April 24, 2018
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A Tale of Two Presidents

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

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

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

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

Intentionally Driven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unplanned Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Collector’s Items

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Welcome. Goodbye.

“As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin”
— Bob Dylan

I CAN’T REMEMBER A TIME IN EVANSVILLE when change has occurred so rapidly, both in our community fabric and those who are instrumental in shaping it. Welcome to Walter McCarty, new head men’s basketball coach at the University of Evansville. The former Harrison High School graduate, University of Kentucky player (we all occasionally err in judgment), and NBA player for 10 years has reignited University of Evansville fans’ passion with real excitement. People are anxiously awaiting the start of basketball season with unprecedented early demand for season tickets.

McCarty was known during his NBA tenure for hustle, gutsy play, and making big shots. Certainly coaching in the NBA under Brad Stevens, former Butler University coach (Go Dawgs) could only have a positive impact.

Goodbye to former coach Marty Simmons who represented the university well during his 11 seasons. Another program will be fortunate to get him.

Welcome to new University of Evansville president Christopher Pietruszkiewicz. Pietruszkiewicz comes to UE from the Stetson University College of Law, Deland, Florida, and will become president July 1. We look forward to welcoming him and his family to the community.

Goodbye to Dr. Tom Kazee and his wife Sharon. I will undo eight years of hard work and publicly say that I will miss them both a great deal. I have the great fortune (Tom’s misfortune) of living across the street from the May House, the president’s home. I have found the Kazees to be warm, genuine, and everything a university and friend could hope for. I see firsthand the obligations a president and spouse take on and appreciate them both for serving the university with dignity, grace, and class. I will certainly miss them both (briefly). Please, readers, rip this page out after reading and burn it. I don’t want these particular comments to ever surface again.

Goodbye to Dr. Linda L.M. Bennett of the University of Southern Indiana who retires this summer. Dr. Bennett spent 15 years at USI, with nine as president. A genuine leader with a terrific sense of humor, I first met Linda during a Reitz Home Museum Murder Mystery and was impressed that she didn’t seem self important, just a funny and kind person. A terrific community champion and tireless advocate for USI, she leaves a large void to fill. I am confident the USI search committee will get it right.

Welcome to new Chamber CEO Tara Barney, coming to us from the Quad Cities with a very impressive track record. Those who have met her and served on the search committee are quite effusive in their praise of what we are getting from our new Chamber CEO.

Goodbye to Christy Gillenwater, who certainly was instrumental in positively impacting our community during her leadership of the Southwest Indiana Chamber. She goes to Chattanooga, Tennessee, a very vibrant and larger market. As a frequent visitor to Chattanooga, I expect to see her again — but probably not if she sees me first.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Todd A. Tucker


To Serve and Protect

EPD Foundation director Jan Davies

Jan Davies is passionate about helping the community. After more than 43 years with the Girl Scouts of Southwestern Indiana, Davies made a transition to director of the Evansville Police Department Foundation in August 2016.

“This job and I just kind of found each other,” says the Tell City, Indiana, native.

In her role with the foundation, Davies helps the organization bridge the gap between the city budget and the special requests of the police officers. From new ballistic vests and helmets to military grade tourniquets, the foundation is able to provide materials, training, and much more to the men and women of the police department.

“My husband is a retired police officer, so I understand some of the frustration police officers have. There are so many concerns they have to address on a daily basis,” she says. “I’m so pleased I get to work on behalf of these officers who are so dedicated to this community.”

Evansville Business: What is the mission of the EPD Foundation?

Jan Davies: We have four pillars of excellence that are the core of what the foundation is all about: purchasing advanced tools and equipment, helping to pay for specialized training, emergency funds to help alleviate financial burdens of EPD employees, and scholarships awarded to qualified students of EPD personnel.

Also, I think we’re one more connection between the police department and the community. It’s another avenue of information that flows.

EB: How are funds generated for the foundation?

JD: We host special events, including the annual Policeman’s Ball (Sept. 29 at Tropicana). That is our primary income source and the community supports that very nicely. We also have the SWAT Challenge Race (May 5) that focuses on supporting the SWAT Team.

Many individuals from the community financially support the foundation. We also have a group of people, the Association of Citizens Academy Alumni, which supports the foundation through donations and volunteer work.

EB: Why is the EPD Foundation important to the community?

JD: I feel it is very essential because the foundation invests in the officers; we listen to their requests and needs and try hard to accommodate them.

I think the message about the foundation I really want to communicate is that all of our work helps this community. We’re enhancing public safety.

