New Foundation Education Endowment Honors Former Crothersville Pastor

Educational attainment in the area lagged the state and nation. Employers – those here and others considering a move to Jackson County – demanded a better educated workforce.
Here and there, large community foundations across the nation incubated and hatched big ideas that produced big, impactful results in their communities.
Seeing those local needs and the work of those larger foundations elsewhere, former Crothersville resident Bud Walther, who was then president of the Community Foundation of Jackson County, launched efforts to bring local folks together back in 2008, producing a big, bold goal to improve the educational attainment of local residents and provide important, needed training for local workers.
That in a nutshell is how the Jackson County Learning Center came to open its doors 10 years ago in 2010. That and a lot of work, a lot of sweat and a few sleepless nights as the finances, support and construction all came about – and together.
To honor Walther’s commitment and drive that helped shape, create and open the learning center on DuPont Drive, the Community Foundation of Jackson County recently established the C.W. “Bud” Walther Learning Center Endowment. The fund will provide a grant for operating costs at the center and matching dollars are available to help grow the fund’s impact.
Walther, a former pastor at Immanuel United Church of Christ in Crothersville, was surprised by the endowment established in his name.
“I am humbled and honored that this fund would be created,” said Walther, who now lives in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. “This project was very personal, and I am humbled to be honored for that dedication.”
“Walther will be the first to tell you he wasn’t alone in the efforts to make his big dream a reality,” said Foundation President & CEO Dan Davis. “Bud points to Seymour attorney Tom Lantz, who was then chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, accompanying him to a national convention in Boston that yielded the nugget of thinking and leading like large foundations. He points to the help of Bill Bailey, a former mayor who was then the president of the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce. He thinks about Jim Plump and the Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.”
And countless others, as well, including financial leaders from around Jackson County who stepped up and helped provide loans to ensure the center would be built; then-mayor Craig Luedeman, members of the Seymour Common Council and Seymour Redevelopment Commission; and higher education providers such as Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University Purdue University Columbus who would offer classes at the center.
“There was only limited post-secondary education going on in Jackson County then, using space in churches and elementary schools around town. This was all pulled together in a loose fashion by a state organization funded by the state and Lilly Endowment Inc., but really it was a pretty weak effort,” Walther recalls.
“It was clear that the hopping around of classes was not really helping students achieve any goals,” he added. “So the Community Foundation, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Seymour Community Schools and a few other cats and dogs were talking about what might be done,” Walther said. “The idea of a learning center to pull together the post-secondary needs of the county was attractive but well beyond the resources of Jackson County at the time.”
Ivy Tech and IUPUC were invited into the conversation.
At the end of the day, IUPUC was interested in providing courses and programs that were feeders for their undergraduate programs. However, they were supportive of Jackson County issues.
Ivy Tech indicated it was interested in building a facility in Seymour and had gone so far as to talk to several contractors. However, a Jackson County facility needed to compete with Ivy Tech regional and state priorities for state funding. Ivy Tech could not project a timeframe for a facility.
“We concluded that we needed to work to solve our issues ourselves, and the group began to coalesce around the Foundation, JCIDC, the Chamber of Commerce, the city of Seymour, Ivy Tech, IUPUC, Seymour schools, Crothersville schools, Brownstown schools and Medora schools,” Walther said. “The JCIDC and the city of Seymour were very committed because industry, both those in Jackson County and those potentially moving to Jackson County, were pushing them about education opportunities in Seymour.”
It was determined then that the group would move forward to purchase or build a post-secondary facility.
“We had no idea what that would mean, but we were committed to post-secondary education in the county,” Walther said.
After much research, and financial assistance from Cummins Inc., the group decided to establish the Jackson County Education Coalition, which is a supporting organization of the Foundation. Up to that point a clear understanding of the need for post-secondary education and advanced manufacturing education drove the group and the project.
The next part became the hard part. Where was the money going to come from? It also accounts for those sleepless nights for Walther.
“We invited all the banks represented in the county to a meeting at the Foundation’s conference center,” he said. “We laid out the need, focusing on how the Learning Center would impact the growth of the county. We showed them a drawing of what the Learning Center was going to look like.
“We asked them to invest in the Learning Center through short-term loans to the Education Coalition,” he added. “We specified the terms of the loans and the interest rates. The Foundation specified that it was going to invest in the Learning Center construction and the Foundation was going to be the first in-last out investor. Our money went into the pot first and the Foundation would be paid after all other investors were satisfied.”
But all the investors were paid off, including the Foundation.
Several Jackson County contractors submitted bids and designs, and Royalty Companies of Seymour was selected to build the center, leading to the October 2010 opening of the Jackson County Learning Center. The facility has since provided secondary education classes, training sessions and certification programs. Thousands of students and employees from all across Jackson County and elsewhere have benefited from the programming offered.
Financial support from education providers such as Ivy Tech and IUPUC and rental fees from companies such as Lannett, the Kroger Co. and others help fund current operating costs at the center, as do grants from the Seymour Redevelopment Commission and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and County Council along with in-kind services provided by Seymour Community Schools, which houses its alternative high school program at the learning center.
If you or your organization would like to contribute to the fund and support the Learning Center, the Foundation is making match dollars available. For every dollar donated to the fund, the Foundation will match that gift up to a total of $30,000. You can contact Davis at 812-523-4483 to discuss a gift to the fund.