his life.”

It is probably more accurate to say that DeJean resurrected Tommie’s character because it was there all along — instilled by his parents. Wilson was born next to Trockman’s junkyard south of Downtown. He can still point to the area from the Petroleum Club. His father worked on the railroad. His mother was a full-time housewife and part-time maid. What they lacked in material wealth, they made up for in love. The Wilsons allowed Tommie to attend movies once a month, but required his attendance at church every week.

“You had to do right,” Tommie says. “You had to study your word. You had to go to school. You couldn’t say, ‘I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to do my work.’ You did it and you loved it or there were other methods of persuasion.”

And he had to respect everyone. Even when the white kids bellowed the occasional “nigger” his way, his parents would resort to those other methods of persuasion if Tommie ever retorted with a “cracker.”

Because he is legally blind, Wilson doesn’t drive. That works out to our benefit, because he walks everywhere and meets lots of people. You’ll know him by the dark jacket and the mustache, the cigar and the smile.

“To me it just feels good to help other people, to do something right, to even make them smile. If you go around the corner and catch somebody with his head down and life him up, give him a bright outlook on things. It makes you feel a whole lot better than walk on and ignore him.”

Wilson might walk down another path once he retires from the Petroleum Club. He’s been studying the Bible by listening to Scripture on tape. He says he feels a call to some kind of ministry to people. What this humble and gracious man doesn’t realize is this: He answered that call a long time ago.

Comment

Creative Space

Interior designer has worked with celebrities and locals
Longtime interior designer John Ryman has decorated his own home with paintings and salvaged pieces.

Every corner of John Ryman’s Mount Vernon, Indiana, home has experienced the artist’s touch. The walls are covered with his paintings, sculptures, and abstract artwork — each titled and with backstories full of imagination, character, and commentary on issues society faces today. His 1880-home is furnished with pieces he’s collected from thrift stores or salvaged and repurposed, and he’s made it his own.

While Ryman has made this space his own, he also has spent more than three decades helping others perfect their homes.

“My home has character,” he says. “That’s what I try to do with other people. I try to get to know people’s character and then bring that character into their home.”

The longtime interior designer worked for House & Garden for 12 years as a consultant, photo stylist, and stylist editor. He later worked for Vanity Fair for six years developing stories about trending designers, environmentally friendly design products, and photo styling for special promotions. He’s had clients such as Calvin Klein, Isabella Rossellini, and many more.

The Minneapolis native came to New Harmony, Indiana, in 2012 to do work with a home and last April, he moved to Mount Vernon. Ryman remembers at a very young age painting, creating forts, and treehouses, something he still creates for people all over the world. “It’s my cosmology to create,” he says. He studied at the renowned fine arts and design school Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. His senior year of his master’s was interrupted by alternative service for the draft. This led to a position as installation/exhibits designer at the Minneapolis College of Art and the architectural firm of Kenzo Tange.

Ryman is currently working on three unique projects. Lora Arneberg of New Harmony commissioned a playhouse for her children. It is a small version of a 1840s Harmonist shed it sits next to with a faux chimney to balance the sleeping loft dormer. In New York, Ryman is simplifying a 1790s cottage on Long Island and redesigning a 1985 post modern Venturi designed home to look like its 1885 Italianate neighbors. He also sells his artwork locally and nationally.

To contact John Ryman, call 812-307-1017 or email john4ryman@gmail.com.

Comment

We Love Pizza

View the full feature in the March/April 2015 issue of Evansville Living.

Why do we love pizza?
That’s an easy answer — but not a short one. It’s customizable, shareable, delectable, portable, and we can’t get enough of it, making Evansville a perfect placefor us. Pizzerias cover this city and its surrounding areas, each with its own twist on a piece of pie.

People Behind the Pizza

Pizza makers explain their passion for their pies  By Jenny McNeece • Photos by Jerry Butts

Eric Weber
By The Slice Gourmet Pizzeria

The idea for By the Slice Gourmet Pizzeria, 2011 Lincoln Ave., near the University of Evansville, started 20 years ago as a graduate school project while owner Eric Weber was a student at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York. He envisioned a pizzeria where customers could come in, choose a slice from an assortment of specialty pizzas, then sit a spell while it baked to bubbling, browned perfection.

“That's how I like it best,” says Weber. “We usually make 12 different kinds of pizza, some daily, but others vary on different days of the week. And we try new stuff all the time, too.

“Customers can come up to the counter, take a look at what we've got made for that day, pick what they want, and we put it back in the oven to finish it off.”

Weber says his pizzeria, which opened in 1994, has become a popular place for young professionals looking for a quick slice of pizza on their lunch hour or even groups of regulars who look forward to the ever-changing daily specials. Some of their most popular pies, he says, are a spinach and feta cheese pizza garnished with garlic, olive oil, and mozzarella, and another with creamy ranch dressing, red onion, mozzarella, and tomato.

