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Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Changes at IPFW causing music benefactor to rethink large pledge

Julie Rhinehart Waterfield said she may withhold further financial support for IPFW's Rhinehart Music Center, which was named after her parents, John and Ruth Rhinehart, because reorganization would put Purdue University in charge of the music school and the family's gift was intended to support degrees from Indiana University, from which Ruth graduated in 1943. The images of John and Ruth Rhinehart are carved into the wall behind her. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Julie Rhinehart Waterfield said she may withhold further financial support for IPFW's Rhinehart Music Center, which was named after her parents, John and Ruth Rhinehart, because reorganization would put Purdue University in charge of the music school and the family's gift was intended to support degrees from Indiana University, from which Ruth graduated in 1943. The images of John and Ruth Rhinehart are carved into the wall behind her. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Ruth Rhinehart died in 2008, but not before pledging millions of dollars to IPFW's Rhinehart Music Center. Much of it has not yet been paid — and may not be. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Ruth Rhinehart died in 2008, but not before pledging millions of dollars to IPFW's Rhinehart Music Center. Much of it has not yet been paid — and may not be. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 16, 2017 12:01 am

 IPFW removed the Willis family's name from the bridge linking the campus to student housing on the other side of Crescent Avenue two years ago after businessman Don Willis failed to make good on a $3 million pledge. Now, thanks to the a controversial plan to restructure the campus, a similar thing may happen in reverse to the building named the Rhinehart Music Center — at least for now.

"My family made a pledge on the basis of (IPFW offering) four-year Indiana University (music) degrees. The donors' wishes were not honored, and I'm struggling. We want to honor our parents and I want it to work out, but don't know how to do it," said Julie Rhinehart Waterfield, whose late mother, Ruth, was a major contributor to the $25 million, 75,000-square-foot music center dedicated in 2007. Ruth Rhinehart died in 2008 at the age of 88; her husband, John, died in 1999.

Under the reorganization plan proposed by the Legislative Services Agency and endorsed by Indiana and Purdue Universities, IPFW's music school will come under the umbrella of Purdue  — a fine university to be sure, but hardly known for music. And even if it were, Ruth Rhinehart had ties to Bloomington, not West Lafayette, having graduated from IU in 1943. And so Julie, the oldest of the couple's four children, said she will take a "wait and see" approach before making additional payments on her family's pledge. Millions of dollars could hang in the balance.

"(IPFW) never reached out to me or sought my opinion (regarding the change)," Rhinehart Waterfield said. "Our understanding won't be fulfilled, and  funding will depend on the quality (of the music program moving forward). We want to be good stewards of our parents' wishes."

Both her parents valued education and loved music, she said, and as The News-Sentinel reported in 2005, Ruth Rhinehart was teaching piano to fellow neighborhood children by the age of 11, taught music in the Fort Wayne Community Schools for 20 years and was still playing piano well into her 80s. John Rhinehart was founder of Rhinehart Development Corp., a Spencerville metal-stamping company. Ruth was so involved in the IPFW project she even made suggestions about its design.

 "I recognize the need for progress, growth and change, but I'm concerned with the way we're making decisions that are exciting in their newness but don't honor our roots," Rhinehart Waterfield said. "But at what price do we go ahead with something that takes over the atmosphere?"

Not only will IPFW become a branch of Purdue University without sufficient input, she said, but other recent decisions have shown a similar lack of respect for the public. Indiana Tech and the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department announced plans for dramatic changes to Memorial Park without first seeking feedback, then retreated in the face of stiff opposition. And City Council last week agreed to rezone 6.5 acres on West Jefferson Boulevard for commercial use despite unanimous opposition from the Plan Commission and many neighbors.

"When I see the way things come down, I don't always see the care and thought things deserve," Rhinehart Waterfield said. "And I'm not the only one. But it's not too late. I want to do the right thing (at IPFW). But what is the right thing?"

Whatever one thinks of the changes at IPFW, the school cannot afford to alienate the public on which it depends for both students and financial support. Ron Turpin, chairman of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., made that point in a letter published in The News-Sentinel last year: "We have been blessed to receive millions of dollars in private support for our campus . . . The Ron Venderly Family Bridge, Steel Dynamics Keith E. Busse IPFW Alumni Center, Walter Helmke Library, John and Ruth Rhinehart Music Center and Ernest E. Williams Theatre . . . Many of IPFW's outstanding, iconic campus structures exist thanks to the commitment of these lead donors and many thousands of others.

"With all these examples of private giving to IPFW and its role in giving back to us, I am concerned about our future. The IPFW brand is a strong one, and one that many donors recognize. If we break that brand in two, what impact will that have on our fundraising efforts?"

It may well be that new donors will emerge who like the changes to come. But isn't that just Rhinehart Waterfield's point? Change may be inevitable and even beneficial, but must it also  require us to break faith with the past — or each other?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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