Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Indiana University to award honorary degree to Milton Cole
Business leader and CEO to receive Doctor of Laws degree
For immediate release, April 20, 2005
Milton Cole jokes that when he was growing up with his 10 siblings in Tennessee, "we had so little money, all we could afford was a good attitude." These humble beginnings are what make Cole's lifetime of success as a business leader and CEO so impressive.
In 1956, Cole moved to Logansport, Indiana, for a job with John I. Shafer Hardwood Company, Inc. He served as general manager for several years. Thirty years later, he bought the business, renaming it Cole Hardwood, Inc. Though the company name changed, the lessons Cole had learned from the company's owners (Shafer and the late Bob Hendrickson) stayed with him. "They taught me that giving was receiving," Cole says. "What we spend on ourselves really doesn't matter."
When a fire destroyed his lumberyard in 1988, Cole, true to his word, stood before his workers less than two days after the fire and promised them that no one would miss a paycheck. He rebuilt the company, overcoming damages worth $14 million. In a newspaper interview after the fire, he said "The community has been so gracious to me. My employees, I just love them. They're just part of the family."
Cole's generosity extends beyond Logansport to the surrounding communities, including Kokomo and its Indiana University Kokomo campus. He provided a $50,000 leadership gift to IUK in 1992 as part of a library campaign and has contributed money to fund the university's Cole Family Scholarships, the Cole Community Room, and the Kresge Science Initiative. He has received business, civic, and professional honors for his charitable and volunteer work, including the 1999 Logansport Exchange Club Book of Golden Deeds, Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year, and the state's highest honor, Sagamore of the Wabash, awarded by the late Governor Frank O'Bannon.
"I admire Milt's vision and his efforts to realize incremental improvements and willingness to serve and organize assistance to individuals in need," says U.S. Senator Richard Lugar. "Few people in the state of Indiana have been in the position to transform the landscape of our state and to do so with such commitment, grace, and modesty."
Cole's story is featured in a book by Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto titled More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life's Ultimate Lesson, a compilation of stories about people who have defined their lives by determination, honesty, and compassion. Cavuto writes that Cole is among those who are "fighting the good fight, clinging to hopes with the biggest of hearts."
Those who know and work with Cole are uplifted by his generous spirit and positive outlook.
"The Reverend Jesse Jackson once said, 'The only justification we have to look down on someone is because we are about to pick him up,'" says Dr. Christian Chauret, chair of the Honorary Degree Committee at IUK. "Milton Cole has spent his entire adult life looking down with an outstretched hand to pull up those behind him, always keeping an eye forward on the next goal. It is this attitude, this humble sense of giving back, that compels me to nominate this man of purpose, William Milton Cole, for an Indiana University honorary degree."
No matter what obstacles Cole has faced in his life, his unwavering faith has brought him strength and helped him to maintain his naturally cheerful attitude. When Cole came across a poem (aptly titled "Attitude") that articulated his perception of life, he began passing it on to friends, employees, and customers. The poem is enclosed with each lumber shipment.
"We have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. . . . Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you. . . . we are in charge of our Attitudes."
-- An excerpt from "Attitude" by Charles Swindoll