Milt and Jean Cole

Milt Cole addresses guests at the Cole Fitness Center dedication on September 18.

A large crowd of honored guests and the general public gathered in the Kresge Auditorium on the IU Kokomo campus Wednesday for the official dedication of the Milt and Jean Cole Wellness and Fitness Center.

The 20,500 square foot facility features a walking and jogging track, cardio and strength equipment, a training area, health studies classroom, locker rooms, and other multi-purpose spaces that will benefit the students, faculty, staff, and athletes for years to come.

The Cole family from Logansport, came from humble beginnings, working their way through life with a sense of giving and humility. Milt Cole was quoted as saying, “We had so little money, all we could afford was a good attitude” about his early life in Tennessee. His wife Jean echoed that sentiment.

“For the students that are out there, I don’t want them to look at us and say, ‘Oh, they’ve got a lot of money and they can donate.’ I tell you, we had it rough. I came from dirt road, no inside plumbing” she said.

The family worked hard, to the point that in 1986 Milt was able to purchase the hardware store he began working at years before. The company suffered great loss after a fire in 1998, but Milt stood at his burnt lumber yard and made the statement to the media that his workers made his company and he pledged that no one would miss a single paycheck. The company was rebuilt after suffering $14 million in damages.

This was not the first donation to IU Kokomo for the Cole family. They had previously given generously to the library campaign, Kresge Science Initiative, scholarships and the community room on the campus, but the $1.25 million dollar gift for the fitness center was not only their largest, but also the largest single cash gift the school has ever received.

The center was a much-needed addition to the campus as Indiana University makes moves to address the major health issues that are facing the nation, and more importantly the state of Indiana.

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“Unfortunately, most recent studies show that Indiana continues to rank poorly among all states in measures of the leading causes of illness and death as well as the measures of determinants of health. Indiana has the 7th highest smoking rate in the United States. The percentage of adults that have had a heart attack and the percentage of adults with high cholesterol are the 6th and 17th highest in the country, respectively” said Indiana University President Michael McRobbie.

He continued by relaying the statistics that Indiana is ranked the eighth worst obese state in the nation according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up from the eleventh spot five years ago.

Health risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity have financial costs and human costs, McRobbie continued, adding that Indiana University as a whole (including the regional campuses) spends more than $250 million annually on healthcare, which is more than five times the total budget of IU Kokomo.

McRobbie said, “The center will enable our faculty, our students, and our staff to take more responsibility for their physical well-being thus helping to moderate the cost of healthcare and more generally to improve the general well-being of the IU Kokomo community. Today we dedicate the Milt and Jean Cole Family Wellness and Fitness Center as yet a further initiative at Indiana University to help address these risks to individual health and the declining measures of public health in our state.”

The center will benefit the campus by increasing its overall appeal to incoming students and athletes, but it is also a great asset to have on the campus.

“I want to tell you people, I do believe this center has created an atmosphere here in Kokomo that you rarely see in a lifetime. It has really elevated the positive-ness in this community. I do encourage everyone to get behind this movement because it’s a golden opportunity to get something done in Kokomo, Indiana,“ stated Milt Cole.