Renovated center designed with input from student representatives
KOKOMO, Ind. – Retired Kokomo business owners Don and Louise Thomas, and their family, were honored Tuesday for their long-time support of Ivy Tech Community College’s Kokomo Campus when family members and Ivy Tech officials and students cut the ribbon on the campus’ new Don and Louise Thomas Student Commons.
“We are excited to be opening the new Student Commons today, designed to offer a warm and welcoming place for students to gather, study, snack, and socialize,” said Michelle Simmons, president of the Kokomo Campus. “It’s very fitting that it be named to honor a family that has done so much for so many students for so many years.”
The opening of the completely refurbished Student Commons comes during the second of three phases of a $1,667,000 renovation project to update the existing Main Building at the Kokomo Campus. Over the last six months, the space has been transformed with new paint, floor coverings, and furniture, all with input from student leaders.
Members of the Thomas family, including three of their four children and two daughters-in-law and a son-in-law, joined in the celebration, along with Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann, Ivy Tech Kokomo and Lafayette Region Chancellor David Bathe, members of the Kokomo Region Board of Trustees, leaders of the Ivy Tech Foundation and other donors, and a number of business and civic leaders from throughout the Kokomo Region.
Don and Louise Thomas’ generosity has benefited Ivy Tech students for 30 years. He was a charter member of the Kokomo Campus development council and served 20 years. He was a member of the Ivy Tech Foundation Board since 1996; he served on numerous committees, chaired the board in 2008, and was named “Director Emeritus” in 2013 in recognition of his work.
“Education is what liberates us,” Thomas once said. “We are committed to giving our time, talents and resources to those who travel behind us.” Those words, paired with a photo of Don and Louise, now grace plaques at the entrances to the Student Commons.
Their philanthropy is a family affair. Before donating a piece of property that resulted in a gift worth nearly $225,000, Don and Louise consulted all their children (“We are spending their inheritance,” they quipped.) “We wanted to pass on to the family our belief in being thankful for our blessings and giving back so others may succeed,” Thomas said. That property at North Street and Touby Pike has served as home of the Kokomo Community Garden since 2003.
Charter members of Ivy Tech’s planned giving society, the Thomases have been recognized for their consistent support of scholarships, building funds and special campaigns. In 2001, Don was awarded an honorary degree by Ivy Tech Kokomo. In 2005, Don and Louise were honored statewide as Ivy Tech Foundation’s Benefactors of the Year and, in 2014, named the winners of the Kokomo Region’s Changing Lives Award.
He has said their efforts are simply a matter of the family wanting to do the most possible good with their contributions. He noted he and his wife of 63 years shared this philosophy and decided together to work hard to support the college. Unfortunately, he added, Louise was unable to attend today’s event because she is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.
“I don’t know of a better place to invest in people’s futures and developments than Ivy Tech,” he said in a 2011 interview. “I am a beneficiary of people who encouraged and helped me in so many ways. I can relate to trying to get an education while still having to work and so I relate to what Ivy Tech is doing. I don’t think there’s a better return on investment than Ivy Tech. We’re really investing in people.”
As president of the Student Government Association (SGA) at Ivy Tech Kokomo Campus, Trisha Norfleet is one of those students the Thomases have invested in. She and other SGA officers and members of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society offered their recommendations to the design team that developed the new Student Commons’ look and feel. Upholstered chairs and couches are flanked by tables; many of the chairs have an expanded arm to serve as a writing surface. High counters feature outlets for device charging; other outlets are available in the floor throughout the seating area.
“We were very grateful to have student needs recognized and it looks amazing,” Norfleet said. “We got student input from a survey asking what kind tables they wanted, what kind of chairs. It was great to represent students in working with President Simmons and Dani McQuaide, director of Student Life. There are even chairs in there for left-handed students like me!” she added.
“We are also very grateful to those who supported the remodeling with donations,” she continued. “The students will really be glad to get their commons back … and I think they will agree it was definitely worth the wait.”
Work continues on new classrooms and science labs that will be ready when the spring semester starts in January. A third phase involving classrooms and computer labs for the Office Administration and Visual Communications programs is expected to be finished by the end of spring semester.