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.
When it comes to restless babies, many parents turn to the same practice. They drive their child around the neighborhood block a few times. But local sound engineer and musician Mike Boren wondered why the habit was so effective and if he could invent a device to eliminate late night drives. That’s when Lullafi was born.
“It started with a conversation with my brother,” says Boren. “He couldn’t get my nephew to sleep. He said, ‘If you could figure out a way to keep me from driving about three hours every night to keep him asleep, let me know.’”
The Evansville native and founder of the Evansville Music Academy, formerly Guitar Lab, began to research and test different ways to create the same sounds and feels of riding in a car. Three years later, he created a finished prototype.
Lullafi works by using sound to reproduce the hum of a moving car, as well as the vibrations, pulsing sensations, and low-frequency rumbles felt during a ride. According to Boren, these elements are similar to those experienced by babies in their mother’s womb, which puts a baby to sleep.
To recreate that in Lullafi, Boren completed many sound studies, recording as he drove his car and analyzing audio samples of womb sounds. “From an audio engineering side, I could see what was going on and what was common. It’s all based off that,” he says.
The small device can attach to a side of a crib or a car seat and has a USB rechargeable battery. The small speaker is programmed with five built-in sounds. Lullafi also is Bluetooth® compatible, so parents can plug in any type of recorded sound.
Boren says he’s produced two Lullafis and began a Kickstarter page to help raise funds for production. The ultimate goal is to see Lullafi on the market, but if not, he feels his goal has been met.
“At this point, I’m pretty happy with it,” he says. “I’ve learned a ton from doing this and from both the business and manufacturing side. I would say if it stops here, I’m pretty darn happy with that.”
For more information about Lullafi, visit lullafi.com or kickstarter.com/projects/325058527/lullafi-sound-sleep-solution.
As Executive Director Eric Heidenreich promotes the attractions in Gibson County, he finds his workplace also is on many visitors’ must-see lists.
The Gibson County Visitors & Tourism Bureau, 702 W. Broadway St. in Princeton, Indiana, is located in a former train depot used by the former Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad and CSX Transportation today. The building, constructed in 1875, is considered a landmark for residents and notable for its caboose, historic brick walkway, and position next to the still-functioning railroad tracks that run through Princeton.
Tours are available at no charge Monday through Friday. Antiques, an old safe, baggage claim sliding doors, a ticketing window, and an ice pick stuck into the main office wall are all evidence of the former depot, which was used as a train station until the service was discontinued in the 1960s. Train operators used it as their office space until the early ’80s. Princeton Railroad Station, Inc. acquired the building and began the process of restoring it. John Burris, a retired banker, is credited with handling a majority of the renovations himself.
The Gibson County Visitors & Tourism Bureau began in 1998 and three months later, Heidenreich was hired. It was formerly located in a small office building east of the Gibson County Courthouse. The tourism bureau has two full-time employees, Heidenreich and Kelly Scott, manager of visitor services, and a part-time marketing consultant, Paula French.
“As work continued on this building, people were really interested in the building,” says Heidenreich, who grew up in Princeton. “We thought there was no way we could use that as an office. But we were down here one day as the renovations were getting close to done, and we thought, ‘Maybe we can make this work.’”
The tourism office moved into the former train depot in 2005 after agreeing with the railroad board that it could be mutually beneficial.
“We kind of resisted because of the proximity to the railroad tracks,” says French.“Mr. Burris had done an excellent job on the renovation, but there were still things to be done. Once we made the commitment, we wanted to save this building. A building that is not inhabited will deteriorate over time. We took the plunge and said, ‘We can make this work.’”
In addition to Burris’ renovations, the bureau replaced all of the windows, renovated the bathroom, added cabinets for office needs, painted the exterior of the building, and added workspaces in the former baggage claim area of the depot. A fence also was installed to eliminate access from the building onto the tracks. Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Indiana provided a grant to replace the roof.
“We try to keep everything as authentic as we can and still function as an office,” says Heidenreich.
For more information about the Gibson County Visitors & Tourism Bureau, call 812-385-0999 or visit gibsoncountyin.org.
A Century of History
When the Wells Fargo Advisors of Evansville – formerly Thomson McKinnon – opened in 1915, a gallon of gas cost $0.25. In the financial world, the Dow Jones Industrial average would close around 99 points. Over the next 100 years, through the rising and falling economy, Wells Fargo would continue to grow in the Tri-State.
