Indiana State’s first ladies make just as big a mark on campus as their husbands — whether it’s with lemonade and cookies or connecting key groups in the community.
Each time Indiana State University hands over the reins to a new president, it also gains another important member of the university — the first lady. Just as their husbands have contributed to the university in different ways, each first lady has left her own mark on Indiana State.
Phyllis Landini supported her husband when he declared the first Donaghy Day in 1976. The day is now a strong tradition at Indiana State, drawing nearly 1,800 students this year. Nancy Moore formed relationships with the university’s first President’s Scholars after her husband established the scholarship program, all the while working as a counselor in Vigo County’s public school system. Prior to her husband’s appointment as president, Ruth Tirey served as the director of Indiana State’s choral groups for six years.
Upon arriving in Terre Haute, Wieke van der Weijden Benjamin used her previous experiences to make connections between the campus, the city and its government. She traveled with her husband, President Lloyd Benjamin, on every international trip, oftentimes stopping at her house for only one night to do the laundry and repack her suitcase.
Current first lady Cheri Bradley devotes much of her time toward the students of campus, handing out lemonade and cookies on the first day of school and cooking dinner for students at the Condit House once a semester. She also created the Women of ISU in 2008, which creates networking opportunities for women associated with the university and raises scholarship money for nontraditional students.
Their stories, experiences and contributions to the university are as unique as the first ladies themselves. However, there is one tie that binds them all — their pride in Indiana State, its faculty and perhaps most importantly, its students.
“We all have to find within ourselves what the bigger purpose and vision is,” Bradley said. “When young people come here to take their first trip around campus and get to know people, they feel that continuity. They feel that we are all speaking the same language. We all want what is best for the students.”
Being the first lady is no small task. Bradley admitted that Indiana State activities take up “about 80 percent” of her time, the rest which she fills with PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization), book clubs and serving on the Art Spaces board. Moore sometimes put in a full day at school before going to university-related events at night. Meanwhile, Benjamin described her role as first lady as a “partnership” with her husband.
“Many started to call it two for the price of one,” Benjamin said. “It was based on the Clintons, who are actually old friends of ours (from Little Rock, Ark.). People here knew that, so they joked we were like the Clintons — two for the price of one.”
For Benjamin, it was a natural fit to assume a commanding role on campus. Having served as the executive director of the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission, she saw the need for growth in Terre Haute’s arts community and knew she could offer her expertise. Her work on campus and the community eventually led her husband to create what is now known as the Center for Community Engagement.
“The work you do (as a first lady) is tremendous,” Benjamin said. “I moved immediately toward participation in the community. I joined all of the boards — the Swope, the Terre Haute Symphony, Arts Illiana, the children’s choir and many other civic boards. I became heavily involved.”
Moore also participated in the community’s the public education sector. She served worked as a counselor at Crawford and Farrington elementary schools, as well as at the juvenile detention center. Although she assumed the title of first lady when her husband John Moore was named the ninth president of Indiana State, her primary focus remained on education.
“I never took time off from work to do ISU things,” she said.
Nonetheless, Moore also fulfilled her first lady duties, entertaining people at her family’s house and building connections with people on campus.
“I loved anything that had to do with the students, especially those speaking about their experiences and backgrounds,” she said. “I always loved that about ISU. There were so many kids with a variety of backgrounds and a story to tell.”
One group of students she grew particularly close to was the president’s scholar recipients — a program her husband began during his tenure.
“I remember one time the (president’s scholars) TP’ed our house royally,” Moore recalled with a laugh. “It was the most intricate toilet papering I’ve ever seen with little scallops and whatnot. You could tell a lot of girls were involved.”
Bradley, a retired educator, also finds herself drawn to the students. On the first day of school every year, she sets up her Charlie Brown-style lemonade stand in front of Condit House with the goal of meeting freshmen and welcoming back returning students.
“The lemonade stand was my idea, and it was an ‘ah-hah’ moment before we got here,” Bradley said. “It’s become an institution in itself. I’m the lemonade lady of the state here!”
Both Cheri and her husband, President Dan Bradley, emphasize student growth, not just in the number of students attending the university, but also personal growth.
“I see students coming in as excited, bright-eyed freshmen,” Bradley said. “Then I see four years later that they have turned into young adults. There is this four-year transformation that is so remarkable to watch. Every graduation I say, ‘Oh yeah, now the world is definitely a better place.’”
They come to Indiana State with different goals and leave with distinct legacies. Yet all first ladies share something in common with one another — an appreciation for their time at the university and a hope for continued success.
“Anyone who does this job wants to leave the university in a better place,” Bradley said. “And I think that at the end of our tenure, Dan and I will feel like we have left the university in a good place continuing to move forward. Our heart will always be a part of this university.”