Weber has created pizzas that meet the rules of popular fad diets, all because his goal, he says, is to give people what they want all while encouraging them to think outside the usual pizza box.

“We have a group of regular guys who always comes in on Tuesdays,” says Weber. “They're the kind of customers I like because they usually like to play around a little bit with what they choose.

“But I think the idea for a pizzeria like this works because there are a lot of times when you don't want a whole pizza,” he says. “You just want a snack, and we can give you that.”

For more information about By the Slice, call 812-402-8518.

Tom and Kathy Groves
Kitchen Sink Pizza of Evansville

People often ask Tom and Kathy Groves about the meaning behind their pizzeria's name, Kitchen Sink Pizza.

And the answer is just as one might expect.

“Well, it comes from the phrase 'everything but the kitchen sink' because that's exactly what we put on our pizza,” Tom Groves says with a laugh. “That is our specialty, and we try to keep those in stock at all times because people love them so much.”

Kitchen Sink's business model is different than most. The couple doesn't operate a store front business; they simply assemble the pizzas at 1815 John St. two days a week, and Tom Groves does daily deliveries.

The popular Kitchen Sink pizza is available most days. But those who want multiple pizzas — the minimum order is two — or other recipes must order ahead.

The pies then arrive frozen and ready to bake.

Tom Groves' family once owned Evansville's popular Pour House Restaurant, an establishment that originally opened in the 1970s as a bar on Mount Vernon Avenue. Groves tended bar while a student at Ball State University, and when he returned, his family opened the music club together.

But it was their entry into the craft of making specialty pizzas that catapulted them into the local restaurant business, and they operated successfully until 1986.

“I never thought another thing about making pizzas,” says Groves. “Then about five years ago, somebody mentioned something on Facebook about the pizzas we used to make. It got all kinds of hits and likes, so we started making them again for friends and family.

“From there, it just took off.”

Tom, a sales associate with Indoff, an office supply and furniture company based in St., Louis and Kathy, a fourth-grade teacher at Holy Rosary School, have enjoyed their return to the pizza-making business, but they have no employees and don't necessarily want any.

“It has worked really well for us,” says Groves. “We are as busy as we want to be, and we hope to continue doing this when we retire.”

Orders can be emailed directly to kitchensinkpizza@gmail.com or called into 812-305-4412. They also can be found on Facebook by searching Kitchen Sink Pizza of Evansville.

Brad Niemeier
Azzip Pizza

Brad Niemeier opened Azzip Pizza — that's pizza spelled backwards — in February of 2014. Fresh out of college and armed with $20,000 in prize money after winning Purdue University's Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition, he searched high and low to find the perfect spot to implement his plan of providing quick, made-to-order personal-size pizzas.

“I thought about doing it at Purdue, but I decided I wanted to bring my idea back to Evansville,” the hometown boy says. “I knew all the support and connections I had made in this community, and I eventually found the perfect spot on the West Side.”

Azzip Pizza, 5225 Pearl Drive, offers what Niemeier likes to call “fast, casual pizza.” The pizzas come in either 8- or 11-inch sizes, and customers pick their preferred toppings.

“They make it right there in front of you, and it bakes in just 2 minutes and 30 seconds,” he says proudly. “And all of them are made with fresh ingredients, fresh dough we make and roll out in-house everyday.”

The community he loved embraced him as well. Azzip has done well on the West Side, says Niemeier, who is partnered with local chef Blake Kollker, formerly of the Evansville Country Club. He recently opened a second location in Newburgh, Indiana, at 8680 High Point Drive.

Kollker has since helped Azzip to launch some of its most unique specialty pizzas, ones like the Westsider, which features Marx Barbecue sauce, cheese, pork, red onions, and crushed Grippos sprinkled on top, as well as the Mr. Potato Head, which boasts a ranch-based sauce, red-skinned potatoes, bacon, cheddar cheese, and chive sour cream.

“The response has been great,” says Niemeier. “We've got people who have come in every week since we opened. It's been phenomenal.”

For more information about Azzip Pizza, call 812-401-3572 or visit azzippizza.me.

Comment

Never Met a Stranger

METS bus driver familiar face on USI campus with kind gestures
James Putnam has been driving his bus around USI's campus for a year and a half.

I first noticed James Putnam when I transferred to the University of Southern Indiana last year as a sophomore. It seemed that every time he would pass me in his 30-passenger Metropolitan Shuttle Transit System shuttle bus, he would always take the time to look up from his wheel and give me a great big wave. Interestingly enough, I found that not only would Putnam wave to me, but he would wave to each and every person that he passed on the street. It didn’t matter if it was a student, a USI maintenance man, a car, or another shuttle bus. If Putnam saw you, he waved to you.

