By Lindsey Ziliak For the Pharos-Tribune
---- — KOKOMO — Students in Christopher Darr’s speech class at Indiana University Kokomo have been trying for years to persuade him that the campus needs a fitness center.
He knows more about the benefits of exercise than he ever wanted to, he said with a chuckle Wednesday.
At long last, though, that oh-so-popular speech topic can be laid to rest, Darr said. Students can move on to other important issues like finding Bigfoot or solving the second most pressing issue — on-campus parking, he said.
After years of passionate debate, those students’ dreams have become a reality.
On Wednesday, the university officially dedicated the Milt and Jean Cole Family Wellness and Fitness Center, the new 20,500-square-foot gym funded by a $1.25 million gift from Logansport philanthropists Milt and Jean Cole.
More than 200 students, faculty members, administrators and trustees honored the couple during an hour-long ceremony in Kresge Auditorium. It was complete with performances by the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Jazz Ensemble and remarks from IU President Michael McRobbie.
Jean Cole said she could hardly believe so many people came to thank them for the gift.
“That’s very touching,” she said.
For her, though, the donation was a life lesson in giving back that she can pass on to her children and grandchildren.
That response comes as no surprise to IU Kokomo Interim Chancellor Sue Sciame-Giesecke.
“In the many years that I have known Milt Cole and his family, I have always been struck by their positive attitude and their humble sense of giving back,” she said. “They make you feel important from the first time you meet them; it is about you, not about them.”
To know them is to know generosity and humility, she said.
That generosity didn’t start with the fitness center donation. Their previous gifts have sustained the university’s library campaign, the Kresge Science Initiative, the Cole Family Scholarships and the Cole Community Room, she said.
But the wellness center will bring something special to campus.
McRobbie said it will be a valuable resource for students and faculty. And the project reflects IU’s ongoing commitment to addressing critical public health issues facing Indiana.
Indiana has the seventh highest smoking rate and is the eighth most obese state in the nation, he said.
“These very poor measures have a human cost in lives cut short and families devastated by loss,” he said. “They also have an economic cost in lost productivity and spiraling health care costs. Employers also are increasingly looking at public health measures in states when considering where to locate. A healthier community means lower health care costs for both employers and employees.”
As the health of the state continues to decline, there’s a sense of urgency to address the underlying problems, McRobbie said. IU Kokomo’s wellness center is a step in the right direction.
“The splendid facility we dedicate … is part of a broader response by Indiana University to help meet the serious public health challenges facing the state,” he said.
Others Wednesday talked about the excitement and sense of community the fitness center has fostered on campus.
The ability to work out, take a shower and go upstairs for a full day of classes seems like such a small thing for the campus and its students, IU Kokomo nursing major Brian Arwood said.
“In retrospect, it was enormous,” he said. “I realized what had just become possible for our campus. We have a sense now that this is our IUK.”
Milt Cole said he knew the fitness center was worth investing in. He encouraged others Wednesday to donate to the university.
“I do believe this center has created excitement here in Kokomo,” he said. “It has elevated the positive energy. The iron is hot, it’s time to strike. I encourage everyone to get behind the movement. It’s a golden opportunity to get something done in Kokomo.”