Bestowed with an honorary Doctor of Laws in December, Dick Emens continues to honor his father’s Ball State legacy through the Emens Leadership Scholarship program.
As he stood upon the Worthen Arena stage in December, receiving his honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Ball State University’s Fall Commencement ceremony, Dick Emens was taken back more than 77 years to some of his most cherished memories.
Mr. Emens was just a young boy in 1945 when his father, John R. Emens, began his historic run as the sixth president of Ball State University. Early in President Emens’ tenure, he provided his children with an example in leadership they wouldn’t forget.
Dick recalls how his father and mother, Aline, invested themselves into developing personal relationships with every faculty member and spouse on campus. Frequently the Emens home would be packed with visitors enjoying a home-cooked meal or Sunday tea.
“My brother and I were used to a lot of people in the house, but we also understood it was part of our dad’s vision to grow the institution,” Dick Emens said. “He truly understood the value of relationship building to just about anything you want to accomplish.”
From 1945 to 1968, President Emens presided over one of the greatest periods of growth in the University’s history. Over that 23-year run, student enrollment at Ball State increased from just more than 1,000 to 13,000, the institution earned university status from the Indiana General Assembly, and, under President Emens’ guidance, Ball State developed and executed its first long-range campus plan.
President Emens retired in 1968; he passed away eight years later. Today, one of Ball State’s most recognized landmarks, Emens Auditorium, bears his name.
Upon his father’s passing, Dick Emens was so touched by President Emens’ legacy that he decided to create a leadership scholarship in his memory to bring some of the best and brightest high school students to Ball State.
Today, the Emens Leadership Scholarship has grown to 15 awards annually, with some 679 applicants in 2022. More than $1 million was raised in the latest fundraising drive that consisted of 165 donors, 25 new endowed funds, and an important matching component from the George and Frances Ball Foundation.
To date, 300 Emens Scholars have graced the Ball State campus. The program has also been widely acknowledged as a strong recruiting tool for the University.
“It’s amazing when you consider that over half of those who don’t receive the scholarship come here anyway because of the exposure to Ball State they received during the application process,” said Dr. John Emert, dean of Honors College and professor of Mathematical Sciences. Dr. Emert has chaired the 10-member Emens Leadership Scholarship committee since 2017.
Michele Musson, ’06 MBA ’07, said she “wasn’t at the very top of my high school class or the valedictorian like many of our winners,” but was grateful that the Emens Scholars selection committee instead emphasized
her leadership efforts in high school and community involvement.
The Emens Leadership Scholarship would propel Ms. Musson into academic success at Ball State, and, eventually, a fulfilling career as pharmaceutical marketing director at Eli Lilly and Company. And, like many former Emens Scholars, she created her own fund—the Musson Family Scholarship—to benefit the Emens Leadership Scholarship program; she is also honored to serve on the scholarship’s selection committee with Mr. Emens.
“Dick himself reads every essay from every applicant,” Ms. Musson said. “He takes a personal interest in all of them, whether or not they win a scholarship. He is very honored that these outstanding kids apply for an award that bears his father’s name.”
Dick Emens wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every person that is an Emens Leadership Scholar is a part of our extended family always,” Mr. Emens said. “We keep up on their progress, and it’s such a great source of pride to see their successes. The monetary awards are certainly important, but being an Emens Scholar goes way beyond that. And that’s the way Dad would have wanted it.”