EB: What is an aspect you enjoy most about your work with the foundation?

JD: I am working with the most sincere people I’ve ever met. I feel I have this support team around me and we’re all working together. Everybody seems so honest, upfront, and supportive. I really like that.

And because of the foundation, I’m learning a new skillset as well. All the nonprofit and management are the same, but I’m learning another side of giving.

For more information about the EPD Foundation, call 812-436-4030 or visit epdfoundation.org.



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

Andrew Alexander

C — Challenge. The word challenge can create a jolt of apprehension and even negativity in many of us. Here’s to looking at them a little differently in upcoming days. (I could benefit from this.)
H — Hope. Employ hope in envisioning how good something can look when we change it for the better.
A — Acrostic. (The format of this response.) Don’t lose sight of being creative in approaching a challenge.
L — Laughter. I’m likely in the majority when I say we need more laughter (and fun) as we battle obstacles.
L — Leverage. Leverage those around you to create a unified and stronger front. Build a team.
E — Eager. Face each day with vitality. (Coffee can only help.)
N — Negativity. Pull someone around you up who is dreading a tough road ahead.
G — Go for it. Things in your way won’t move without a push.
E — Easter. (Recently passed for Christians.) Regardless of your religion, seek strength through reliance on your God and faith.”

Andrew Alexander is the funeral director and member of the management team at Alexander Funeral Homes & Cemetery

Jim Bauer

“At The Bauerhaus and Bauerhaus Catering, tackling a challenge leads to creating a memory that will last a lifetime. For me and my team, a challenge can take on many forms. Successfully conquering each challenge means precise attention to every detail. We strive to match our client’s vision, which is ever-changing in the new digital age.

Whether we are delivering a meal for an office luncheon at 12 p.m. sharp, setting our event space for a Pinterest worthy wedding, or recreating a cupcake tower that has been featured on Instagram, we are ready. 

Our challenge is to make each client feel as if pulling off the perfect catered meal or private event is not a challenge at all. We are creating memories that will never be forgotten, and that is a challenge our team is inspired to accept day after day.”

Bauer is the owner of The Bauerhaus and Bauerhaus Catering

Barb Daum

“When I think of the word challenge, I think of opportunity — the opportunity to do things better, to look at things a new way, to create a new solution, or to learn. We all face many challenges in life whether personally or professionally. These challenges come in many different shapes and sizes, and at times, they have no sense of timing.

Even though Webster might define a challenge as ‘a duel or contest with a winner or loser,’ you should take a challenge as an opportunity to improve yourself or the situation that is presented. While challenges at home and at work can, at times, consume our lives, it is how we handle the challenges that allows us to grow.

Challenge presents us with opportunities to succeed; it also presents us with opportunities to fail. Some of the best success stories in history came from multiple failed attempts. I say, ‘Don’t be afraid of challenge; face challenges head on and continue to challenge yourself, as well.’ After all, when we face some of the toughest times or decisions, we can shine our brightest.”

Daum is the project executive for Skanska USA Inc.

Nick Shafer

“The word ‘challenge’ should be relative to everybody in all aspects of life. The concept of challenge in your professional and personal life should be the catalyst that keeps us as individuals moving forward. A good challenge should keep us motivated, thriving, and not afraid to dip our toes into the water of unfamiliar territory.

Specific to my industry (financial services), we constantly are challenged to develop long-lasting, healthy client relationships. We also are challenged to exceed the expectations of our existing clients. Another ongoing area of challenge focuses on finding high quality candidates to join our organization.

Specific to life, the concept of ‘challenge’ brings out different qualities in people. Some people really thrive off of a good challenge (and some unfortunately don’t). Motivation is another quality that should be on full display when tackling a challenge. You must be motivated in order to succeed. My personal favorite is the success side of challenge. It is very gratifying to tackle a challenge head on and look back on the accomplishments that were achieved along the way.”

Shafer is a Financial Center manager and business banking relationship manager at German American Bank.


Acts of Humility

Old National Bank CEO Bob Jones strives to better those around him
Bob Jones has led Old National Bank for 14 years, coming on board as CEO after spending almost 26 years with Key Bank.

The easiest way to describe Bob Jones is with one word: humble.

Ask him how he landed the position of CEO of Old National Bank and without hesitation, he gives the credit to his wife Lisa.

“One of the things the bank’s board did during the interview process was actually talk to people we interacted with as a couple. And what I’ve been told is that my wife and how she treated people made us the favored candidates,” says Jones.