“We are the oldest brokerage firm in the city of Evansville,” says Nancy Bach, branch manager. “We’re excited about 100 years, but we also are excited about the fact we have the longest tenure within the city.”
The firm carried the name Thomson McKinnon until 1989 when it was sold to Prudential-Bache. Prudential sold to Wachovia Securities in 2004. The move to Wells Fargo happened in 2008, when the large bank bought Wachovia. To celebrate the anniversary, Wells Fargo’s corporate office has loaned a piece of its art collection to the Evansville Museum of Arts, Science and History. The exhibit of landscape paintings will be available through Aug. 9.
One hundred years is a significant milestone in many ways. For Bach, a University of Evansville alumna, an exciting aspect is the service to families in the Tri-State.
“Many advisors are on their third or fourth generation of families whose relatives started here back in 1915,” she says. “Our office manages more than 12,000 accounts. When you look at those numbers, you realize we touch a lot of people’s lives.”
Bob Zimmermann Sr., who will celebrate 50 years with the firm before he retires next year, agrees the relationships he has built has been a highlight. “I’ve enjoyed the ability to help families invest over a long period of time,” he says.
Both note the many changes in the industry over the years, from the number of market shares to the technology brokers use. It is a reason why the business is intriguing, says Bach.
“The Dow average in 1915 was at 99, and today we’re at more than 18,000 points. The industry has gone more from transaction-based to more advice-driven,” she adds.
As for the future of Wells Fargo, Bach and Zimmermann agree the firm will continue to grow in the Tri-State.
“When Wells Fargo bought Wachovia, they made a huge commitment to the brokerage division. That’s why I think another 100 years is doable,” says Bach.
“It will prosper,” adds Zimmermann. “I think they’ve got a good long-term strategy and they consider us one of the key elements.”
For more information about Wells Fargo Advisors, call 812-425-6251 or visit wellsfargoadvisors.com.
Wayne Geurin walks back and forth in his garden, tending to the tomatoes he plants. He gives many of them away, showing his devotion to serving others. But one small detail about him displays a different type of service.
He wears a cap that reads, “Seabees,” representing his time serving the Navy Seabees. As a member of the 61st Battalion in the Philippines, he helped repair landing strips during World War II. On May 30, he and some of his fellow veterans had the opportunity to be recognized the way they deserve.
Honor Flight of Southern Indiana is one of nearly 140 hubs in the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization that honors veterans for their sacrifices. Through donations and volunteers, a group of 70 veterans and their chaperones fly on a US Airways Airbus A320 airplane to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight board members, medics, a photographer, and a videographer accompany the service men and women.
The new hub serves Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Lawrence, Martin, Orange, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh, and Warrick counties. Priority is given to World War II veterans due to their limited number — Geurin, 89, was one of the youngest participants.
The first flight from Evansville, which took place last October, served as an extension of the Indianapolis hub. On that trip was Samuel Powers, a 91-year-old Army Infantry veteran stationed in Europe during World War II. He had a strong desire to visit the monuments and was impressed with everything he saw, thanks to the Honor Flight Network.
“Those people are so dedicated,” says Powers. “It was such a wonderful trip. Everyone appreciated it so much.”
Honor Flight of Southern Indiana was officially established on April 8 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony presented by Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. The May 30 voyage was the inaugural flight, a day Winnecke declared as “Honor Flight of Southern Indiana Day.”
Ashley Gregg, founder and vice president of Honor Flight of Southern Indiana, first contacted Dianna Page, the director of marketing and air service development at Evansville Regional Airport, about bringing the network to Evansville. Page did not think twice about the proposition.
“When I found out they had started that process, we wanted to do everything we could to help make it happen,” says Page.
Gregg then spoke to many local businesses in an effort to fundraise for the new chapter. She says the support was phenomenal, and it has continued.
“It is a community effort,” says Gregg. “It would not be possible without the volunteers and the community. People do not hesitate to help.”
Because it is a nonprofit organization, Honor Flight of Southern Indiana relies heavily on its volunteers. More than half are veterans who want their fellow comrades to experience this life-changing event.
“Southern Indiana is what we call ‘veteran-centric,’” says Gregg, “and we love our veterans here in the area.”
Geurin was eager to spend the day with his son, Michael, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War. Geurin had never seen the memorials before, like many of the participants. Before experiencing Honor Flight for the first time, Geurin described his excitement.