As the leaves began to fall from the trees, and the temperature outside turned colder, I stopped walking to class and started taking the bus from my apartment to campus. Stepping onto the shuttle for the first time all year, I was offered a knuckle bump. Seeing the massive fist extended in the air, I quickly made the connection with the kind man who had waved to me every day since my first day on campus. Looking up I saw an enormous man who resembled more of a Division I lineman than a bus driver (though he says he never played sports), his broad shoulders shrunk the driver’s seat in which he was seated. After I had accepted a knuckle bump, his closed hand nearly doubling mine in size, he offered a genuine smile and a “good morning!” I wasn’t the only one James offered the knuckle bump to; he extended his hand to the next 15 or so kids who climbed on the bus behind me.

Seeing these simple acts of kindness go on day after day, I finally decided to strike up a conversation with the man who seemed to care more about other people than anyone else I had ever met. We talked for five minutes as he drove me to my destination, and I discovered that Putnam was 50 years old and had been born and raised here in Evansville. He told me that he works a 7 ½-hour shift beginning every day at 7 a.m., although he says “he is more than happy” to stay later whenever he is needed, and how happy he was that after 17 years he had the opportunity to drive at USI and out on campus, where he has been driving for the last year and a half. His loop circles campus every 15 to 20 minutes depending on the number of passengers climbing aboard.

Putnam emphasizes the knuckle bumps “are always optional. Nothing is mandatory.” He first started offering them to passengers last September when a group of students at the end of his route would extend their hands and eventually other students began asking for them as well.

“It caught on,” says Putnam with a laugh. About 98 percent of riders exchange knuckle bumps with him, he says, which makes his job that
much more fun to him.

Before getting off the bus, he said something that really touched me, “I try to brighten up everyone’s day because all of you brighten up mine. If I can brighten up your day with a wave and knuckle bump, that’s all I can hope for.”

Cole Schafer is a junior at the University of Southern Indiana. This piece originally appeared on his blog, thegoodandthegrey.com.

For more information about the Metropolitan Shuttle Transit System, call 812-435-6166 or visit evansvillemets.com.

Comment

Finding Peace

After father's death, author publishes anthology from women's perspective
Margaret McMullan and her father James shared a love of reading.

For Margaret McMullan and her father James, reading and talking about what they were reading was their way of staying close, despite separate postal codes.

When her father died in April 2012 from a prolonged illness, McMullan, an English professor at the University of Evansville who also has written six published novels, sought to read stories written by women about their relationships with their fathers as a way to process her grief. As her search for an anthology turned up empty, Margaret decided to create her own. “Every Father’s Daughter,” an anthology of 25 women writers remembering their fathers, will be published by McPherson & Company April 9. By a complete coincidence, McPherson & Company’s Bruce McPherson also grew up in Evansville and attended Evansville Day School. The publishing company is operated in the Hudson Valley of New York.

To see if the idea of creating a book was even possible, McMullan wrote handwritten letters and emails to writers and authors her father loved or works he loved in what she calls, “a shot in the dark.”

“It was a plea. I told them the story of my father, the book he loved of theirs or included the passage he enjoyed,” says McMullan, who has taught at UE for the last 25 years and plans to retire in May to write full time. She currently holds the Melvin Peterson Endowed Chair in creative writing at UE and serves as a faculty mentor at the Stony Brook Southampton low-residency MFA program.

“I was amazed — these real professionals, responded so elegantly,” she says. “I had never done anything like this before. I have heard people say they would never do something like this again and it is such a pain, but honestly, I would love to do ‘Volume II.’ It got me out of a God-awful funk and it kept me busy. It was just what I needed.”

Names such as Nobel Laureate Alice Munro and Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley provided essays for the anthology. “The king of the essay form,” according to McMullan, and Columbia University, New York, Professor and Nonfiction Director Phillip Lopate wrote the introduction (an essay by his daughter Lily Lopate is included in the book). Other contributors included Ann Hood, Jill McCorkle, Lee Smith, and Joyce Maynard. Twenty-five essays are featured. In fact, McMullan had too many to fit into one work.

McMullan, who lives in Evansville with her husband Pat O’Connor and their son James — who is named after her father — says reading the authors’ stories and compiling the anthology helped her through the grieving process.

“I hate to admit that because I’m not that kind of writer, but it’s true,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe a book like this wasn’t out there.”

Three of McMullan’s former UE students also are included. She recalls grading papers by her father’s bedside and coating the pieces in red ink when her father stopped her.

“He said, ‘Will you please go easier on them?’ It was a good year for students to take my class that year,” she says with a laugh. “Through the years, I’ve told my father stories of students for better or for worse. I loved that I included three former students. That was so meaningful to me.”

Those former students include Jessica Woodruff of Newburgh, Indiana, Johanna Gohmann of Brooklyn, New York, and Jane Friedman of Charlottesville, Virginia. Friedman was one of McMullan’s first students, who began taking classes from her in 1995 and continued taking a class a year until she graduated in 1998 from the University of Evansville.