When talking about the many organizations, projects, and events he has been a part of, Jones is quick to give credit elsewhere first and rarely takes any for himself. It is a part of his personality that many around him say is just what makes Jones who he is.

“Without a doubt his humility is his strongest asset,” says YMCA of Southwestern Indiana executive director Derrick Stewart. “It is a genuine sense of humility, this belief that it is not about him.”

“There’s probably not an organization in this community he has not touched,” says Kathy Schoettlin, chief community relations and social responsibility officer with Old National. “Half of which you would never know about because there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes conversation, coaching, and support he gives.”

Jones grew up in the west side Cleveland, Ohio, suburb known as Bay Village. His childhood was not an interesting one, he claims, but it is one that significantly shaped his life. After his parents’ divorce when he was young, he moved in with his grandmother, who helped raise him, and lived with her until he finished his college years at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio.

“Seeing other people who had success, and not having much growing up, kind of created a drive in me to succeed,” says Jones.

College started with one intention and quickly morphed into another, he explains. Many large schools in the state were recruiting Jones for football, but Ashland’s head coach Fred Martinelli was who stood out.

“When I was being recruited, Coach Martinelli looked at me and said, ‘You know, you’re really not that good of a football player. You better get a damn good education.’ And it just stuck,” he says. “He really struck me. That’s why I chose to go to Ashland. Probably the second smartest decision I ever made in my life.”

When he graduated from Ashland with a degree in political science and business administration, he took a position with Society Bank in Cleveland with one purpose — to eventually get to Columbus, where his wife was working.

In Columbus, his first assignment as a management trainee was being in charge of the mailroom.

“When I asked how many people I would be managing, the CEO Rick Deal told me I was it,” says Jones with a chuckle. “So I literally delivered mail for the first months of my job.”

During this time, Jones also enrolled in law school, taking night classes with the intention of becoming a lawyer. After two years, however, he couldn’t continue the courses and decided to drop out, believing he could pick up again if a career in banking did not work out for him.

“Gosh, now it’s 39 years later,” says Jones with a laugh. “I’ve been doing this stuff 39 years, so I guess it’s worked out OK.”

PEOPLE ARE AT THE CENTER of nearly all that Bob Jones does and what he takes most pride in. What does he most enjoy about the banking industry? The people who are clients of the bank. What is the most rewarding aspect of leading Old National for him? Seeing the growth of his staff and the impact they have on the community. Why is he so involved in philanthropic organizations? Because it betters the people and community around him.

“He is the truest of leaders,” says Ben Trockman, disability and inclusion specialist at Old National. “Our mentoring relationship has indeed helped empower me with the tools to better myself and others around me.”

“I’m blessed to work for a company that believes we’re only as strong as the community that we serve,” says Jones. “I would characterize my passion is to make Evansville the city it knows it can be. I happen to believe we can be as great as we want to be. We just have to believe in it.”

A common thought among employees, friends, and colleagues of Jones is how he makes time for all who ask for it. Whether as a soundboard for ideas, advice on a course of action, or help with fundraising efforts, Jones is quick to offer his support.

Schoettlin describes Jones’ compassion as such; when he sees a need, he is ready to offer a hand.

“And if there is a need, I can promise you we’re going to work to find a solution. Not for anybody to know but because it is the right thing to do,” she says. “That is a mantra from him — it’s just the right thing to do.”

“I think Bob would be too humble to acknowledge how much weight his opinion really matters in this city,” says Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. “Bob is known as a thoughtful, open-minded, and respectful leader, so when he offers an opinion, or a piece of advice, people from all walks of life take notice.”

Projects profiting from Jones’ support, volunteering, ideas, and influence range across the board — the Lampion Center, DoubleTree by Hilton, and the upcoming construction of a new Downtown YMCA are just a few.

“The entire Y project started with Bob and I meeting for a cup of coffee,” says Stewart. “It led to a conversation about Regional Cities and has resulted in a project that will be transformational for our organization. Bob’s fingerprints will be on this community long after his service concludes.”

Winnecke has not been shy about utilizing Jones as a soundboard for various issues, he says. His willingness to listen and offer perspective as well as his approach to leadership and collaboration have been aspects Winnecke says he tries to emulate.

“I hope Bob plans to work for many more years because his mere presence in the city, whether it is at a fundraising event or a social occasion, lends greater credibility to the experience,” he says.

Mentoring others is a huge part of Jones’ impact as well. Schoettlin remarks on his constant meetings with employees and members of the community.