“I am looking forward to it because I have never seen the monuments, but I don’t expect to see any names I know,” said Geurin. “This will be my last and only chance to see these monuments.”
The festivities began with dinner at Tropicana Evansville on Thursday, May 28, attended by Winnecke and Congressman Larry Bucshon. The travelers received a detailed description of what to expect on their visit, calming any nerves about flying.
During the trip, the group made three main stops at the National World War II Memorial, the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, and Korean War Veterans Memorials, and the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. They also saw other landmarks, such as the Iwo Jima Memorial, on a bus tour.
Originally hailing from Kentucky, Powers’ favorite aspect was taking a picture in front of the state’s pillar at the National World War II Memorial. Gregg treasured seeing the excitement shown throughout the trip.
“The thing that stood out was how people had smiles plastered on their faces all day,” says Gregg. “These veterans never expected to get to do anything like this. They were just so happy to see their memorials.”
Members of Honor Flight of Southern Indiana printed out blown-up pictures of the veterans to display their service days. There also were 70 wheelchairs donated, among many other surprises they cherished.
Possibly the paramount aspect of the day was landing back in Evansville. The organization coordinated “Operation Homecoming,” at which thousands of cheering fans were waving flags and holding signs in the terminal. Featuring a 1940s theme, it gave the veterans the experience of being welcomed home when they returned from the war.
“This gives them that opportunity to be thanked and to see the patriotism and people that care,” says Gregg.
Many of the attendees were children, some of whom may not have understood the significance of what the veterans sacrificed. Gregg says it is up to the Honor Flight Network to continue teaching them the importance of honoring heroes.
“There is so much for the kids,” she says. “The next generation needs to know that these people saved the world and that they’re important.”
Having to account for the influx of supporters, Page assured the logistics functioned as scheduled. She says it is rewarding to see all the effort and enthusiasm pay off when the event is successful.
“It’s a really good example of how our community can pull together for a good cause,” says Page. “No matter where you’re from or what your background is, you can support it.”
Geurin appreciated the organization providing him this chance of a lifetime. He believes it means as much to everyone else as it does to the veterans.
“I think the community certainly appreciates it,” says Geurin. “The city and the county do this to show their appreciation for what the men and women did.”
Geurin did not know what to expect heading into the festivities but said being in the presence of those with similar backgrounds as him was exciting.
“I am a lot more enthused about being with people my age who also served,” says Geurin. “I do enjoy hearing them talking about their experiences.”
Honor Flight of Southern Indiana has brought a new appreciation of veterans to the area, while highlighting the connection that Evansville has to World War II. During the war, the city was a vital focus of production, building P-47 Thunderbolt aircrafts and landing ship, tanks. The USS LST-325 still calls Evansville home, now serving as a museum.
Numerous men and women, like Geurin and Powers, sacrificed greatly to serve the country during its times of war. Many were not recognized as they stepped back onto American soil, but Honor Flight of Southern Indiana is attempting to rectify the past by giving them an overdue welcome. And it certainly has impacted the veterans.
“It puts a closure on your life,” says Powers. “I’m so proud of the people who organized and put this together. I think it’s a wonderful thing to do.”
Gregg is thrilled she can be involved as well. Along with Powers, several have shared just how meaningful this experience is to them.
“This is one of the greatest days of their lives,” she says, “next to getting married and having kids.”
For more information about Honor Flight of Southern Indiana and the next flight on Oct. 24, call 812-297-4136 or visit honorflightsi.org.
Tucker Publishing Group collaborated with Dr. Marie Bussing, assistant professor of economics at the University of Southern Indiana College of Business, to give 35 students in her Economics 361 Money and Banking course, an upper level class of juniors and seniors, an opportunity to be published in Evansville Business. Students were asked to write about Ben Bernanke, who presented “A Conversation with Ben Bernanke” during the Romain College of Business Innovative Speaker Series on March 23 at USI. Dillon Davenport, who recently graduated from USI, was selected for his piece.
Walking to the podium with a white shirt, grey suit, and a striped tie, he looked as normal as someone would in the audience. The man, Time Magazine’s 2009 person of the year, is referred to as the person who saved the U.S. economy, and has imposed some of the most innovative strategies the Federal Reserve System has ever seen. His name is Dr. Ben S. Bernanke.
