BY STEVE RAYMER
Even before Ivy Tech Community College Chancellor John Whikehart cut the ribbon in September incorporating the John Waldron Arts Center into the burgeoning community college system, 122 local children spent the summer there learning how to turn everyday household items into eco-friendly art and exploring the legends of Native Americans, Inuits, and other aboriginals.
The Ivy Arts for Kids program was the latest brainchild of this vigorous 63-year-old, who is the father of four children ranging in age from 9 to 34. As Whikehart sees it, Ivy Tech’s purchase of the Waldron from the city for a nominal $1 will bring scores of “personal enrichment” courses to downtown Bloomington at a new Center for Lifelong Learning.
“We embrace the strings that were attached to our purchase of the Waldron,” says Whikehart. Some 70 percent of the Waldron must be used for cultural, artistic, and educational purposes, giving Ivy Tech a mandate to offer courses in everything from the history of the Renaissance—one of Whikehart’s favorites—to expanding children’s programs and art classes.
“My background is politics and government,” says Whikehart, who grew up in a modest home in upstate Wabash. “I know it’s important to define yourself before someone else does, which is why we are moving quickly to make the Waldron into an Ivy Tech building that promotes the arts and makes space available for students and the public.”
This sense of mission can be traced to Whikehart’s time as a wide-eyed transfer student from Kokomo, who came to IU-Bloomington in 1967 at the height of anti-Vietnam War fervor. He worked on the presidential campaign of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and was captivated by the “Kennedy mystique.” Pictures of Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. line the walls of his office. “I was touched by Bobby Kennedy’s view of America and his ability to connect to so many different groups of Americans. And Dr. King remains one of my personal heroes.”
Whikehart says, “I still get chills thinking of the night of April 4, 1968. I was there in Indianapolis when Robert Kennedy announced King’s assassination to a crowd that was largely African American.” Kennedy is credited with helping keep the crowd and Indianapolis from turning violent that night—an experience that Whikehart says was part of the “most transformative year of my life.”
After university, Whikehart worked as a schoolteacher in Indianapolis, as an official of the Head Start antipoverty program in Bloomington, and as Frank O’Bannon’s chief of staff when the late Democratic Party stalwart was in the state senate. Through all of his jobs, Whikehart says he has tried to help Hoosiers transform their own lives. “I come from an era when there was a belief that education and training could break cycles of under-employment and unemployment—which is what a community college is all about.”