“He speaks a lot about his mentors, but I know he meets with people continuously,” she says. “He encourages all of us and has had a tremendous impact serving as a mentor.”

For Trockman, that mentorship goes deeper than others — after meeting with Jones during his senior year at University of Southern Indiana, he found himself presented with a job.

“Bob has helped me stay humble, while simultaneously allowing me to dream my craziest dreams and challenge myself,” says Trockman. “He has helped me understand the importance of leadership, which he himself exemplifies each day.”

To Jones, life is about living by a philosophy his grandmother passed on to him — “At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to put your head on the pillow and say you did everything you could do that day,” he says. All in the all, the goal is to pay it forward.

“I think if I had one hope, it would be the dream for people in the Midwest to say ‘Wow, if you want to see how it’s done right, go to Evansville,’” says Jones. “I want us as a community to not have to aspire to be somebody else, but for other people to aspire to be us.”

For more information about Old National, call 812-464-1425 or visit oldnational.com.


Matt Eckert

Hometown: Eckerty, Indiana

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting and insurance from Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana

Resume: Senior auditor, Arthur Andersen, LLP, 1996-1999; park controller, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, 2000-2007; general manager, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, 2007-2012; president and CEO, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, 2013-present

Family: Wife Tonya and children Abby (16), Claire (13), and Drew (9)

When Matt Eckert was a boy visiting Santa Claus Land in Santa Claus, Indiana, he never dreamed he would one day become the president and CEO of the theme park. He actually thought he would become an optometrist, until he realized science wasn’t his niche.

Now, Eckert is going into his 18th year working for Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari and has seen tremendous growth since he first joined the company. In 2000, the park was seeing more than 500,000 guests each year, and now averages about a million every season.

“We are in a business that is very dependent on a lot of different factors for success, so you always have to be ready to turn right when you thought you were going to be turning left,” says Eckert. “We just have to roll with the punches and do the very best we can, and we’ve done so and been very successful with it.”

What is something you think people would find most surprising about working at a theme park?
I think probably one of the biggest questions we get asked quite often is, “Since you close down in October, you guys pretty much get to take off until you pick back up in May, right?” That’s totally not the case. We’re actually probably busier during the offseason than we are when we’re actually open. It’s just a different kind of busy. I think people would be very surprised to know what all goes into making the magic happen.

Is there a shift in your role from offseason to during the summer?
Definitely. I would not just say my position, but also every position throughout the company. Right now, we’re definitely in planning mode, and we’re looking into long term, strategic planning for the next five to 10 years. But come June their job is going to be totally different. They’re going to be doing something totally different than what they’re doing at the present moment.

What was it like coming in as the new president and CEO to such a longstanding family business?
We really try to ensure everyone feels like they are a member of the family. And having been with the company for as long as I have and with Will Koch [the previous Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari president and CEO who passed away in 2010] — he was one of my very best friends — I’ve been close to the family for a number of years. So it almost felt natural when I rolled into that position. It just seemed right; it felt right. It was an honor the family asked me to take on this position and this role.

As CEO and president, how often do your ride the rides?
More often than you would probably think. Any time we have a day off, which is rare, my family and I do come here to the park quite frequently. They’ll meet me over here after hours, and we’ll go ride rides. We have reporters here who want to test something out. It’s kind of my job to make sure they get to experience it. I’ll jump on anything and everything they want to do.

For more information about Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, call 812-937-4401 or visit holidayworld.com.


Church Goer

Letters to the editor can be sent to letter@evansvilleliving.com.

One of the things I most enjoy while traveling is visiting churches. A trip to New York City should include a stop at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, just as a visit to Washington, D.C., should include a visit to the National Cathedral. On our first trip to California years ago, my husband and I visited the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. (It was designed by Philip Johnson, also the architect of the Roofless Church in New Harmony, Indiana.) In Nashville, a visit to the Ryman is a must. It is, after all, a church. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit churches in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Brussels and Bruge, Belgium; Paris; Rome and Florence, Italy; London and Harlaxton, England; Athens, Greece; Quebec City; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and islands throughout the Caribbean.

My interest in the physical structure of churches, particularly historic churches, extends to our local buildings of faith. Among the favorite gifts I have received from my husband is a large stained glass church window. Todd bought the window from Shelby Marshall, proprietor of the now closed The Antique Market on Fourth Street in Downtown Evansville, who at the time believed the window, which features a baptismal font etching in the middle, to be from the “old Assumption Cathedral.” Assumption was the first Catholic parish in Evansville and occupied two locations in Downtown Evansville from its inception in 1836 to its razing in 1965 for the construction of the Winfield K. Denton federal building, which houses the Downtown post office.