McMullan and Friedman remained in touch throughout the years, often running into each other at writing conferences. McMullan reached out to Friedman in 2012 to ask to contribute a piece to the anthology and Friedman says she was honored to accept. The former Oakland City, Indiana, native, who now teaches at the University of Virginia and works as “publishing guru,” says McMullan. She recalled that many of her essays written for her class were very family driven and not that far of a stretch to produce.

“She had seen the pieces I had written in college that were heavily family focused,” says Friedman. “I revisited the pieces I had written from all those years ago that I had kept and it more or less wrote itself.”

Friedman says “The Memory I Choose” is about the relationship she had with her father growing up in Southern Indiana and learning to accept her memories are dramatically different from the memories her mother holds.

“It is an honor to be included with such rock star names in the literary world that she has included in this lineup,” says Friedman. “She is so well loved and respected in the literary community.”

McMullan also has a second book being published in April titled “Aftermath Lounge,” a novel in stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina set in a Mississippi Gulf Coast town. This year is the 10th anniversary of the deadly hurricane. She received a National Endowment of the Arts grant to complete this collection, and it marks her seventh book of fiction. 

"The Memory I Choose"

excerpt from "EVERY FATHER'S DAUGHTER" pg. 130  By Jane Friedman

When he himself arrived in southern Indiana (unannounced, as the story goes), they went to a Justice of the Peace to get married. About that time, my mom realized my father had been lying about his age. He was fifty-five, not fifty. (She was forty.) Two of my mother’s sisters went as witnesses to the marriage. They hated my father. Actually, as my mom tells it, everyone who met him hated him— except her, in the beginning.

When they married, my father demanded that my mother’s five children move out of the home. Their ages at the time ranged from thirteen to nineteen. I don’t know how long it took, how hard it was, or if it was in process before he arrived, but they all did leave, except for the youngest (though he eventually did, too, not long after I was born).

My mother claims temporary insanity during that time. I wonder how difficult it was to see her kids leave, and how much she was blinded by the relationship. In a home movie that my father took before I was born, he and my mother drive around town, drink, and blow kisses at each other. They can only be described one way: in love.

Whether it was love or insanity, my mother didn’t plan on what happened next: becoming pregnant at age forty-one. My half-siblings were mortified.

I don’t talk about my father with my half-siblings. I don’t ask them to set the record straight on what my father did or did not do. Their silence on the matter says everything I need to know. They didn’t attend his memorial service when he died, and they rarely tell stories about him.

Comment

Need for Speed

University of Evansville freshman and race car driver lives life in the fast lane
University of Evansville freshman Roberto Lorena studies marketing.

University of Evansville freshman Roberto Lorena admits that before he first set foot on a racetrack, he couldn’t see the intrigue of auto racing.

“I thought, what’s the point of watching cars go around and around for two hours?” he says. But one day, bored, he stopped by a rental go-kart track near his native city of Sao Paolo, Brazil. As soon as he climbed into a vehicle, he was hooked — although, as he recalls, “I was super scared. I couldn’t get my foot off the brake.”

Lorena started racing go-karts competitively in 2009, and by the next year, he was competing on the national level in Brazil. Then an American team recruited him to come to the U.S. — a country whose auto racing program is “way more competitive,” Lorena says. In 2011, he moved to Florida alone at 15. There, he began open-wheel racing, topping out at speeds of 145 miles per hour. This spring, for the first time, he will race a Porsche 911 GT3 — a high-performance version of the popular sports car — with his current team, Miami-based Ansa Motorsports. In just a few years of competing in the U.S., Lorena has earned honors such as Rookie of the Year and fourth place in the Formula 2000 series and seventh in the Formula 1600 series.

Lorena now calls Atlanta home when he’s not studying at UE — a school that piqued his interest after he met with a team of leaders from UE’s Schroeder School of Business, Institute for Global Enterprise, and international programs when they visited Brazil last spring. In addition to studying marketing at UE, he works nearly 30 hours a week (“Is that a lot?” he asks) as a customer service representative at D-Patrick and is involved with UE’s Formula SAE team, a group of engineering students who design and build a formula race car for an international competition.

We caught up with Lorena to learn more about his life in the fast lane.

What goes through your mind while racing?
Not much. You have to be really focused. During practice sessions, you find spots on the track to use as reference: This is where I brake, this is where I turn, this is where I go up a gear. I never get stressed. I’ve seen some drivers get cut off and they’re screaming, hitting the steering wheel. When I get to the track, I just think about crossing the finish line. I’ll do everything to keep myself calm and do what I have to do.

