August 31, 2015
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On the Right Path

After a life-altering injury, Ben Trockman serves as an advocate for those with disabilities
For the full feature, pick up the latest August/September issue of Evansville Business.

Ben Trockman doesn’t believe things happen for a reason. The 26-year-old Evansville native says life happens; what’s important is what you choose to do after the unthinkable occurs.

The Harrison High School graduate knows firsthand about life’s curveballs. Trockman was 17 years old in 2006 and on track to attend college at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. At the time, motocross racing was a hobby Trockman shared with his father, Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge Wayne Trockman, and younger brother Josh. In March 2006, the two brothers were competing in a race in Poole, Kentucky, when Trockman was involved in an accident and suffered a severe spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Today, Trockman relies on a motorized, high-tech chair (operated with the “sip-and-puff” method, where Trockman uses a straw to move his chair) to get around and on the help of others to navigate through his day.

“I really think that this injury and having to count on people — nurses, therapists, doctors, friends, and family — has really made me grow up,” says Trockman. “I think I’ve learned how important it is to give back and to help other people when you can.

“And not only is it important, but I’m really passionate about being a part of it,” he says.

Ben Trockman served as the Easter Seals capital campaign client advocate with other campaign cabinet members: honorary chairmen Karen and Niel Ellerbrook, campaign chairman Jim Sandgren, and former Easter Seals child representative Mo McDowell. Photo by Erik Photographic Studio. Below, Three years after serving as a representative for Easter Seals, Ben Trockman still works closely with the organization, including at the annual Easter Seals Telethon, where he spoke with WEHT Local/Local 7 WTVW host Shelley Kirk. Photo by Laura Newman.

Trockman’s resume shows that passion. In 2010, while attending the University of Southern Indiana, he was named the adult representative for Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center in Evansville — a one-year honor and commitment. Two years later he was asked to be the National Ambassador for the nonprofit. Though he originally dreamed to work in sports management, handling public relations or communications for a team, the years spent with Easter Seals opened his eyes to what he truly wanted to do with his life.

“Because I had the opportunity to travel all across the country to speak about disability, to meet people with disabilities, I noticed the impact that Easter Seals and I could have just by being able to speak and spread the mission,” he says.

Easter Seals Director of Marketing & Community Relations Pam Kirk says she always was impressed with Ben’s positive outlook during his time as an ambassador for the nonprofit organization. His continued involvement with Easter Seals has been just as invaluable, she adds.

“Yes, Ben’s giving people a better understanding of the unique issues faced by our friends and neighbors who happen to have disabling conditions,” she says. “But just as important, he’s encouraging us to look beyond our expectations. He’s helping us realize that we’re all more alike than different.”

As he neared graduation from USI, Trockman says he wasn’t sure where his life was headed. Majoring in public relations and advertising, it was a conversation with his father two weeks before graduation that spurred his next move. With support from his family, Trockman says he decided to email five different CEOs within Evansville, asking to meet.

“I wasn’t asking for a job, just asking for advice,” he says.

One of those emails led to a conversation with the CEO of Old National Bank Bob Jones. What Trockman wasn’t expecting after his meeting with Jones was to hear from ONB’s Talent Acquisition Manager and Senior Vice President Ron Hagy, who wanted to have a chat with the soon-to-be USI graduate.

“After about two hours of a lunch that was supposed to only be about half an hour to an hour, we found common ground in having the desire to help people with disabilities,” says Trockman.

A month after that lunch, Hagy contacted him again, this time with a job opportunity. Hagy says the meeting with Trockman was at the perfect time.

“We created the Community Outreach and Employment specialist role because we needed to move forward faster than we were with a plan in place,” he says. “We have had a focused commitment for many years and are working with individuals with disabilities. It just wasn’t happening at the rate and in the way we all wanted things to.”

Since coming on board, Hagy says Trockman’s presence, his ability to present ideas, and his critical thinking inspires everyone in the company. Trockman is helping change minds at not only Old National, but in the community as well, Hagy adds, and the reputation he has is very valuable.

“He allows us to see the confidence of people with disabilities, so his mere presence is so important,” he says.

Trockman says working for a bank is the last place he thought he would be, but the opportunity was one too big to pass up. The fact he gets to combine his passions of helping those with disabilities find employment and bettering the Evansville community sealed the deal for Trockman when he was offered the job.

