VINCENNES – Thirty-three years to the day after Dr. Phillip M. Summers was inaugurated VU’s 18th President in 1980, he was laid to rest Thursday in Vincennes. Hundreds attended his funeral in VU’s Red Skelton Performing Arts Center—a building he championed during his 21-year presidency.
Tributes to Summers were presented by his three daughters, co-workers, and leaders from the Disciples of Christ Church and Summers’ fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi. More than 60 members of the Indiana University Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi sang a tribute to Summers, “The Brotherhood Song”, composed by Summers.
“In a world sometimes awash in cynicism, celebrity, narcissism and other things of fleeting impermanence—really all fool’s gold—Phil brought real value to the lives of those fortunate enough to call him friend and brother,” said Mark Timmes, CEO of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. After reciting a long list of leadership roles Summers performed for the fraternity, including many awards he received, Timmes said, “For Phil it was never about this. It was about the student experience and positively impacting young men’s lives. It was therefore fitting that our fraternity now calls our Student of the Year award the Phillip M. Summers Student of the Year.”
Rev. Rick J. Grant, senior minister of First Christian Church, told several stories of working with Summers for the past six years, most recently his volunteering to pass out backpacks to 600 children in August.
“For those children, it was a big thing and so it was a big thing for Dr.
Summers,” Grant said.
Several speakers praised Summers’ faith life and service to his church.
“His faith meant staying focused. Keep the big things the big things. His way of seeing the big picture moved mountains of doubt. Staying faithful was not optional for him. Being true to the cause required giving whatever it took to get the job done,” Grant said.
Daughter Pam Gardner, professor of Nursing at VU, said that among the many lessons she learned from her father, the one that remembers the best was when he asked her, “Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution.”
Gazella Summit, who worked in several capacities for Summers, said that he was an “encourager who worked at making individuals feel at ease. He would come from around the desk and sit in a chair facing the faculty member, student, administrator or visitor and he truly listened because he cared.”
Emphasizing the value he placed on education, Summitt said that Summers had encouraged her to first complete her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s degree. “I told him I would be 50 years old by then but he just smiled and answered softly, but you will be an educated 50,” Summitt said.
She followed his advice and became Director of Human Resources for VU.
Summers longtime friend and colleague, C. James McCormick, who worked with Summers as a member of the VU Board of Trustees and Red Skelton Museum Foundation, concluded the funeral with an announcement that Lothian Skelton, the widow of Red Skelton, made a $50,000 donation this week to the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy at VU, in honor of Summers.
“Lothian thought the world of Dr. Summers. I can say in all honesty that she loved him for who he was and what he stood for. When she found out he died, she immediately called me and was in tears. Late Tuesday evening she called me, again almost in tears, and she said she wanted to do something for the Red Skelton Museum in honor of Dr. Summers. She said she is donating $50,000 in honor of Dr. Summers,” McCormick said to applause of the audience.
Following his retirement as VU’s President in 2001, Summers 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, the 100th anniversary of Skelton’s birth in Vincennes.
Summers was born in Washington, Indiana, on August 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.
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. The founder of the Miss VU Scholarship Program, for many years he served as the Miss Indiana Pageant Scholarship Chairman. 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 52 years, Pat, and children Lynn Brauns and husband Kevin of Indianapolis, Pam Gardner and husband David of Vincennes, Angela McHale and husband Ed of Tampa, Florida, grandsons (Daniel Stryzinski, Eric Stryzinski, Phillip Brauns and Mitchell Brauns), brother Bill Summers and wife Bev of Washington, nephew Wes Summers and niece Cindy Mason and husband Jeff.
Contributions may be made to the First Christian Church, Red Skelton
Museum, Vincennes University Foundation, Knox County Community Foundation, or Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity.