"Back Home Again in Indiana: Celebrating the Career of Curt Simic"

IU Foundation Board Dinner Honoring Curt Simic
Indiana University Auditorium
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
June 12, 2008

Introduction

Please join me in thanking Betsy and her accompanist Davis Hart for that wonderful performance.

I would like to begin with the words of Bill Boyd, President Emeritus of the University of Oregon. President Boyd once said, “Philanthropy and scholarship are, separately, among the most powerful influences shaping our future … together, their power to improve the human condition is unsurpassed.”1

It may be no surprise that this is among Curt’s favorite quotations. It highlights one of the unique features of the American system of higher education, a feature that has made this system of education the best in the world for many years. But the power of philanthropy is only half of the story. Another quote Curt loves offers the other half: “Everywhere we look, caring hands precede us.”

Indeed, Curt cares deeply about Indiana University. He cares about the people with whom he has worked at the IU Foundation for decades. He cares about the friends and supporters of Indiana University, with whom he has built relationships over the course of his career here. And he cares about the traditions of excellence and integrity that have been hallmarks of this institution for nearly two centuries.

Curt's Student Days

It may be difficult to imagine, but Curt began his life at Indiana University with a measure of trepidation. He once said, “There were only 21 others in my [high school] graduating class and I didn’t want to start college unprepared, with thousands of others. I was scared to go to school with that many other people.”2

Curt’s record as an IU student shows little evidence of that fear. He distinguished himself as Wright Quad Outstanding Senior, Dodds House Outstanding Senior, and President of the IU Student Foundation. Upon his graduation with a degree in Physical Education and English, Curt said, “I was prepared to be a phys-ed teacher and coach high school basketball in Indiana.”3 I think all of us can agree, we are happy he followed another career path.

One of Curt’s former professors George Cousins also imagined a different future for Curt. Of Curt Cousins said, “He’s got charisma, someone who draws people toward him.”4

Early Days with the Foundation

This may be what IU Foundation Executive Director Bill Armstrong saw in Curt when he hired him as his assistant in 1964, soon after Curt’s graduation. In his early years with the Foundation, Curt oversaw the School of Law Fund, the IU Student Foundation, the School of Dentistry Fund, Alumni Funds, and a number of other areas.

Graduate School in Fundraising

In 1971, Curt moved on to become Director of Development for the University of Tennessee Medical Units. Of this move, Curt explained, “It’s a chance for me to build a program from the ground up.”5 He continued somewhat presciently, “It doesn’t mean that I’ll never come back to I.U.”

Over the course of 17 years, Curt attended what he himself has termed “graduate school in fundraising.”6

From Tennessee, Curt moved on to become Director of Development for Yale University School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Medical Center in 1974. A year later, he moved on to the University of Alabama where he was named Assistant Vice President for Resource Development.7 In 1978, he became the first Vice President for University Relations at the University of Oregon, and in 1983, he was named the first Vice Chancellor for Development and President of the University of California Berkeley Foundation.

Richard Schleicher, Curt’s chief assistant at the Berkeley foundation and later director of development at UC Riverside, said of him, “He’s one of the tops in the nation, there’s no question about that. . . Since he joined us at Berkeley, he’s raised more money than anyone at this university has ever seen.” Schleicher continued, “[H]e mixes [his] competency and thoroughness with an ability to deal with people. He has an aura about him that he is at ease with anybody, from a king to a custodian.”8

Curt Returns to IU

In 1988, Curt returned to Indiana University as President of the IU Foundation, succeeding George Pinnell upon his retirement. Upon his return, Curt reflected on his travels around the country. He said, “In the back of my mind has always been Indiana, . . . . As you travel you realize people are different around the country. But, here, they’re always nice. People take the time to be kind to you.”9

Those years ago, Curt said somewhat prophetically, “[IU] is it—this is where I want to make a contribution for the next 20 years.”10

Achievements at the IU Foundation

That is exactly what he has done, but to say that Curt has made a contribution is a vast understatement. He has utterly transformed the IU Foundation into a fundraising machine for Indiana University. The year before he arrived, IU received approximately $37 million in gifts from approximately 60,000 donors. In all but one year since 2000, IU has received more than $100 million in gifts from more than 100,000 donors, and the annual total has been as high as $201 million. In fiscal 2008, gift totals are on target to surpass $120 million.

The endowment has grown from approximately $215 million to $1.7 billion. IU consistently ranks in the Top 15, among public universities in the U.S. in the market value of its endowment.

Awards and Honors

It is no surprise that Curt’s tireless efforts on behalf of Indiana University have been honored. He has received numerous awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education or CASE. He received the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion from President Ehrlich in 1994, the Herman B Wells Legacy Award from the IU Foundation in 1998, and the Distinguished Hoosier Award from Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon in 2001.

The University Medal

And tonight I am delighted that we will be adding to this list of awards.

On behalf of Indiana University, it is our great pleasure to recognize Curt Simic with one of the most prestigious and exclusive awards the University has to give. Created in 1982, this was first given to the legendary Thomas T. Solley upon his retirement as the director of the IU Art Museum, and has since been given only six other times. In each case, the recipient has transformed the face of the university through historic contributions or singular actions that exceed our expectations for excellence.

The form of this award, authorized by the Trustees, is an 18-karat gold medal known as the Indiana University Medal. Its face bears the Indiana University seal.

The Trustees have designated as a recipient of this award a person whose extraordinary achievement, visionary leadership, and unswerving commitment to the public good mark him as exceptional. I ask Trustee Ferguson to escort Curt to the podium.

In gratitude for his extraordinary service to the university over many decades, service that has literally changed the face of this university, on behalf of the Trustees of Indiana University and with their approval, I am pleased to name Curtis R. Simic the eighth recipient of the Indiana University Medal and to present him with the medal.

Please join us in congratulating him.

Conclusion

Thank you all for joining us this evening as we have honored the career and contributions of Curt Simic.

Throughout his career, he has shown a remarkable ability to build networks, to touch people personally, to inspire giving, and to lead. Perhaps more important, he has extended the hand of friendship to generations of IU alumni and friends, sharing his warmth and humanity. His contributions to Indiana University are incalculable.

Please join me once again in congratulating him on his remarkable career.

Source Notes

  1. Enduring Excellence Dinner [honoring endowed faculty members] at IUPUI, around 1989. Barbara Coffman at the IU Foundation is tracking the source.
  2. Yee, Edward J.  “Road Home Long for Foundation Leader.”Indiana Daily Student 8 July 1988:  p. 4.
  3. Yee, p. 4.
  4. Yee, p. 4.
  5. “Simic to Vacate Foundation Post.”  Indiana Daily Student 15 April 1971.
  6. Yee, p. 4.
  7. Yee,. 4.
  8. Alexander, Mark.  “New Foundation President Finally Returns to Alma mater.”Indiana Daily Student 11 April 1988:  p. 1.
  9. Yee, p. 4.
  10. Alexander, p. 1.