Add To Favorites

Mark Bennett: Donated portrait of Bill Jerse depicts a listener, teacher, mental health care advocate

Tribune-Star - 10/3/2022

Oct. 3—Terre Haute got lucky in 1964.

That's when Bill and Dorothy Jerse and their four kids moved here. If they'd chosen some other place, a few of this city's virtues might have turned out differently.

Last Monday afternoon, one of those community assets — Hamilton Center — commemorated the late Bill Jerse's lasting imprint. A luncheon honoring the Jerses included the family's donation of a portrait of Bill that will hang in the mental health facility. It's a fitting gesture. He was one of Hamilton Center's initial planners back in the 1960s. Today, it employs 550 people and provides mental health care services to 13,000 Wabash Valley residents annually in 11 west-central Indiana counties.

Back in the '60s, Bill Jerse authored the initial construction grant submitted to the state and federal governments to create Katherine Hamilton Mental Health Center, as it was known then, according to a remembrance relayed this month by the facility's first CEO Dr. William Shriner to Hamilton Center chief development officer Margie Anshutz. Bill Jerse was part of a planning group that met almost weekly to make it a reality.

Service to a cause was part of his life before Hamilton Center — Bill Jerse served in the U.S. Army during World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge, and earned a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. and his life of service continued after Hamilton Center opened.

Jerse, who died in 2017 at age 91, also served as president and board member of the Mental Health Association of Vigo County in addition to his duties as professor and acting dean of Indiana State University'sSchool of Education and director of its Division of Educational Psychology.

His job at ISU brought the family to Terre Haute, though volunteerism also bonded Bill and Dorothy to the city.

"He certainly provided critical help to the mental health programs of the Wabash Valley for many years," Shriner wrote. Appropriately, Hamilton Center hands out a Frank W. Jerse Award (using his full name) every year to a member of the Terre Haute community who's a veteran, supported military families or contributes significantly to the community.

Indeed, mental health care filled a large part of Bill Jerse's time in Terre Haute.

"The words 'Katherine Hamilton' were well-known in our household, because he worked with them for so long," Dorothy recalled at last Monday's luncheon. All four of the Jerses' children attended the event — Tom Jerse of Seattle; Mary Schwartz of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Ann Jerse of Bethesda, Maryland; and Jim Jerse of McComb County, Michigan.

Bill Jerse's influence touched current Hamilton Center CEO and president Mel Burks. Speaking at last week's luncheon, Burks recalled challenging a prof over an academic issue during his days as a ISU graduate student in criminology. A suggestion for Burks to talk with a professor in a different department led him to meet Bill Jerse for the first time. Jerse invited Burks to study in his department's program. "He said, 'We will treat you with respect,'" Burks remembered Jerse saying.

Burks — who came to ISU from Gary on a football scholarship — made that switch, received his master's degree and altered his career path. "Dr. Jerse was a man of his word," Burks said. "He changed the course of my life."

As with Bill, Dorothy Jerse has helped improved lives since they moved to town 58 years ago. She earned her college degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1975 at age 49. Years before, she paused her studies after a couple years of accounting courses at the University of Illinois to raise their kids. She stayed plenty busy.

Dorothy helped launch a small business, served as a Vigo County Historical Society curator and spent eight years as Terre Haute YWCA executive director and guided its $1.9-million expansion of the Y's structure and programs. Dorothy also became a popular writer, penning seven books — including 1983's "On the Banks of the Wabash: A Photograph Album of Greater Terre Haute, 1900-1950," co-authored with Judy Calvert; and 2015's "On This Day in Terre Haute History" — as well as her "Looking Back" column, which ran in the Tribune-Star for 25 years.

Of course, the title of "mom" never ends. Dorothy ate lunch with her four kids at last Monday's luncheon, listening to reflections on her late husband's life from Burks and Linda Sperry, the associate dean of ISU's Bayh College of Education, a role Bill previous filled. "Just to have them all together is neat," Dorothy said of her family.

Sitting nearby was Sherry Dailey, a longtime friend and a retired ISU faculty member. Dailey noted the luncheon fell on the 150th birthday of Terre Haute-born poet Max Ehrmann, most famous for "Desiderata," often called the "peace poem." One of its passages about listening to others seemed particularly relevant for Monday's luncheon, Dailey said.

"It is so appropriate that this is taking place on Max's birthday," Dailey said, "because much of 'Desiderata' is exemplified in Bill."

This community has experienced evidence of that ever since 1964.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or


(c)2022 The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.)

Visit The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.