How do you train for competitions?
It’s an expensive sport, so you have very limited practice. In 2011, I only got two days of practice, and this year will probably be the same. On a good season, you might get 10 testing days. But what you can do is learn about the setup and work on your physical preparation. Strength in the upper body is really important to hold the car on track. And I try to read as much as I can about the mechanical side of it – the changes you can make to the car to make it handle the way you want.

What’s it like to crash during a race?
When you crash, time stops. The adrenaline is incredible. I had a crash at 110 miles per hour — a driver cut me off into the grass, and there was a wall right on the other side of the racetrack. As I was going toward it, I thought: “OK. I’m going to crash. What can I do?” You try to turn the steering wheel, brake, accelerate, go the other way. Nothing works. Then you take your hands off the steering wheel and you crash. And that all happens in, like, two seconds.

I haven’t really gotten hurt. Cars are built to withstand impact, but even though they are safe, you still have a gray area. We had the highest level of casualties in the sport last year, so it’s still not as safe as it should be. But if you’re thinking about that, you’ll never go racing.

What do you think of Evansville drivers?
Honestly? I don’t have a driver’s license. Every time I moved, I found somewhere that was close to anything I needed so I could walk. I take the bus to work, and that’s all I’ve seen of Evansville drivers. I’m a resident of Georgia, so I have to take the test there. I finally got it scheduled in January, and they sent me to the wrong DMV, so now I’ll try to take it in March.

How do your marketing studies at UE overlap with your passion for racing?
Marketing is a really important part of auto racing. I need the marketing knowledge to sell myself and earn sponsorships and keep doing what I love to do. I also like doing research and working with numbers, and marketing consists of that. It’s a natural fit.

What are your goals for the future?
I’ve never had a specific series I wanted to race in. I just love racing. I have fun doing it. As long as I can sustain myself and make a living, I’d be up for anything with an engine and four wheels.

Comment

Racing Ahead

Rogers makes name for himself in real estate and auto racing
Jack Rogers’ racing team holds nine land speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Working in the competitive industry of commercial real estate, Jack Rogers was looking for a way to stand out. While others would take the opportunity to simply revamp their logo or webpage in hopes of turning a few heads, Rogers, the owner of Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc., went a few steps further.

The Bosse High School and Indiana University alumnus noticed a 1985 “757” Camaro for sale on eBay. The record-holding racecar, which was previously owned by GM engineer Tom Doll and crewed by Jim Fox and Steven Christophersen, would be Rogers’ way of emerging from the crowd.

“In about 1995, I became acutely aware of how many commercial realtors there are today,” says Rogers, who at 72 continues to pilot his racecar at parts of the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats known as the Bonneville Speedway in Northwestern Utah, in other parts of the country, and internationally. “I started thinking about how to distinguish myself from some of the others, so eventually, I hit upon the idea that some of the same skills you need in the real estate business are the same you need in the racing business. I’m not the first person to do this — Joe Gibbs, who coached the Washington Redskins, had his own team in NASCAR. In my case, I had to devise a way to keep my name in front of the public.”

And Jack Rogers’ racing team has done just that for the Evansville native. The “757” Camaro broke its first world land speed record of 225.366 mph in Utah with Rogers as the owner and driver (the car’s previous owners hold five land speed records with the vehicle). Today, Jack Rogers’ team holds nine land speed records at Bonneville and has been featured in local newspapers and national magazines. Rogers describes racing at Bonneville “like racing on the moon. It’s so flat that you can see the curvature of the Earth.”

Above, Jack Rogers, owner of Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc., stands against a wall of accomplishments in his office at 400 E. Sycamore St. To keep the name of his commercial real estate company out in front for the public, Rogers created his alter ego of a racecar driver for Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc. Rogers’ extracurricular activities have earned him the place in magazine features such as one titled “The 200 Club” in Camaro Performers Magazine.

“If we do the things excellently, we will continue to get recognition. If we ever stop doing them excellently, we will lose that recognition and we won’t do it anymore,” says Rogers. “It is the excellence that brings us the recognition and in turn, gets our name out in front of people.” Confidentiality agreements in commercial real estate often make Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc.’s work invisible to the public.

“A lot of the work that this company does is visible,” he says. “That’s the work we do for our own account, but there’s that portion of the work that is done for other people and our name usually never sees the light of day and that’s by design … A lot of things we have worked on have a confidentiality agreement and as a result of that, it is very difficult for us to tell people about what we do. That’s why we formed an entity that promoted our name in the racing business.”

Rogers’ road racing cars compete at La Carerra Panamericana in Mexico, at Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at Targa Newfoundland in Canada, an event that Jack recently won. Rogers, who shares videos of his past races, can recall the speed of the car at any moment of the event by the sound of the engine. When asked about the danger aspect of the sport, Rogers replies nonchalantly while watching a replay of the race in Mexico, “It can be, it can be. Most of these roads have guardrails and some of them don’t … I have been through Vietnam. After that, nothing is terrifying.”

