VINCENNES, Ind. - Vincennes University President Dick Helton issued this statement Monday about the death of Dr. Phillip M. Summers on Sept. 29.
“Phil Summers was one of the great leaders in Indiana higher education. He served VU with great distinction for 21 years as president, from 1980 to 2001 - a period of tremendous campus expansion and modernization at the Vincennes and Jasper campuses as well as the development of the Aviation Technology Center in Indianapolis. His presidency also included the extension of University programs statewide and throughout the world through VU’s Military Education Program. Beginning in 1965 he served VU in multiple administrative capacities and he always enjoyed teaching psychology, including throughout his presidency; a role that he expanded upon his retirement as president in 2001 when he began also teaching at Indiana University. His legacy will live on in the students he served, through VU’s Phillip M. Summers Center where he taught, and through his leadership in the development of the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center, conceived during his presidency, and the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy, which opened July 18, thanks in large measure to his tireless leadership. On a personal note, Phil was a friend and colleague who I looked to for wise counsel during my presidency. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.”
Phillip M. Summers was born in Washington on Aug. 23, 1939. He attended Vincennes University, completed B.S. and M.S. degrees at Indiana University, and earned a Ph.D. in Guidance and Psychological Services at Indiana State University in 1974.
He began his career in education as a teacher and guidance counselor at Springs Valley High School in French Lick in 1960 and also served as director of Guidance at Brazil City Schools.
Summers returned to VU in 1965 as director of Financial Aid and Student Activities. He served in a variety of VU administrative positions, including Dean of Students, Director of Student Services, and Director of Community Services, while also serving as a professor of Psychology.
On July 1, 1980, Summers became VU’s 18th President, beginning a 21-year era of $75 million in campus construction and expansions in Vincennes and Jasper, the development of the Aviation Technology Center at the Indianapolis International Airport, and the extension of University programs throughout the state and, through the Military Education Program, throughout the world.
Under his leadership the University initiated several other outreach services including statewide business and industry services, college courses for high school students, distance education, and Internet courses.
The VU Board of Trustees named the Phillip M. Summers Center in honor of his dedication and leadership as the 18th VU President. It is the building where he had long taught psychology. Summers’ presidency culminated in
2001 with the celebration of VU’s Bicentennial, including the construction of a replica of Jefferson Academy, VU’s first building, located today at the Indiana Territory State Historic Site. Summers was named President Emeritus in July 2001.
Following his retirement as VU’s President, he continued to teach psychology at both VU and Indiana University, and he served as chair of the Red Skelton Museum Foundation Board that successfully opened the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy on July 18, 2013, the 100th anniversary of Skelton’s birth in Vincennes.
Summers is the recipient of VU’s Blue and Gold Cord Award, Walter A. Davis Citation, and the Presidents’ Award. Summers also was named Sagamore of the Wabash by three Indiana Governors and received Distinguished Alumni awards from both Indiana University and Indiana State University. In 2003 he received the IU Student Choice Award for Outstanding Professor.
Other awards included Civitan’s Citizen of the Year award, Kiwanis President’s Award for Distinguished Spiritual Community Service, the Fourth of July Spirit of ‘76 award, and 1986 Indiana Vocational Association’s Outstanding Vocational Administrator award.
Summers was a past chair of the board of trustees of the Christian Theological Seminary and had served on the board of St. Mary of the Woods College. He served on the regional and international boards of the Disciples of Christ Church, including extensive service to First Christian Church in Vincennes. He also was a long-time member of the Indiana Vocational Awards for Excellence Committee.
During his career he also served on multiple boards including the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Conference of Higher Education, Indiana Business Modernization and Technology Corporation, Vincennes YMCA, and Knox County Development Corporation. Most recently, he chaired the Red Skelton Museum Foundation Board.
He was also past national president of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, the Executive Committee of the Council of North Central Two-Year Colleges, and of Training and Education Data Services. Through the years Summers served Knox County as president of the United Way, Heart Association, Chamber of Commerce, and Community Foundation.
Summers is survived by his wife of 53 years, Pat Summers, three daughters—Lynn, Pam, and Angela—and four grandsons.