Still, I have not been able to verify the origin of my window. Marshall, who plans to open a museum at the former antique store at some point in the future, does not recall specific details about the window and notes he bought stained glass church windows from dealers and auctions throughout the Midwest.

The greater Evansville area is replete with beautiful historic churches, dozens of which survived the wrecking balls of urban renewal and still serve as houses of worship. During the Lenten season, Evansville Living’s creative team visited 10 of Evansville’s historic churches. I hope you enjoy the feature, Sacred Spaces.”

Kristen K. Tucker
Publisher & Editor


It’s a Zoo

Erik Beck shares the perks of staying in Evansville

Erik Beck describes himself as a wanderer, whether it’s meandering the wildlife refuge at Blue Grass Fish and Wildlife Area or traversing the sights Downtown. However, he hasn’t wandered far from his hometown. A 1989 graduate of Reitz Memorial High School, Beck initially traveled out of town for college but returned to Evansville to finish his biology degree at the University of Southern Indiana.

Out of school, Beck accepted a zookeeping job at Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden and never left. He has climbed the ranks to executive director and seen the zoo undergo a transformation.

How has the city and Mesker Park Zoo changed during your time here?
You can look around the zoo and essentially put a line on the year the casino came to town. While the zoo was progressing well, even before Aztar, now Tropicana, came along, that influx of money to maintain and add capital items, add new exhibits, and renovate existing spaces has been tremendous.

What are some of the biggest developments you’ve seen at the zoo?
I think the biggest leap for us was when we started to plan and build Amazonia, and then finally opening that in 2008. There have been a lot of changes, and some of them are not as seen as others — some of them are just renovations of existing spaces. The best thing about being green is not building new things that are greener. It’s about keeping old things instead of tearing them down, because that’s the most green thing you can do.

What do you love about Evansville and the community?
To me, Evansville always has been a big, little city. It is big enough to have some of the metropolitan feel of a larger city, but it’s also small enough you still have that kind of small town feel. We get people from out of town, and they’re like, “Wow, this is a bigger zoo than I thought would be here for Evansville.” We’re really lucky to have a space this big and the types of animals we have.

For more information on Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden, call 812-435-6143 or visit meskerparkzoo.com.


What Exactly is an “Oxy” Anyway?

I ran across this from our fifth anniversary issue. What’s changed? Absolutely nothing.

 If your time and patience permits, please allow me to empty some of the vast areas of unused crevices of my mind (heavy cleaning, not a dusting) to be, well, all over the board. Have a conversation with me sometime. It’s what I do best.

We are excited to announce that Get Active, a healthy living and lifestyle publication started in 2013 by local triathlete and trail advocate Steve Roelle, now will be a part of Evansville Living three times per year, beginning in May. Steve will continue to help us showcase the best our region has to offer in healthy outdoor lifestyle features, covering food and nutrition, running, swimming, cycling, and triathlons. Get Active readers will be the first to know where the best trails are located and when the best club training events are held. Readers will find Get Active inserted in Evansville Living, and provided free at health and wellness events and at select wellness partners throughout the community.

Also new for Evansville Business is the advent of a new and exciting way for those at the pinnacle of success and personal or professional achievement to be a part of a special feature. See our shameless promotion on page 47 of this issue for additional information on how to be placed in the inaugural “Portraits of Success” in the August/September issue of Evansville Business. If this is anything at all like the wildly popular “Faces of Evansville” feature in the September/October 2016 issue of Evansville Living (also the 100th issue), you will want to move quickly to reserve your space.

I recently experienced the good and bad fortune of traveling to the City & Regional Magazine Association conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in early February. Mexico in February with my fellow magazine publishers, what could go wrong? Consider this please. If you don’t appreciate the employees and agents at our own Evansville airport, maybe you should. After encountering numerous difficulties in other airports coming and going to my conference, the difference in service being offered at our airport versus the “I could care less” attitudes I encountered elsewhere was a pretty wide chasm. (A favorite word!) Customer service is not an “oxymoron.” My wife says I am half of that. What exactly is an “oxy” anyway?

After arriving home with the flu, feel free to smack me upside the head if you ask me next year, “Did you get a flu shot?” and I say, “Not yet.” To anyone else who has gone through this misery this year, you have my sympathies. Although I am now an expert criminologist and forensic scientist through satellite osmosis.

As always, I look forward to hearing from most of you. And please, don’t feel free to smack me upside the head anyway.

Todd A. Tucker