Bernanke was born in Augusta, Georgia, and later raised in Dillon, South Carolina, a small rural town. “Dillon makes Evansville seem like New York City,” he jokes. Bernanke shared stories about his wife and how she has kept him grounded by asking him to take out the trash every week and clean the dishes after every meal.
He spoke intelligently, as someone might expect from a Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus, but not arrogantly. He is considered one of the most powerful people in the world, and that story began on a Fall weekend in 2008, known as “Lehman Weekend.”
Lehman Brothers, a massive investment bank in New York, was failing. Bernanke says the widespread consensus among economists, politicians, and the media was that it was time to let the company fail. Bernanke, who was serving as chairman on the Federal Reserve, thought differently. They knew if Lehman Brothers failed, it would magnify the crisis and make it worse. Bernanke explains the Federal Reserve brought Lehman, potential buyers of Lehman, and 12 CEOs of top Wall Street investment firms to the New York Federal Reserve to find a solution for this company that was on the brink of collapse.
Unfortunately, the potential buyers dropped out and Lehman Brothers had no collateral for the Federal Reserve to lend the firm cash. Then, the event Bernanke and the Federal Reserve feared would happen did. Lehman Brothers failed, beginning what became known as the recent Great Recession.
After sharing his experiences on 2008, Bernanke took a seat and answered questions from moderator Dr. Karen H. Bonnell, USI professor of communications. One of the questions was: “Do you believe or even acknowledge the existence of a student loan bubble?”
Bernanke’s answer particularly applied to current college students and students wanting to continue their education.
Bernanke says he didn’t believe there was a bubble or that student loans affected the financial sector but did give advice to students seeking financial aid in the form of loans. Bernanke says when students are taking out a loan, they should first develop a sense of whether or not the program they are attending is right for them and whether the program will lead to a job. He also says students should enroll in a program that will lead to a job and will ultimately enable repayment of their student loans.
“It is extremely tough to get out of student loans, not even through bankruptcy,” says Bernanke.
Bernanke testified before the U.S. Congress that his son is on track to leave medical school with $400,000 in student loans.
As former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke was asked about his most important contribution to the system. He credited the success as a team effort. Bernanke was an academic and needed diverse opinions, solutions, and ideas to solve the unusual and unprecedented problems he faced at the Federal Reserve. He described his leadership approach as collegial, not authoritative. He wanted to involve everyone at the Federal Reserve because of their diverse backgrounds in education and experiences.
When asked about innovative practices he implemented as chairman, Bernanke talked about transparency. He wanted the Federal Reserve’s actions to be open to the public and reach a broad market. Bernanke implemented an explicit 2 percent inflation target, held press conferences, appeared on “60 Minutes,” and spoke to universities about what was occurring at the Federal Reserve. He noted that transparency was in part a failure. In 2009, the Federal Reserve was the most unpopular government agency, even lower than the Internal Revenue Service.
Bernanke served as the chairman of the Federal Reserve for eight years and worked in several additional roles. Currently, Bernanke is finishing a book about his tenure at the Federal Reserve. He also is a member of a think tank at the Brookings Institution. Bernanke will be remembered as one of the most influential people in U.S. history.
For more information about the Innovative Speaker Series at the University of Southern Indiana, call the Romain College of Business at 812-464-1718 or
Jon Mark Hall
Hometown: Murray, Kentucky
Job: Director of Athletics at the University of Southern Indiana
Resume: Assistant athletic director at the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg, 1994 to 1995; assistant athletic director at the University of Southern Indiana, 1995 to 2002; head men’s tennis coach at USI, 1995 to 2002; director of athletics at USI, 2002 to present.
Family: Wife, Patti, five sons, Nathan, Garland, Ty, Owen, and Calvin, and one daughter, Mary Claire.
Recently selected to the Great Lakes Valley Conference Hall of Fame, former University of Southern Indiana Men’s Tennis Coach and current Director of Athletics Jon Mark Hall is nothing but humble. The Western Kentucky native says it’s the student-athletes who are responsible for the honor, and it’s those young men and women Hall continues to focus his attention on. Hall attended Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, for his bachelor’s degree, and Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, for his master’s degree.
From your view as director of athletics, how have college sports changed in the last 10 years?
The landscape of intercollegiate athletics has changed a lot. At times, at our level (USI has Div. II athletics) it has become more of a business than in the past. The change has been greater at the Div. I level with all the schools switching conferences and how TV has become so involved in everything. It has trickled down some to our level where you are really trying to think of all the different ways you can create revenue, create buzz for your department, and the tough balance with that is not losing sight of what you’re doing that for. Especially at our level, you keep in mind the balance between academics and athletics.
