Betty Rice remembered as leader and servant


Photo courtesy of Tonja Pitzer Carrigg

From Left to Right: Donald Pitzer, Betty Rice, and David Rice attend the 2010 Communal Studies Association Conference in New Harmony.

Hayden Olberding, Digital Editor

Betty Rice, wife of late university president David L Rice, Jan. 26 in her Pennsylvania home, she was 90 years old.

Rice is remembered by numerous members of the university’s community, past and present who give testimony to her degree of commitment and dedication to the campus. She passed just over a year after her husband’s death on January 15, 2020.

“It’s evident that everyone talks about her service to the campus,” said President Ron Rochon. 

Rochon said he first met Betty Rice when he became provost in 2010. He said when he first became president of the university, he flew out to the Rice’s home and showed his appreciation for everything she did to help lay the foundation for the university.

He said Betty and David Rice created a productive, positive and engaging culture for all at the university.

“We continue to maintain that same kind of DNA, the same kind of concern for others,” Rochon said.

Sherrianne Standley, vice president emerita for advancement, said she got to work closely with Betty Rice as the assistant to the president. 

Standley said Rice was deeply involved with everything on campus, and, as a result, was thoroughly organized.

“She had spiral notebooks for everything,” Standley said. “You would also see her with a pencil behind her ear or stuck into her hair because she was having to keep track of details.”

Standley said Rice was a perfectionist and knew how things ought to be done, and if she didn’t, she knew somebody who did. She said Rice wanted everything to represent the university in the exact best way.

Stanley said Rice had a passion not only for representing the university but also for the visual fidelity of the campus.

Rice helped create the Bent Twig Outdoor Learning Environment with her involvement in the Westwood Garden Club. This area includes trails, an amphitheater, Virgil C. Eicher Barn and other buildings. Rice had experience with this, she owned Peckenpaugh’s Garden Center in Evansville.

Bent Twig Amphitheater and the westwood lodge in winter
Betty Rice helped with the creation on The Bent Twig Outdoor Learning Environment which included The Bent Twig Amphitheater and Westwood Lodge. (Josh Meredith )

 “She really pushed to get better landscaping done on campus,” Standley said. “Then we started to see more plantings up around the buildings, and that was really her influence.”

Sandy Hatfield worked at The University Home when it was first built, she originally was the housekeeper. As her relationship with Rice evolved she assisted in entertainment and events in the home. 

Hatfield said Betty Rice was a known multitasker. 

“She would work at that greenhouse and rush home when there was a group coming,” Hatfield said. “She would rush into the house and clean up her fingernails from the dirt she had from working in the greenhouse, change her clothes and go to the door and greet people as the first lady of the house.”

Hatfield said she organized a tour for Rice and her family of the new arena when David Rice passed away a year earlier. She said Rice was a big fan of it.

“She was thrilled that USI had come to a point where we had a facility such as we have,” Hatfield said. “Now, she was very pleased to see that growth.”

Carol Baker met Betty Rice through her involvement with the Girl Scouts. The two became close through involvement there and through The University Home. 

Baker said Rice would have the women’s basketball over to the university home a couple times a year. She said Rice enjoyed getting to know the girls and supporting them in fundraisers.

“Those were highlights of the year, when Betty did that,” Baker said. “The ladies basketball team enjoyed it, and Betty enjoyed it more.”

Chancellor Dugan was the head coach of the women’s basketball team in the 1990s. She got to take part in the time Betty Rice would spend with the team.
Dugan said the tradition started after some of the players asked Betty Rice if they could come over for dinner. She said the girls would thoroughly question David Rice when they came over.

“It was an awesome interaction,” Dugan said. “Between 18 to 21 year old, wide eyed, very impressionable young ladies and a great first lady.”

Dugan said Betty Rice had a wonderful impact on the community through her involvement, and Betty Rice would pass on her selfless work onto everyone who watched her.

“When you see someone of her stature, giving so freely of her time, that motivates you to do that and to emulate that,” Dugan said.

Donald Pitzer, emeritus professor of history, said Betty and David Rice never lost their sense of service, even into retirement

Pitzer recalled an event in 2010 when the Communal Studies Association met at the Granary in New Harmony.

“When I took the microphone and pointed out that the lady preparing the food and the gentleman carrying away the dirty dishes were Betty and David Rice, there was a collective gasp,” Pitzer said.

The people that surrounded Betty Rice recall her selfless character, kindness and intentions. Her passion for impacting people’s lives is evident with whomever she met.