by John Michael O'Leary
In 1987, Tim Mahoney, Instructor Emeritus of Economics, was a California-based consultant helping struggling businesses turn around. Fresh off an assignment in Indianapolis, he learned of an opportunity at USI through Dr. Ed Jones, Director of Continuing Education. Dr. David L. Rice, USI’s first president, was championing an effort, at the urging of Governor Robert Orr, to mend Evansville’s negative image in labor-management relations. The work needed a key person, and Mahoney was right for the challenge to replace picket lines and walkouts with handshakes and investments. He joined the faculty with a dual role:Labor Management Education Forum Coordinator and Instructor of Economics.
“I started by listening to people all over the community,” says Mahoney. “We created a labor-management education forum that fostered collaboration in 21 programs. We brought in people from labor and management at firms such as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. They told how they had worked together and what they had achieved. More than anything, I think hearing those real-life stories of cooperation is what helped “the light to come on” for people [at USI].”
Before he could take the first steps in his primary mission, Mahoney says a special opportunity surfaced. “We received a call from a representative of the Mont Pelerin Society, a distinguished group of thinkers, and they wanted to tour New Harmony, Indiana. I was charged with handling the arrangements. The day they visited, I hosted a lunch with Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman—what an honor!”
Like anyone who makes a major career move, Mahoney wondered if his decision to join USI would prove a good fit. He soon got his answer.
“I attended a gathering at the University Home to honor retiring faculty. I remember Dr. Rice showing me around, pointing out the wood paneling that was native to the region, the ceremonial mace used at commencement and several pieces that had been donated by friends of the University. Mrs. Betty Rice was scooping ice cream and, as I looked around the room, I saw among the guests individuals who worked in the University’s housekeeping department. That told me USI was inclusive. I knew I was in the right place.”
Mahoney joined USI in the school’s second year of independence (Indiana State University—Evansville until 1985). He says enrollment was 4,624. The map showed 14 southwest Indiana counties where state-supported higher education was not available, and Dr. Rice was determined to change that.
“Dr. Rice had a vision for creating opportunities,” says Mahoney. “He got everyone on board. He made you feel like you had an important role to play.” Mahoney’s own role gave him a birds-eye view of developments, such as the construction of buildings to welcome an ever-increasing stream of new students and faculty to the University. “When I was out in the community, I would often hear people remark about how USI is growing. The community shared in that pride.”
The addition of concrete, steel and glass on campus mirrored a boom in opportunities across the region, to which Mahoney often brought the University’s thinking. He worked with Dr. Rice and visionary philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen (1915-2010) in partnership to make the cultural richness of Historic New Harmony more accessible and appreciated. He joined Dr. Darryl Bigham, Professor Emeritus of History (deceased), in developing Historic Southern Indiana, spurring travel and tourism in the region.
Dr. Mohammed Khayum, Provost, characterizes Mahoney as an “epic problem solver” who has made amazing differences in the lives of USI students.
“Tim Mahoney holds a special place in the hearts of students,” says Khayum. “He is patient, compassionate—would never give up on someone who wasn’t making progress. I think it’s because he wants to see people become stronger and more capable of fending for themselves.”
These qualities are evident in Mahoney’s academic legacy. He was an early and determined advocate of Fresh Start, a program that gives students who dropped out a path to complete their degrees. In 2000, he worked with American Financial Services Association Education Foundation in Washington, DC, to develop Finance 101 for USI’s curriculum.
“The Money Skills course has helped more than 3,000 students better manage their personal finances,” says Mahoney. “For some, it also provides a life raft for keeping full-time status and financial aid.”
Feedback from students has led him to lay the groundwork for the next course, Finance 102 (Personal Investing). He has already written a course primer.
David Bower, Vice President for Development and President of the USI Foundation, has worked with Mahoney over the past 27 years on a variety of projects, including Campaign USI: Elevating Excellence. As a director of the foundation’s board and a campaign cabinet member, Mahoney played an important part in raising $57.1 million to benefit the school.
“Tim Mahoney is a consummate gentleman and true educator,” says Bower. “He’s probably best known on campus for advising students—he would go to great lengths to help them.”
“When I came to Evansville in 2010 as provost,” says President Ronald Rochon. “Tim welcomed and encouraged me in my new role.” “As I became acquainted with the community and our alumni throughout the region, I heard countless stories about the blessings of USI. Nearly every conversation circled back to the goodness of ‘Mr. Mahoney.’”
Bower says Mahoney is one of the faculty’s most generous donors. He recalls a largesse in one particular instance that illustrates Mahoney’s penchant for problem-solving.
“He noticed paved areas on campus were littered with gum and he wondered how they might be cleaned,” says Bower. “I investigated with our groundskeeping folks and learned of a special machine for that purpose, but it was expensive and not in the budget. When I told Tim, he wrote a check.”
President Rochon echoes Bower’s observation of Mahoney’s generous nature and adds a few more traits: brilliant, accessible, courageous, honest, encouraging and humble. “What I love most about Tim is his wonderful and never-ending smile. I am blessed to be a recipient of his mentorship, and I am honored to call him my friend.”
This recounting of Mahoney’s journey over the last 33 years is by no means exhaustive. Nor is it finished. He’s still at work, advising local organizations such as the Small Business Development Council and Habitat for Humanity. And you’ll still see him on campus, teaching Finance 101 and chatting with students.
“I made a good decision in 1987,” says Mahoney. “I appreciate the many opportunities the University has afforded me. It has been fulfilling to help improve the students’ learning experience and to be part of this area’s economic development. Recent [pandemic] events present real challenges, but USI’s continuing tradition of leadership is strong. I am optimistic.”
Tim Mahoney, Instructor Emeritus of Economics, enters the next chapter of life doing what he has always done—helping people solve problems and making the community around him a better place for everyone.