In May 2015, Trockman was awarded the Ralph Braun Foundation Spirit Ability award, presented by former Indy Racing driver Sam Schmidt. Schmidt also is a quadriplegic who suffered an injury after an accident in 2000 at the Walt Disney World Speedway. During the presentation, the former driver said Trockman’s work to help those with disabilities find employment is why he’s a perfect recipient of the award. As part of receiving the honor, Trockman and his parents, Wayne and Jill Trockman, traveled to Indianapolis Motor Speedway one week before the historic Indianapolis 500 race. Right, others with disabilities joined Trockman during Schmidt’s “Day at the Races,” which is an initiative sponsored by BraunAbility and the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. Those attending were given VIP access where they received a behind-the-scenes tour of the car garages and pit areas, met the drivers, and watched qualification runs and actual races.

“We’re trying to figure out here at Old National ways to not only bring in these talented workers who have disabilities, but also change the mindset from the top down,” says Trockman. “We believe that you can’t push these initiatives from the bottom floor. We’ve got to expose our leaders to these different situations.”

Eleven months after accepting the job, Trockman says he and Hagy have worked on exciting projects that have consumed his life in an extraordinary way. One of the projects he has begun to implement since taking his position with Old National is the Achieve ABILITY program. Centered on the idea of educating the public about disability employment, it is a mentoring program that not only gives those with disabilities a chance to make connections with executives in their community, but also exposes executives to a learning opportunity as well.

“I had the opportunity to easily send out emails to five CEOs within Evansville. I don’t take that for granted,” says Trockman. “But a lot of people with disabilities can’t do that. So starting this mentoring program gives those individuals a chance within our community.”

The time with Easter Seals also exposed Trockman to more of the issues those with disabilities face, which he would like to help change. While serving as national ambassador, he experienced firsthand the difficulties of traveling long distance and the limited options to him.

“This was when I was exposed to the whole airline issue and realized that I had to do something about it,” he says.

For Trockman and others who rely on specialized equipment, airline regulations hamper their ability to use the mode of transportation. To travel by plane, Trockman must be physically lifted from his chair and placed in an airline chair. His customized wheelchair would then have to be stored under the plane. Though the process seems simple, he points out many things could go wrong.

“Let’s just say I’m going to San Diego and I’m flying from Evansville to Chicago, and as I get to Chicago and want to get back in my chair, something is broken,” he explains. “What am I supposed to do? How am I going to get to the next gate, the next terminal? Maybe I have a pressure sore. There’s just so many things that could go wrong that it just scares me. Therefore, I haven’t flown since my injury.”

This led Trockman to attempt to start a change; he created a petition which gathered 8,000 signatures. He then traveled to Indianapolis where a proposed nonbinding resolution was passed in the Indiana House and Senate in favor of making air travel more accessible for those with disabilities.

“We traveled to Washington D.C., met the senators, representatives, and the Department of Transportation representatives,” he says. “You know all the representatives and senators, they were excited about it. Then you get to the Department of Transportation, they start throwing all their rules and regulations.”

Photo by Zach Straw

Trockman explains when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 (the ADA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year), it dictated that businesses and modes of public transportation — excluding airlines — had to make changes to help accommodate individuals with disabilities. Through the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, airlines are not allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities, but they do not have to be accessible.

Though the issue has not been resolved, Trockman remains optimistic about the effort. “It’s going to take some time, you know, but … if we keep talking about it, I think it’s important. It’s definitely not going to happen tomorrow,” he says.

In all his endeavors, Trockman stays realistic, yet optimistic. He works through any obstacle that comes his way with determination and a will to try to make things at least a little better than they were before.

“It’s more than just about me; it’s exactly what I want to do, so being offered this position here, that just makes sense,” says Trockman. “I’m not going to run to a sports organization yet. But maybe in five years from now. We’ve got a lot of work to do here first.”

For more information about Achieve ABILITY at Old National Bank, call 812-468-7898 or email ben.trockman@oldnational.com.

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Answering the Call

Evansville natives test pilot for new HGTV series
Evansville natives John and Whitney Spinks

Although Evansville natives John and Whitney Spinks didn’t win HGTV’s “Flipping the Block,” which aired last summer, their victories since have been abundant.

The childhood sweethearts who have been in a relationship for the last 13 years (married for the last five) were featured in the August/September 2014 issue of Evansville Business after they were chosen for the eight-week series. Along with four other duos, the Spinkses moved into identical units in a dilapidated condo and executed room-by-room renovations. Filming completed for the show last spring and the finale aired Sept. 7.

