Phenomenal women say USI still feels like home | GALLERY

Bradie Gray


Betty Rice, a 50 Phenomenal Women honoree, made USI’s campus feel like home long before anyone else did.

Rice, the university’s original first lady, garnered a round of applause and a standing ovation upon receiving her award Thursday night, despite encouragement from the emcee’s for the audience to hold their applause until all recipients had received their awards.

“It’s all your fault,” President Linda Bennett joked to Rice in front of the audience.

“They used to clear all of the furniture out of their house, move it into the garage, open their house up, and who would cook? Betty,” Bennett said. “I tell people, ‘If you get more than eight people in my house, I’m going to call for help.’”

Bennet said the Rice’s opening their home to the USI community set a tone for the years that followed.

Fifty women, 10 from each decade since the university was founded, were honored for their achievements in advancing the university and the community during the 14th annual Phenomenal Women program.

“The buildings are beautiful and I’m awfully proud of them, but our university is about the people,” Bennett said to the crowd in Carter Hall. “That’s what we’re celebrating here tonight – women who have reached out to all sorts of people and have made them feel like this is their home.”

Rice said she did it because, for the first five years, there was no food service on campus.

But she continued to cook for people after she and David Rice, the university’s first president, moved to New Harmony following his retirement in 1994.

“Dave raised the money to restore the old granary there. so we had a catering service made of a group of home economics teachers who had retired. We had a lot of fun doing that,” she said.

Rice traveled with her daughter from Yorktown, Pennsylvania, where she now resides with David, to attend the event.

She lives in an apartment in the same building where her husband receives 24-hour nursing care.

“He comes to visit me everyday,” Rice said.

“I wanted to come to (the event), but I didn’t think I could come by myself, so my daughter came in one day with two airline tickets and said, ‘We’re going.’ She took two days off work.”

Rice said she didn’t expect to receive the award, let alone the applause and standing ovation.

She said there are a lot of people who helped her and David get the university up and running who deserved an award.

“If we hadn’t have had help from the community, we couldn’t have done it,” she said. “Everyone deserves it and there are more that should have had it. So many people have worked hard.”

Because of the Phenomenal Women program, Rice was able to make her first trip to the university since November.

She said she is disappointed she barely missed the opening of the new performance center, but said she plans to get a tour before she leaves.

“It feels good to be back. I wish I were always here,” she said.

Alumna Aurore Johnson said USI still makes her feel at home.

Johnson, sister of Phenomenal Women honoree Harolyn Torain, walked around campus with Torain before the ceremony to see how much campus has changed since they graduated.

Both sisters traveled from Indianapolis to attend.

“There are so many more buildings – beautiful buildings. Just the look of the campus is different. The grounds are very well-kept and everything is nice,” Johnson said.

She said students on campus gravitated towards her and her sister during their visit.

“The students are wonderful. We just met kids and they gave us a tour. We didn’t even ask for a tour, we were just talking to them and they were happy to take us around,” she said.

Torain, who graduated in 1971, was the first alumna and African American to chair the USI Board of Trustees.

“(Torain) deserves it, she definitely deserves it,” Johnson said. “She has worked for years in education and always wants to help students, so I think this is just a wonderful award for her.”