KOKOMO, Ind.—Steve Daily has already traded his corner office in downtown Kokomo for the open spaces of his 130-acre farm, and he’s ditched his suits and ties in favor of a well-worn hat, faded red jacket and muck boots.
Though his official retirement is still two weeks away, Daily has been transitioning out of his role as chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region for the past few months. He spent 20 years in leadership positions in the Kokomo region, for a total of 43 years in education interrupted only by the eight years he spent as mayor of Kokomo from 1979 to 1987.
Now, Daily, 67, is realizing his childhood dream of farming, a profession that runs in his family. He seems just as comfortable tending to the animals and produce on his farm as he did overseeing a six-county Ivy Tech region that included more than 8,000 students and more than 475 full- and part-time employees.
One mid-December morning, Daily took a break from planning the next step for his organic farm to reflect on his time at Ivy Tech and the ways higher education has changed in the past two decades.
“One of the hard things (to figure out) is not what to say, but how to say it,” he said, drinking coffee at the dining room table of his white farmhouse west of Kokomo, as he sorted out the best way to sum up his time at Ivy Tech.
As he recalled the changes to Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Region, the toughest decisions he had to make as chancellor and the proudest moments of his tenure, Daily kept coming back to the people – the accomplishments and struggles of the faculty, staff, students and community members he worked with over the years.
“The part that I’ve enjoyed the most is that in this region we have become much more involved in the communities we serve than a lot of other higher ed. institutions tend to do. We’re deeply embedded in every community,” Daily told the Kokomo Tribune. “That’s always been important to me, I guess because of my own background. But I know that communities only survive and thrive if they’ve got a really aggressive, intelligent volunteer base. Ivy Tech has added to that base, and I’m proud of that.”
Daily began his career at Ivy Tech as the Logansport site manager in December 1995. In July 1996, he was named executive dean of what was then known as Region 5, and in 2000, he became chancellor of what now is the Kokomo Region, which includes campuses and instructional sites in Kokomo, Logansport, Peru, Rochester, Tipton and Wabash.
Daily recalls the Office Administration staff using typewriters when he first started at Ivy Tech, and the fact that the Logansport site was housed in an old supermarket building also made an early impression on him. One of Daily’s first goals was to expand the library in Logansport, and he was able to do so as more building space became available nearby.
When Daily became executive dean of the region, Ivy Tech also was renting an old elementary school in Wabash and the main campus in Kokomo was smaller than it is today. Many of their classes were taught in high schools.
“I think in the whole region, we had two computer labs and I think we had one science lab. Technology, obviously, has changed for us as it has for anyone in any profession,” Daily said. “Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve just tried to take advantage of the space that’s been available to us.”
Community support has been key in allowing Ivy Tech Kokomo Region to expand its facilities like it has.
“If you look around the state of Indiana and watch where Ivy Tech is growing and where Ivy Tech is getting new buildings and where Ivy Tech is establishing new campuses, every single time it is because a community stepped up,” Daily said.
A great example of that is the new Logansport campus facility, which Ivy Tech broke ground on in 2008. Daily said it was a difficult project for which to gain statewide support.
“We were not on the Ivy Tech list, we weren’t on the Higher Ed. Commission list, we weren’t on the legislative list or the governor’s list. We were on nobody’s list, at least not for a new building,” Daily said. “We had this terrible distinction of having the worst facility in the state of Indiana in the Ivy Tech system, but that’s how we were able to convince them to put us on those lists.”
The Logansport mayor, local legislators, city and county council and other community groups backed the project, and Daily said that type of local support became the model for other Ivy Tech regions that wanted to expand. Similar grassroots efforts to find a place for Ivy Tech sites took place in Peru, Rochester, Tipton and Kokomo.
From The Associated Press. This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Kokomo Tribune.