Cars always have been of interest to Rogers, who in the racing world is considered a “gentleman driver” with his primary source of income unrelated to professional driving. Rogers says none of the events he enters have prize money associated with them. He dismisses the idea of defining the motor vehicles as his passion. “It is a part of a business plan,” he reaffirms. “It is something that is enjoyable and a lot of work. I’ve always been interested in people who did well racing cars.”

Before leaving Indiana University, Rogers worked at the Indiana Daily Student. On Nov. 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, he was in Ernie Pyle Hall gathered around a Teletype when it stopped and rang 12 times, which signifies the death of a president. “The whole room was in shock — almost everyone was crying. I will never forget the feeling of desolation and grief,” recalls Rogers.

Rogers’ career first began with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, and he later took a job with Boeing in Seattle. In 1968, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent a year in Vietnam after basic training at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington. Rogers was injured in combat and received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He later returned home to Evansville where he spent a “nonproductive year doing nothing” until his father John persuaded him to join the real estate business. Rogers’ family history also has ties to the original Roca Bar in Evansville, which was a creation of his father and Earl Carter in 1943. Together, the first two initials of their last names make Roca.

Rogers worked in residential real estate for four years with Chick Shively until he started developing a real interest in the commercial side of the business. Emge Realty (now F.C. Tucker Emge Realtors), which was founded in 1946 by Norman Emge, asked Rogers to do some work in the commercial department. In 1978, Rogers joined with Greg Kempf, and together, the two made headlines as they developed Downtown Evansville and the current Fifth Third Building.

“Greg was probably the best influence on me that I have ever had,” says Rogers. “I have had a lot of great partners, but he was the guy who has influenced me the most.”

The pair worked together for five years until Rogers began operating his own real estate agency of Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc. Also during that time, Rogers married his wife Nona in 1979, which he says, “I couldn’t have done any of this without her.” The two have one son John who is involved in management at Tri-State Athletic Club and does real estate work for his father. John graduated with a degree in accounting from the University of Evansville and currently is pursuing a master’s in business administration from Indiana University.

At an elevation of more than 12,000 feet, Jack Rogers seemed to have nerves of steel racing around the left-hand corner at Devil’s Playground during practice for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Rogers was driving a white 1965 Ford Falcon. He describes racing in the mountains as being balanced “on the accelerator, on the brake, on the accelerator, on the brake. The idea is to transfer weight as easily as you can so you can go as fast as you can.” Below, Rogers finishes the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb while driving the Shelby Mustang GT 350.

Today, Rogers continues to make significant impacts in the commercial real estate business as he is redeveloping the former Sterling Brewery site, located near the Fulton Avenue – Lloyd Expressway intersection. The facility once housed one of the most dominant brewers in Evansville. The brewery went through several owners before closing in 1997, the same year Rogers purchased the site. The four-story, 100,000-square-foot building project called Sterling Square will transform into condominiums on the top floor and the other two floors will be rebuilt into offices over the next year.

“In 1997 when we purchased the site, it looked like a strategic piece of real estate, sitting at a major intersection,” says Rogers. But because of road construction on Fulton and the Lloyd Expressway interchange, his plans were delayed.

“It took a long time to evolve,” says Rogers. “It wouldn’t have been appropriate for us to take the project forward until everything was in place with the roads. We are now in the process of changing the property from an industrial use into a commercial development.”

Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc., located at 400 E. Sycamore St., recently was involved in completing the expansion of Berry Plastics facility at the airport from 600,000 square feet to more than 1 million square feet. There are several properties on the East Side of Evansville and near Newburgh, Indiana’s Walmart that Rogers is working with prospects for the future of building on the sites.

“Evansville has been a really great place and that’s the reason I have never relocated,” says Rogers. “Some of the people I have met here are people who are at the top of their professions, and in most cases, they could be at the top in any city they choose to live in and they could make a lot more money in other places, but the fact that they stay here is the same reason I am here. I have a lot of rich history with the people here. The whole experience has been very enjoyable.

“That’s the thing that keeps you really going — being able to see these things that you’re involved with come to life.”

For more information about Jack Rogers Realtor, Inc., call 812-422-5656 or visit jackrogersrealtor.com.

Comment

Finding a Home

A big name comes to Evansville in the real estate market
Bringing the Berkshire Hathaway name to Evansville, Lori Miller and her team members look forward to the future.

When Lori Miller made the decision to make real estate her career, the Evansville Day School and DePauw University graduate couldn’t have imagined that three decades later, she would be working not only for herself, but Warren Buffet, the famous investor.

In 1986, Lori Miller started Prime Locations, Inc., a small independent real estate company and joined the Prudential Real Estate Network in 1989. In 2012, Miller joined her Evansville office with the Prudential Indiana group of companies throughout the state. This successful group of companies was founded by Kevin Kirkpatrick and John Dick 34 years ago. The strength, leadership, and resources from this group are second to none, says Miller.

