Topics: Administrative, Miller College of Business, Alumni, College of Communication Information and Media

January 25, 2008

An acclaimed journalist and an Indiana business executive responsible for directing the multibillion-dollar Vectren Corp. will be recognized with honorary degrees from Ball State University during its annual spring commencement exercises on May 3.

At its regularly scheduled Jan. 25 meeting on campus, the Ball State Board of Trustees unanimously approved granting honorary doctorates to former ABC network newsman Steve Bell and Vectren Corp. chairman Niel C. Ellerbrook.

The board members also approved a new slate of officers: Thomas L. DeWeese, president; Frank A. Bracken, vice president; Hollis E. Hughes Jr., secretary; and Richard Hall, assistant secretary. The board members also approved a citation expressing thanks to one of their former colleagues, Indianapolis attorney Greg S. Fehribach, for his dedicated service on the board from 2004 until 2007.

For 20 years beginning in the late 1960s, Steve Bell helped bring the news of the world into America's living rooms as a national and international correspondent for ABC News. Among his many assignments for the network was covering the war in Vietnam and Cambodia from 1970 to 1971 and again — as chief Asia correspondent based in Hong Kong — during the period 1972-73. In between those overseas tours, he served as ABC's southern correspondent and Atlanta bureau chief, documenting the continuing civil rights struggle of African-Americans in the Deep South as well as the presidential campaign and attempted assassination of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

The network in 1974 named Bell to be its correspondent at the White House, where he covered the Watergate scandal and the resignation of former President Richard Nixon. The following year, he was tapped as news anchor for the network's broadcast day starters Good Morning America and World News This Morning, positions he retained until leaving ABC in 1987.

After a five-year stint as news anchor at KYW-TV in Philadelphia and national correspondent for Westinghouse Broadcasting, Bell joined the faculty at Ball State as the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball endowed chair of telecommunications. He retired from active teaching last year but maintains his association with the university as professor emeritus of telecommunications.

"It's a genuine delight to be able to recognize Steve Bell with an honorary degree from Ball State," said President Jo Ann M. Gora. "In a letter endorsing his nomination, no less a national figure himself than Ted Koppel praised Steve as 'a man of substance and virtue' and 'a prime exemplar of decency and the best in Midwestern values.' I couldn't agree more and, clearly, that's also the strong feeling of our board of trustees for a man who has made such great contributions to both the field of journalism and the education of our students. I look forward to adding to Steve's long list of achievements at our graduation ceremony in May."

"Above and beyond"

A 1970 Ball State graduate with a degree in accounting, Niel Ellerbrook worked for the national firm Arthur Andersen and Co. for 10 years before joining a small local utility company called Indiana Energy, where he rose steadily through the management ranks. Serving first as vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer (CFO) and then as executive vice president, treasurer and CFO, he was ultimately named president and chief operating officer in October 1997.

By June of 1999, Ellerbrook had steered the company toward a merger with SIGCORP, the holding company for Southern Indiana Gas and Electric. The resulting partnership created what is now known as Vectren Corp., a leading Midwestern energy services provider, with an initial market value of nearly $2 billion. Ellerbrook was named chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the new venture, headquartered in Evansville, Ind.

His pending honorary degree caps a progression of recognitions that Ellerbrook has received from Ball State since 1995, when he was chosen by the Miller College of Business for its Award of Distinction. He was admitted to the Business Hall of Fame in 1999 and received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2001, at least partly in salute of his service as a member of the College of Business alumni board as well as his long-term support of Ball State as a member of the Quadrangle Society — the latter comprised of individuals who make major gifts that "go above and beyond" in advancing the mission of the university.

"Niel Ellerbrook is an outstanding example of the kind of graduate we seek to produce at Ball State, someone who not only excels at his profession but who also brings equally high measures of commitment and energy to his efforts on behalf of his community, his family and his alma mater," said Gora. "Beyond his contributions to Indiana's economy as chairman and former CEO of Vectren Corporation and as a member of the board of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Niel's service as a director of Deaconess Hospital and as a board member of Signature Learning Center, a charter high school, has touched the lives of countless residents of his home city of Evansville.

"If an honorary degree is meant to convey to the recipient the university's highest level of respect and admiration, there is no one more deserving of that honor that Niel Ellerbrook."

In addition to his own undergraduate degree from Ball State, two of Ellerbrook's three children hold diplomas from the university, as well. Jayma and Jeffrey Ellerbrook both received bachelor's degrees in general studies in 2000.

A major influence

In appreciation of his service as one of their number from 2004 to 2007, members of the board also approved a citation recognizing Indianapolis attorney and Ball State alumnus Greg Fehribach (B.S. '81, M.A. '83) for "affording invaluable assistance to the university in moving forward in its mission of providing excellent academic programs, research, and service for the benefit of the citizens of the state of Indiana."

Among Fehribach's many contributions, as detailed in the citation, were his "keen insight and advice regarding major construction and renovations, particularly as they concerned issues of accessibility for disabled members of the university and broader communities."

Fehribach, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder manifest by brittle and/or underdeveloped bones, is the founder and driving force of The Fehribach Group, a leading accessibility design consultancy. And, according to the citation, his expertise, tireless energy and wise counsel was a major influence during a number of campus construction projects involving Worthen Arena, Emens Auditorium, the Music Instruction Building, Park Hall and the David Letterman Communication and Media Building.

The citation also takes note of Fehribach's broader service to Indiana and the nation as the former chairman of the Governor's Planning Council for Disabilities and as a past member of the national board of directors of Easter Seals. It further observes his rare distinction of having twice been named a Sagamore of the Wabash — Indiana's highest civilian honor — in recognition of his service as chairman of the board of the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp., as a trustee for Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County and as chairman of the Governor's Residence Commission.

Buildings, technology and sustainability

In other action, the board members also entertained a presentation by Tom Morrison, interim vice president for business affairs and treasurer, who updated the status of several major building projects on campus, including renovations to Pittenger Student Center and the Dehority Residence Halls complex as well as the construction of North Residence Hall and a new student recreation and wellness center.

Morrison reported that work on improvements to the student center will take place in two phases beginning in May, with an anticipated total completion date of December 2009. Renovations to the Dehority complex, meanwhile, already have commenced and are scheduled to wrap up by July of next year.

Construction of North Residence Hall also is set to begin this spring, Morrison said, and should be completed by July of 2010 — or about the same time as work is due to finish on the new student recreation and wellness facility, which should start to rise in March.

Terry King, provost and vice president for academic affairs, further briefed the board regarding progress on the university's innovation and commercialization initiative.

As outlined by President Gora during her annual fall address to the faculty, the innovation and commercialization strategy is intended to provide Ball State with a more organized structure for transferring technology from campus to the larger community — a project that also aims to strengthen the state's economy, enhance Ball State's own research infrastructure, and generate financial returns to the university and its researchers through the commercialization of intellectual properties.

Also, Robert Koester, director of energy research education and service, discussed sustainability efforts at Ball State and their role in promoting immersive learning among faculty and students.