Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

April 15, 2014

A shower of praise for Ivy Tech chancellor

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — About 190 laughed during hours of stories about the boisterous James Helms, Ivy Tech Community College Southeast Region chancellor emeritus, during an April 5 retirement dinner at the Batesville Knights of Columbus Hall.

A formally dressed Mayor Rick Fledderman said, “I couldn’t find the red coat” former principal Helms wore to all of the East Central High School home basketball games. “Could it be Jim Helms is a black tie kind of guy?” He reported the honoree certainly brought “black tie educational opportunities to southeastern Indiana over a career that spans decades. We’ll be troasting – toasting and roasting – Jim Helms tonight.”

John Murphy, Ivy Tech Foundation president, read an ITCC state board resolution about Helms’ achievements that earned him the distinguished emeritus designation. He assisted the college in some capacity for 37 years, serving on its Southeast Region board from 1976-98 and as chancellor since 2000. During that time, enrollment has ballooned from 500 to over 5,000 and Helms helped create new facilities in Batesville, Madison and Lawrenceburg. Astonishingly, “over $20 million has been raised to support the region’s efforts.”

Murphy added that Helms has been appointed to the foundation’s board of directors for a three-year term.

According to Ivy Tech President Emeritus Gerald Lamkin, “Jim, from the very beginning you were the perfect fit for this area. I’m very, very proud of the job you’ve done.”

Master of ceremonies Al Huntington, an Ivy Tech Foundation board member and former Madison mayor, asked, “What can you say about a man who is admired, revered and loved by everyone?” He joked with his friend, “We hit it off right away because we bought our clothes at the Big and Tall store. You because you’re so big and me because I’m so tall.”

Huntington recalled when the former Cincinnati Bengals pregame and halftime announcer attended Hanover College, a classroom of students was asked, “‘How many of you were in the top 10 of your class?’” Helms truthfully raised his hand. There were only 10 in his class at Franklin County High School.

Huntington explained, “Jim is what we call an oratoreador – an orator who specializes in throwing the bull around.”

As the roast got underway, Dr. Jim Roberts, Batesville Community School Corp. superintendent, praised the center of attention “for your vision, perseverance and patience in establishing a wonderful campus here in Batesville. Specifically, I thank you for working with us” to allow Batesville High School students to take free ITCC dual credit courses.

Roberts pointed out, “You are certainly a man of many talents. We share at least one … the ability to do Elvis Presley.” Changing into a flashy outfit onstage, the speaker wondered, “If you have two Elvises, do you actually say Elvi?” Then Roberts flung a purple sequin scarf to his friend and they performed together to a roar of approval.

Two other buddies, Steve Daily, ITCC Kokomo chancellor and former Kokomo mayor, and John Whikehart, ITCC Bloomington chancellor emeritus and Bloomington deputy mayor, presented 10 observations about Helms. Whikehart teased, “At chancellors’ meetings for over 16 years, we thought Jim was quiet because he was keeping secrets. We eventually decided he just didn’t know what we were talking about.” Another gem: “The local radio station has a special weather report called Jim Helms weather – 72 and hazy.”

Margaret Stewart, who has worked with Helms for 40 years, first at East Central and then as Ivy Tech Southeast vice chancellor, recalled an ECHS incident. “Being in education, you have lots of show and tell,” she said, holding up a car door handle. She reminisced about the time Elton Linville was driving his Ford Fiesta, “a cross between a pumpkin and a Volkswagen. It was little and it was orange.” Helms was in the front passenger seat and Stewart, being most petite, was in the back seat.

Helms couldn’t get his door handle open. He “tried one more time and it came off in his hands. That isn’t the funny part ... You should have seen him coming out of that bucket seat, over the console and under the steering wheel to get out!”

According to Don Heiderman, retired Ivy Tech Southeast vice chancellor, “I met Jimmy when he was doing his student teaching for Hanover College.” Heiderman was then a Madison eighth-grader. Thinking about Helms as a teacher, he chuckled, “I’ll never forget the birds and bees day.” Turning serious, the speaker observed, “His career continues to soar. Hang in there, Big Dog. Have a good retirement. We love you.”

The master of ceremonies told Helms, “Your commitment over the years to Ivy Tech and its growth have set the bar high. You have distinguished yourself, your friends, colleagues, employer and state. We will be forever grateful to you.”

Gary Moeller, Batesville, the ITCC Southeast Region board chairman, pointed out the one-time Beef and Boards organist has been a teacher, basketball and baseball coach, athletic director, guidance counselor, principal, ITCC board member and regional board chair. “He knows education and always has … He was honing his communication (and networking) skills for this job as chancellor. He had to bring ideas to people, quickly and succinctly and clearly.”

Moeller said Helms built a successful college management team and expanded degree programs. “He was the only person to be able to build a relationship with IU to bring seven bachelor programs to our area.”

The chairman admitted, “We had a lot of false starts” trying to expand in Batesville. “Every time we had these setbacks,” the chancellor would forge ahead, insisting, “‘We need this.’”

Then Ivy Tech officials bought the Forethought building so the college site could grow. Moeller reflected the leader “couldn’t have done it this long if he didn’t love every minute of it. And I think he did.” He cited Helms for bringing this ITCC area “from its infancy to one of the very best regions … you’re one of my personal heroes.”

The honoree took the podium to detail a heap of thank-yous. He acknowledged his family: wife of 48 years Charlotte, an Oldenburg Academy grad; two sons, a daughter and “eight to 10” grandchildren. He was grateful to his Ivy Tech co-workers and asked Southeast employees retiring this year to stand. He also spoke about a local resident. “If Dave Raver hadn’t stepped up … he was really a kingpin in helping to raise the funds for the Batesville building.”

Of his 51-year educational career, Helms concluded, “It’s been fun.” Then he shared a new goal with the crowd: “I plan to be at happy hour at 100!”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

Scholarship honors couple • The newly-created Jim and Charlotte Helms Scholarship will benefit Ivy Tech students attending Batesville, Madison and Lawrenceburg campuses, announced Paula Heiderman, Ivy Tech Foundation Southeast Region executive director. United Community Bank Charitable Foundation, Lawrenceburg, a long-term college supporter, established an endowment for the scholarships and contributed $1,000. • Persons, businesses and organizations that want to donate to the scholarship fund may make tax-deductible checks earmarked that way payable to Ivy Tech Foundation Inc. and mail them to 590 Ivy Tech Drive, Madison, IN 47250; or give online at • A pledge also can be made over a three-year period. Contributors can be invoiced monthly, quarterly or annually. Info: 812-265-2580, Ext. 4145.