“I was in my early 20s when I started in real estate,” says Miller, “and I decided if this was going to be my career, I wanted to have a certain professionalism and integrity about it. And, at the time, doing it under my own banner seemed like the best way to do it. It’s been a good move.”

Prudential, a part of the community since the 1980s, underwent changes that meant big opportunities for the future of real estate in Evansville. In October 2014, the company Prudential Indiana Realty announced its new affiliation with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty, the franchise owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Other companies under the Berkshire Hathaway umbrella include Geico Insurance, Dairy Queen, Benjamin Moore, and Shaw Carpet. Berkshire Hathaway is known for, among other things, being the highest-priced share on the New York Stock Exchange, trading at about $227,720. More affordable are the company’s Class B shares, at about $150; Miller’s team members each were presented with Berkshire Class B shares encased in acrylic at the announcement of the affiliation.

Located at 4111 Washington Ave., the Evansville team is excited to move forward with the powerful Berkshire Hathaway name. With a seamless and well-orchestrated transition behind them, says Miller, she and her staff are looking forward to the upcoming prospects for the company, and they intend to add to their staff of real estate agents. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty has 18 offices in Indiana, and Miller says that the partnership will be good for education, training, and name recognition.

“Nationally Berkshire Hathaway is an enormous name to carry,” says Miller. “It will open a lot of doors for us. We do a lot of relocation business with corporations moving people in and out of town. That Berkshire Hathaway name is well known, and people feel good about doing business with those that carry that name. It’s really great to be associated with that powerful name in Evansville. This company locally is on a definite growth path, and we will always have a group of professional, industrious people who work hard. People generally have a good feeling about Warren Buffett and the things he touches.”

Born and raised in Evansville, Miller involves herself in not only the real estate market but also the Evansville community. She is a part of several committees and boards associated with the Southern Indiana Association of Realtors.

“Realty is a great career, and it allows for a lot of flexibility,” says Miller. “It’s a lot of hard work. It was a great avenue for me while I was raising a family because you could schedule things around, which I needed to do with the kids. Real estate has its highs and lows, but in Indiana, it’s been a pretty fair and level market. So it’s just been a great career.”

People around the world associate Berkshire Hathaway with trust and personal relationships, and, with more than 30 years in Southern Indiana real estate, Miller says she’s pleased to carry the firm’s name.

“It is fun to hear the stories — the happy stories in the end when the family moves in or when they’re selling after they’ve been there a lot of years,” she says. “It’s a really fulfilling time to share with buyers and sellers. Our goal is not to be the biggest. We’re focused on our people.”

With any real estate business, there are peaks and dips in the market. It is important to keep up with education, training, and laws with title companies and lenders. Miller is not only an owner of her business but a leader and an educator. She wouldn’t be able to do it without a dedicated team of realtors behind her.

“We have staff here who are out every day working with buyers and sellers who need to know what’s going on and what the changes are, whether it be law or lending or title,” says Miller. “There have been a lot of changes throughout the years. If you don’t keep up, you can give someone information that isn’t accurate, and it’s very important when buying a house to have accurate information. So we’re challenged every day to keep our team of realtors totally informed, educated, and trained.”

When she isn’t busy working, Miller spends time with her husband of 29 years, Fred, and their two children Meredith and Michael.
“All of our friends and family are here and my husband is from here as well,” she says. “We’ve been really involved over the years with church and school activities when the kids were growing up. It’s been a good market. It’s a steady place to work, and people like to raise their families here. So Evansville is home.”

For more information about Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty, call 812-474-7000 or visit BHHSINEvansville.com.

Comment

Rita Eykamp

Hometown: Evansville

Job: Treasurer of Mid-States Rubber Products Inc.

Resume: Chairman of the University of Evansville Board of Trustees, 1999 to 2002; chairman of the Board of Directors of St. Mary’s Health Services; chairman of the Mayor’s Public Art Commission; recipient of the Rotary Civic Award, and the Governor’s Arts Award.

Family: Husband, Richard, two sons, Paul and Philip, and four grandchildren.A born and bred Evansville native, Rita Eykamp truly loves this city. Graduating from Mater Dei and then the University of Evansville, her name is easily recognized from the University of Evansville’s Eykamp Hall and the Eykamp Scout Center, not to mention the countless awards she, along with her husband Richard, has received for her philanthropic work. Rita has dedicated so much of her time to the causes she identifies with and feels passionately about that she has become a local icon for many women who aspire to be involved in their community. She challenges the city to live up to its full potential.