You worked as both the assistant athletic director and the men’s tennis head coach at the same time. What was that experience like for you?
I was the assistant athletic director and right when I accepted that job, the men’s tennis coach at USI retired. They asked me to do it. I had a tennis background — I played in college. I really didn’t know if I wanted to do it because it wasn’t on my radar. The current athletic director at the time, Steve Newton, told me that he felt like if I could live a little bit in the coaches’ shoes it would help me become a better athletic administrator. I would know how it would feel to recruit, schedule, travel with the team.
How are you creating a buzz for the athletic department?
We are starting the process of renovating the Physical Activities Center — a $16 million project. It is going to be very important for us to figure out what we can do to put our student athletes and coaches in the position to succeed. These next couple years could change the way folks look at us. This facility is such a multi-purpose facility and it will continue to be that. When you come to our campus, our buildings are so new, vibrant, and inviting and this building really isn’t right now. This opportunity will give us a chance to get more people to campus for events — not just for athletics.
How will the new facility impact recruiting opportunities?
Student-athletes want to know where they are going to live and not just where they are going to play. We have a fair amount of student-athletes who are sport management and kinesiology majors and those students are in this building, too. They want to know what the weight room looks like, what the locker rooms look like, where the athletic trainers are, and what the training room looks like. Our facilities are OK, but now is the chance for us to make a splash and give us an opportunity to recruit at a higher level.
What are your current goals with USI?
We’ve really worked hard at developing a strong relationship with the Evansville Sports Corp. We’ve tried to bring as many collegiate athletic events to this community as possible. We’ve hosted the Div. II Elite Eight Men’s Basketball Championships, the GLVC basketball and baseball championships for multiple years, and will start a run of the NCAA cross country events (at Angel Mounds State Historic Site in Newburgh, Indiana). Our goal is to improve the quality of life here in Evansville. Our hope is that Evansville sees USI as a great partner.
Open For All
Residents gathered during the end of March at the Four Freedoms Monument in Downtown Evansville to peacefully protest the passing of Indiana Senate Bill 101, or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill in late March and criticism mounted immediately. The bill prevents government entities from forcing an individual to violate his/her religious beliefs unless there is a compelling reason. Essentially, Hoosiers can use religion as a defense in a court of law; that court of law, though, has no obligation to uphold that defense. Many say it opens up the door for discrimination against the LGBT community as a business can refuse serving individuals based on sexual orientation.
In response, the governors of two states called for travel boycotts, the heads of international businesses spoke out, organizations with plans for conventions publicly promised to reconsider, and nearly all major league sports organizations said they would be watching Indiana (NCAA is headquartered in Indianapolis).
Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke published a response on his Facebook page: “We must continue to be a community of hospitality, warmth, and with a desire to treat everyone with respect.”
At the protest, around 100 individuals gathered with signs and rainbow flags before marching down Riverside Drive. Evansville mayoral candidate Gail Riecken joined protest organizer Max Hedon of Evansville in denouncing the bill.
Many businesses have purchased stickers from openforservice.org to show they open their doors for everyone. At press time, an admendment to the bill was awaiting approval. Tucker Publishing Group opposes the law and urges its repeal.
To read Indiana Senate Bill 101, visit iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/101.
Fore the Community
When the United Leasing Championship is held April 27 through May 3, the focus won’t be entirely on golf, but what the sport can do to give back to the community.
The Golf Gives Back program was born three years ago, which allows charities to sell tickets to the golf championship at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Indiana, and receive 100 percent of the ticket sales proceeds. Eighty charities participate and in the last year alone, the program raised $130,000 just through the ticket purchase. Over the last three years, more than $200,000 has gone to the charities.
In addition to the ticket sales proceeds, Old National Bank contributes an additional $25,000 to the Golf Gives Back program, which is split proportionately according to their ticket sales.
“I think back to five years ago when this idea was germinating and I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with (United Leasing CEO) Ron (Romain) and he was adamant at the time that this golf event was going to give back to the community,” says Old National Bank CEO Bob Jones. “It wasn’t just about United Leasing, it wasn’t just about the golf, it was about what Ron Romain and United Leasing could do to give back to the community and he’s clearly lived up to that promise.”
For more information on the Golf Gives Back, visit ulcgolf.com/golf-gives-back-2.