Immediately after filming, the couple, both graduates of F.J. Reitz High School, returned home to Jacksonville, Florida, and “we knew it was our calling,” says Whitney, who graduated from the University of Southern Indiana. The duo launched their own business, 27 South Design, in April 2014 and then shortly after, HGTV came calling again. Since then, Whitney became a real estate agent and they have rebranded their company to 27 South Home Group.

HGTV asked to do another home flipping show featuring John and Whitney in their hometown as they go through the process of purchasing, remodeling, and selling a house. The pilot for “Florida Flippers” aired June 21 and received strong ratings, according to the Spinkses. HGTV tested the pilot again on July 25, and could show it as many as seven more times before deciding to make it a series.

“Someone asked me what would I be doing if ‘Florida Flippers’ didn’t exist,” says John, who attended USI for two years. “I said: we would be doing this.”

The pilot is set in San Marco, a neighborhood in Jacksonville and an area that Whitney describes as similar to historic Downtown Evansville. “There are a lot of younger folks moving there and trendy spots going up,” says John. “The house turned out great. It was built in 1944 and stuck in 1944 — we fixed that. We had an open house and over 100 people showed up. We had a full price offer within minutes.”

For more information about “Florida Flippers,” visit HGTV.com.

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Carol Schaefer

Hometown: Newburgh, Indiana

Job: Executive Director at Historic Newburgh, Inc.

Resume: Executive director at the Evansville Regional Better Business Bureau, 1981 to 1984; senior executive sales representative with Ortho Women’s Health at Johnson & Johnson, 1985 to 2004; senior executive sales representative president’s circle with Ortho Women’s Health at Johnson & Johnson, 2004 to 2009; executive director at Historic Newburgh, Inc., 2010 to present.

Family: Husband, Jim, two daughters, Tori, 19, and Alexandria, 17.

After 25 years serving Johnson & Johnson, Newburgh resident Carol Schaefer joined Historic Newburgh, Inc. as its executive director. The William H. Harrison High School and University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, Tennessee, alumna says the transition meant returning “where my heart has always been.” Schaefer, who has served as executive director for the past five years, studied interior design with a focus in historic preservation. Today, Historic Newburgh has around 300 people who volunteer at its various events.

How does Historic Newburgh, Inc. work to impact the locally owned shops and restaurants in Newburgh?
We are dedicated to historic preservation, but we also are dedicated to economic revitalization and sustainability of downtown businesses. We do that a number of different ways. One of the ways is through the events. They bring people to town. They may not go in the shops that day, but they see that we’ve got wonderful shops, cool restaurants, a Rivertown Trail that can be a destination; we have a museum that is a wonderful snapshot into the development of the whole U.S., but it’s all about Newburgh.

When you joined Historic Newburgh in 2010, what did you hope to accomplish in the community?
My philosophy is we are here to help make things happen. Historic Newburgh helps to be a catalyst. That’s how we ended up with a farmer’s market. (The farmer’s market is held every Saturday until Sept. 26, and every Wednesday until Oct. 28.) Someone simply came by the office — Jim Arnold — and said ‘What do you think about us having a farmer’s market?’ And I said, ‘We’ll do everything we can to promote it.’ That’s how we ended up with theater. Brenda Bender (producer) took it and ran with it. (“Murder’s in the Heir,” an audience interactive murder mystery comedy, is scheduled for Oct. 2-4.) Movie night is coming up and it’s because someone stood up at our annual meeting and said, ‘I think we should do movies out on the lawn.’ (There are three movie nights scheduled — “The Lego Movie” on Aug. 15, “Paddington” on Sept. 19, and “Hocus Pocus” on Oct. 24.)

What event are you most proud of during your time with Historic Newburgh, Inc.?
The Historic Newburgh Farmer’s Market is in its fifth year. This year has taken us to an entirely different level. We are at the point where we have expanded the number of vendors and we have events within the event. We’ve had an environmental day, we’ve had our fireworks rally, and recently had a children’s day with more than 20 nonprofit and profit organizations.

Describe Newburgh as a community.
People who live in Newburgh love to share their community with others. The town of Newburgh is only 3,000 people, then there’s the 47630 Newburgh that is 40,000 people. I think people see Newburgh as a backdrop to their events and activities. Any spring day you can see people doing photographs — senior pictures, weddings, and anniversaries — or runs. There are so many runs and activities throughout the year. There is always something going on.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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/.

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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.

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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.