Reflector editor in chief
University of Indianapolis
David Wantz, special assistant to University of Indianapolis President Robert Manuel, was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash by Gov. Mike Pence earlier this year.
Nominated by State Rep. Justin Moed, Wantz was recognized for his community service, which includes serving on many boards for community organizations.
Giving recognition is important for people who do good for the community, Moed said. “Oftentimes, that’s not why they’re doing it, but it’s important to recognize them for their work so they can be celebrated for it.”
“It’s a token of the university allowing me to do this stuff,” he said in receiving the award. “I see it more as a statement by the governor that the university’s investment in the community matters. I just happened to be an agent.”
Wantz noted that he did not want to seem dismissive about the honor because he is proud of it – so is his family. But when he sees the hard work that others put in every day to make the campus and community a better place, he said it does not seem fair that he was singled out.
Moed said Wantz is a worthy recipient of the award – the highest that can be bestowed by the governor – because of his personal passion to make the university and the surrounding area better.
“He doesn’t come asking for things,” Moed said. “He comes asking how he can be a part of helping. And I think that’s a rare quality, and I think that’s why he’s had such an impact in the community. Because it’s not always just about him or what can we do for him.”
According to www./in.gov, “The term ‘sagamore’ was used by the Native American tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.” The award was created by Gov. Ralph Gates, who held office from 1945-49. Recipients have included astronauts, politicians, artists, musicians and ordinary citizens who have contributed to the Hoosier heritage.”
Wantz hails from a blue-collar family in Maryland. “I’m a first-generation college kid, and I come from people who made their living with their backs and their hands,” he said.
After graduating from college in Tennessee, he returned to Maryland to work in law enforcement before coming to Indianapolis to teach at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. Eventually he ended up at UIndy, where he met his future wife, Susan Fleck, who was the university’s director of public relations at the time.
“I came to the university in ’82 and finished a master’s in business and was doing management supervision training for the university,” he said. “President (Gene) Sease said, ‘If you’re going to stay in higher ed, you need to have a union card.’ So with two kids and a mortgage, I went back to school and finished my doctoral degree in counseling psych at IU.”
He then applied to for a position at UIndy and began teaching psychology and running the counseling center.
Wantz later spent 10 years as the vice president for student affairs before former President Jerry Israel asked him to work as a community liaison. Wantz said one of the biggest wrinkles that he helped smooth out was the Hanna Avenue construction project, which inconvenienced and initially upset many people in the neighborhood.
“Colleges and universities are pretty insular,” he said. “They don’t call them ‘the ivory tower’ for nothing.”
Wantz said he has always wanted to help people ... it boils down to his Christian faith.