In the history of Indiana University South Bend, Ernestine M. Raclin is one of the most pivotal figures. Her commitment to philanthropic support has contributed to innumerable success stories, and her generosity ensures that her legacy will continue to blossom for many years into the future. Mrs. Raclin passed away last Thursday at the age of 95.
The young Ernestine had a fine model of philanthropic giving to look up to when she was growing up: her own mother, Ella M. Morris. When South Bend’s once-thriving vaudeville theater, the Palace, was facing the wrecking ball in 1959, it was Morris who purchased the property and then sold it to the city of South Bend for one dollar. She also funded the efforts that led to its renovation and reboot under the name Morris Civic Auditorium (now the Morris Performing Arts Center.)
Ernestine and her first husband, Oliver C. “Mike” Carmichael, had four children, but her nurturing spirit vastly transcended her immediate family. When her husband died suddenly in 1976, she boldly stepped in to take his place as chairman (she thought “chairwoman” sounded awkward) of 1st Source Corporation. As a female bank president, she was a trailblazer, and there were numerous other situations where Ernestine was the only woman serving on a board or committee.
Her philanthropic activities began to grow during these years. She made vital contributions to schools ranging from local elementary Stanley Clark School to the University of Notre Dame. She was also the first woman ever to chair a United Way campaign and the first woman to serve on the board of United Way of America. She also co-founded WNIT, the South Bend area’s local public television station. In 1977, she married Robert L. Raclin, another prominent figure in Midwest banking. On the IU South Bend campus, the difference she made through her gifts to the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts is palpable. She also received the IU South Bend Chancellor’s Medal in 2006, the highest honor bestowed on a community leader, for her tireless support of the arts, the community, and the campus. She served on IU South Bend’s advisory board, the campus Arts Foundation board, as well as Indiana University’s Foundation board, and served in other volunteer capacities in support of the campus. The campus is also honored to be located on the site of the former Associates Building, which is now the main Administration Building.
“The difference that Ernestine Raclin made was profound,” said Douglas McMillen, interim dean of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at IUSB. “She was well-known for her love of the arts, and she demonstrated her passion through the gifts of her talent, time and treasure. She truly cared, and her sincerity was clear to anyone who knew her.”
Marvin Curtis, who served as dean of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts from 2008 to 2020, became close personal friends with Ernestine over the years.
“Ernie will be missed as an individual, but her legacy will continue to live on through the students,” Curtis said. “Without her, we would have had so much less to work with. Her endowment funded so many student and faculty projects. We were able to buy intelligent lighting for the theater. It funded Dora Natella’s sculpture work, and so much more.”
Crucially, she also inspired others. In her spirit, Curtis has also started a scholarship at IU South Bend, and he encourages others to follow suit.
“You can’t match her philanthropy in terms of dollars, but every little bit helps,” Curtis said. “The arts are always under-funded in America, but she did her part to make a difference. We need more Ernies.”
Chancellor Susan Elrod agrees.
“As we reflect on Ernestine Raclin’s impact on our campus, we are saddened by her loss, but we know that through her generosity she helped many people along the way,” Elrod said. “For decades into the future, the possibilities that she has set into motion will continue to have a positive influence on the lives of our students, faculty and our community. Her name will perpetually be revered on the campus of IU South Bend and beyond.”