Dr. David L. Rice

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dr. David L. Rice, 90, founding and first president of the University of Southern Indiana, died at 7:10 p.m. (EST) Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 in York, Pa.

A native of New Market in Montgomery County, Dr. Rice was born April 1, 1929 to the late Elmer J. and Katie Tate Rice, one of 14 children.

In 1967, Dr. Rice and his family came to Evansville. He was the first dean appointed to lead the Evansville campus of Indiana State University, two years after its opening. In 1971, he was named president of the campus and then, in 1976, Indiana State University also named him a vice president of the main campus in Terre Haute. By 1985, under his leadership, the Evansville campus evolved into a separate state university, the University of Southern Indiana, regarded for its excellent educational programs and innovative regional outreach projects. When he retired in 1994, it was noted he was one of a handful of contemporary university presidents with a 25-year tenure at the same institution.

During his tenure, enrollment grew from 992 students to 7,443, and the master-planned physical plant on the 1,400-acre campus had capital investments of $45.2 million. He oversaw the expansion of curricula from limited two-year degree programs to a comprehensive range of baccalaureate and master’s degree programs, as well as many cooperative programs with other universities. Under his leadership, USI became the first baccalaureate institution in Indiana to have a degree-transfer articulation agreement with Ivy Tech Southwest, paving the way for all of Indiana to develop a statewide community college system.

Dr. Rice earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, and his Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Education, all from Purdue University, where he met his wife, Betty J. Fordice. They married Sept. 10, 1950, when both were completing undergraduate degrees. The following year, Dr. Rice was called to military service and served in the U.S. Army infantry in Korea. After military service, he taught in the public schools of Wallace while he pursued advanced degrees at Purdue.

Before joining the University of Southern Indiana, Dr. Rice was on the faculty and served as director of research at Ball State University in Muncie. While on faculty leave from Ball State, he was vice president with the Cooperative Education Research Laboratory in Indianapolis and research coordinator in the Bureau of Research for the U.S. Office of Education in Washington, D.C.

An energetic and dedicated citizen, Dr. Rice gave leadership to many efforts to improve the communities in which he lived. He was president of the board of commissioners of the Evansville Housing Authority and chair of the Governor’s Citizens Advisory Committee for Title Twenty of the Social Services Act. A founder of Leadership Evansville, now called Leadership Everyone, he also served as its president. In 2009, he and his wife Betty received the Leadership Evansville Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Rice was general chair of the fund drive of the United Way of Southwestern Indiana, chair of the board of WNIN Channel 9 Public Television, explorer chair of the Buffalo Trace Council Boy Scouts and president of the Indiana Public Broadcasting Society. He also served on the board of the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science; the Indiana Business Modernization and Technology Corporation; the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana; The Villages, Inc.; Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana; Evansville Coalition of Adult Literacy; and was active in Rotary. In 2013, Dr. Rice was inducted into the prestigious Evansville Regional Business Hall of Fame. He chaired former Congressman Lee Hamilton’s Southern Indiana rural development project. In professional circles, he served the Indiana Conference for Higher Education as its president.

Dr. Rice earned many accolades from public service organizations, including the Salvation Army Service to Others Award, West Side Civitan Citizen of the Year, the National Community Leadership Conference Alumni Award, Rotary Civic Award, Boy Scout Distinguished Citizen Award and a Sagamore of the Wabash conferred by Gov. Robert D. Orr. An Evansville native, Orr signed into law the bill creating the University of Southern Indiana on April 16, 1985.

In recognition of his university leadership, both the Faculty Senate and the USI Alumni Council endowed scholarships in his name. In 2016, to honor Dr. Rice on his 87th birthday, the David L. Rice and Betty Fordice Rice Presidential Scholarship Endowment was established. The university library was named in his honor and both he and Mrs. Rice received honorary doctoral degrees from the university.

Upon retirement from the presidency of USI, after 27 years of service, he and Mrs. Rice moved to New Harmony, where they became active in historic preservation and community restoration. Dr. Rice undertook many of the town’s preservation efforts. He led the campaign and oversaw the physical restoration of the Rapp Owen Granary, now a center for historical and cultural events in the community. As a commissioner for the bi-state bridge between New Harmony and Illinois, he was an ardent advocate for state and federal funding to stabilize and improve the structure.

Although Dr. and Mrs. Rice moved to York, Pa. in 2014 to be close to their daughter, they maintained their home in New Harmony until 2017. For many years, they were members of Howell United Methodist Church in Evansville and later Johnson United Methodist Church in New Harmony.

Dr. Rice is survived by his wife of 69 years, Betty “Janey” Fordice Rice, and their two children, P. Denise Rice Dawson (Greg) of York, Pa. and Dr. Michael A. Rice (Mary) of Indianapolis. He also is survived by six grandchildren, Clinton C. Dawson PhD (Lindsay), Kaitlin R. Rice Prinsen MD (Andrew), Abigail Rice Haste MD (Paul), Jill M. Rice (Matt), Mitchell A. Rice and Anna A. Rice; and five great-grandchildren, Carter G. Haste, Adalai J. Prinsen, Eleanor J. Haste, Bennett A. Prinsen and Emerson L. Haste.

Dr. Rice has three living siblings, Daniel Rice (Ruth Ellen), Alfred Rice (Ruth) and Arthur Rice (Tyke), all of New Market.

He was preceded in death by four brothers, Ben Rice, Joseph Rice, Robert Rice and Sanford Boraker; and six sisters, Wilma Jean Rice Hart, Louise Rice Bell, Sarah Jane Rice Wilbur, Evelyn Rice Reddish, Kathryn Rice and Elizabeth Rice Kelly, and all of their spouses.

Visitation for Dr. Rice will be Friday, Jan. 24 from 3-5 p.m. in Carter Hall, University Center West on the University of Southern Indiana campus. Beginning at 5 p.m., the Rev. Father Bernard A. Lutz, a good friend of Dr. Rice who was a campus minister at the university for many years, will lead a prayer vigil when family and friends will share memories of Dr. Rice.

Funeral services will be in Carter Hall on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m., with visitation beginning at 1 p.m. The Rev. Michael P. Monahan, pastor of Old North United Methodist Church in Evansville, will officiate.

Visitation will also be held for Dr. Rice at 4 p.m. and conclude at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26 at Machledt and Servies Funeral Home, 301 E. Green St., Waveland. A celebration of life service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 27 at Machledt and Servies Funeral Home.

Dr. Rice will be buried with military honors at the Fordice Family section of Portland Mills Church Cemetery in Parke County Following his burial service the Rice family has extended an invitation for family and friends to join them at Turkey Run State Park where dinner will be provided. Memorial gifts may be made to the University of Southern Indiana (USI) Foundation for the David L. and Betty Fordice Rice Presidential Scholarship Endowment, 8600 University Blvd., Evansville, IN 47712.

Condolences may be made online at www.USI.edu/Rice , www.browningfuneral.com, www.machledtservies.com.