How did you get started in serving the community of Evansville?
It’s really kind of interesting. I taught for five years, and took fifth graders to the Evansville Philharmonic Youth Orchestra concerts. At that time, the Junior League of Evansville were the ushers, and I thought if I’m not teaching, it sure would be nice to be able to do what they do. After the last of my children was in nursery school, I got involved with the Evansville Philharmonic Guild, then the Junior League, and then took off from there. I had great opportunities. I’ve had a great time. It’s been fun picking out four or five different kinds of organizations that I’m passionate about and then becoming involved in every way I could.

What are you most proud of out of all your many achievements in the community?
It’s difficult to choose just one. I co-chaired the campaign for the Victory Theatre, and that’s been a real gift to the community (The Victory Theatre was opened in 1921 and was renovated in the 1990s). Then I chaired the capital campaign for the expansion of the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science and its new planetarium. That was a $15 million campaign. It took a lot of calls and convincing people that this is something we need, since we are the main cultural institution in our community. And I’ve been very proud to be the chair of the board of trustees at the University of Evansville. And I was the first female. I was a member (of the board) for 10 years.

What advice would you give to others who want to become involved?
Find your passion. Get involved in the things you’re really interested in. Then give it all you have, and don’t do too many things at once. Stick to one thing at a time because if you do a little here, a little there, you’re not going to find your passion for the things you really enjoy. You won’t be able to build toward leadership opportunities you might have had. When you stick with an organization, you can work your way up to a leadership position, which is how you really get involved and make a difference. I think the important thing about community service and women is that you do the things you enjoy doing, but you also do your homework. Board service is really important and helpful with a volunteer career. It’s fun to have a leadership role when you help mold some things going on with organizations.

What is your vision for your community?
I think (Evansville) has changed gradually, but it’s not fast enough. We can’t seem to get our act together to promote Evansville and get people from here to promote it. We’ve done enough that we have things like the Ford Center. I think the organizations that invite people from out of town to come here makes those visitors want to be a part of our city because we have a wonderful culture in all aspects — from music, to theater, to dance.

I would like to see the Evansville community grow in the next 10 years. I think the Indiana University School of Medicine (and academic health science and research center) would have a huge impact. It’s the largest opportunity Evansville has had for growth in my lifetime. That would be a great opportunity for us. As we get more and more people coming into our community, we need to advertise what we do have because I don’t think we promote ourselves enough.

Comment

Looking Ahead

University of Southern Indiana continues to grow and evolve
University of Southern Indiana President Linda Bennett stands on the second floor of University Center East’s 97-foot-tall cone.

When Linda Bennett first came to Evansville in 2003 to interview for the post of provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern Indiana, she knew virtually nothing about the school. But she fell in love with it immediately.

A dozen years later, USI is far more widely known. The school is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, and Bennett, USI’s president since 2009, is enjoying promoting both USI’s past and its future.

Bennett earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Cincinnati. Her first teaching position was at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, in 1983. She then moved in 1996 to Northern Kentucky University as the chair of the political science department. Next, she moved to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, in 1999 to be dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Bennett now resides in Evansville with her husband Stephen, who has two children from a previous marriage. She also has two miniature dachshunds and a cat.

City View: What was your first impression when you came to interview at USI?
Linda Bennett: It was February 2003, and I just came here to check out the place. I did not come with a lot of questions in my head. But by the time I finished the interview, I called my husband and I said, ‘If this place calls, we’re coming.’ I didn’t even tell him he needed to come visit. It was just a chemical fit. I liked the energy. I liked the down-to-earth people. I loved the tone here.

CV: Since 2003, you’ve seen a lot of changes at USI. How exciting has that been for you?
LB: I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be. If you think about how much of your life energy you spend on work, and then to feel as though you’ve witnessed such tremendous change in an institution of this kind, it doesn’t get any better than that.

CV: You’re a native of Cincinnati. Are you a fan of Skyline Chili?
LB: I make pots of Skyline Chili. The house will smell like it for two weeks. And whenever Stephen and I go into Cincinnati, there are certain places we have to stop: Skyline on Ludlow, LaRosa’s Pizza, and Montgomery Inn for the ribs.

CV: What about USI do you like most?
LB: I like the people. You can walk across campus here, and people meet each other’s gaze. We say ‘good morning.’ I can stop and ask students how things are going. I taught a freshman class this year, and that connection with the students is the best. The quality of the faculty and staff here is tremendous, they go above and beyond. Our varsity club volunteers adopt those student athletes. What gets me up in the morning are those people. We feel a strong sense of mission here, and I love that.

CV: If there is one goal you can envision for the future of USI, what is it?
LB:
We are seeing some of it happen now. When I was provost and vice president for academic affairs, I saw the excellence here and I so wanted us to get that story out, about our academic excellence. That’s my entire goal; it’s what I am focused on. I think it is important for people to know about the quality of the academic experience.

For more information about the University of Southern Indiana, call 812-464-8600 or visit usi.edu.