VU Board of Trustees approves Red Skelton Museum expansion, swears in new Trustee

VU Board of Trustees approves Red Skelton Museum expansion, swears in new Trustee

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August 24, 2023

An artist rendering of Red Skelton museum expansion.

JASPER, Ind. - The Vincennes University Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Aug. 23, voted to accept a generous gift commitment of $4 million from Lothian Skelton, the widow of famous comedian and beloved Vincennes native Red Skelton. The donation will fund an expansion of the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy located in the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center on the Vincennes Campus.

The VU Board of Trustees Finance and Revenue Committee recommended approval of the gift and the 7,200-square-foot expansion. The full board then voted to approve the donation from Lothian Skelton during the meeting at the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Manufacturing on the VU Jasper Campus. The proposed addition will feature gallery and event space. It will give the museum additional space to showcase Red Skelton’s artwork. The addition will also include a serving kitchen and more room for archives. A ceremonial groundbreaking is slated tentatively for October.

“We are profoundly grateful to Mrs. Lothian Skelton for her generous gift,” VU President Dr. Chuck Johnson said. “This will be a very nice addition to the University’s facilities as well as a nice addition for the community, and it is a great way to further celebrate Red Skelton and expand on the museum’s collections and display areas.”

In additional business, President Johnson introduced Special Assistant to the President for Enrollment Management Gary Swegan to the Board. Swegan brings a tremendous background to VU. He has more than 30 years of admissions and enrollment management experience and retired as associate vice president of enrollment management at Youngstown State University in Ohio in 2019.

A highlight of Swegan’s presentation to the Board was an optimistic outlook on student enrollment at VU. Distance Education enrollment and enrollment at the Aviation Technology Center and American Sign Language campuses in Indianapolis were higher in the first week of Fall Semester 2023 than last fall.

“Measuring from covid forward, we are starting to see a rebound,” Swegan said.

The Board also heard stellar enrollment news from VU Jasper Assistant Vice President and Dean Christian Blome. VUJ’s Career Advancement Partnership (CAP) program, an impressive workforce development initiative with local manufacturing companies, has a record number of students enrolled.

This fall semester's enrollment of 46 students is the largest number in program history, according to Blome. Students in the CAP program learn high-demand technical maintenance skills with paid internships while enrolled at VU Jasper as full-time students earning associate degrees.

The Board also heard presentations by Vice President for Government and Legal Affairs Tony Hahn, Business and Industry Manager John Tooley, and Director of Assessment Matt Groneman.

Cochren, right, is sworn in by University attorney Brent Stuckey
Cochren, right, is sworn in by University attorney Brent Stuckey.

The meeting began with new Trustee and South Knox School Corporation Superintendent Jeff Cochren’s swearing-in ceremony. Cochren replaces former South Knox superintendent Tim Grove on the Board.

“On behalf of all the trustees and Vincennes University, it is with great enthusiasm that we welcome Trustee Jeff Cochren to the Board,” VU Board of Trustees Chairman John Stachura said. “His dedication and remarkable accomplishments as an educator reflect our shared commitment to fostering academic excellence, nurturing innovation, and empowering the next generation of leaders. The Board is confident he will play a pivotal role in advancing Vincennes University’s mission and will leave an excellent mark on the Board and University.”

Cochren was named the superintendent of South Knox schools in June. He previously served as principal and assistant principal of Heritage Hills High School. Before those positions, Cochren was an assistant principal and athletic director at Eastern Greene High School. He also served as a business teacher and varsity girls' basketball coach for Mount Vernon High School. He was employed in the corporate world as a safety and environmental manager early in his career. He earned an education specialist degree from Indiana State University. Cochren earned a master's degree in Teaching and a bachelor's degree in Business Education from Oakland City University. Cochren serves on multiple boards and associations, including the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. He has been married to his wife, Kathy, for 36 years. The couple has three daughters and three grandsons. Cochren comes from a family of educators. His late father, Dr. Dick Cochren, was a superintendent for multiple school corporations, including Southwest Dubois County.

"I extend my appreciation to Vincennes University and the esteemed members of the Board of Trustees for entrusting me with the opportunity to serve and contribute,” Jeff Cochren said. “Your dedication to shaping the future of education is inspiring, and I'm honored to be part of this exceptional Board. Thank you for this privilege."

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