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Columbus Leadership Q&A: Bob Pitman


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Tell me about some of the jobs you had before your current one.

I worked as a library assistant when I was young, starting at about 35 cents per hour. And as a teenager, I also worked as a merry-go-round operator in Logansport. I also worked as a janitor at IU, and right after my undergraduate studies, I served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, teaching English.

What were some of the lessons you learned from those jobs?

I really enjoyed working at the library, and I later worked at libraries at IU and in Wichita, Kan. The work at the merry-go-round was interesting, because it was a popular place, but one of the main attractions involved the riders trying to gather rings during the ride to occasionally win free rides. And it was just a hassle to collect all the rings, because kids would steal them.

The time in Niger was probably the biggest challenge I faced. It was life-changing to live in another country, especially one so poor. I made very good friends, and though I’m glad I had the experience, I was glad when it was over. As teachers, we did not have a lot of resources, and the classes were as large as 50 students, which was challenging.

I liked the actual teaching part, but the whole issue of discipline, requiring the students to stand when you walk in, that was tough to deal with. But it was also an eye-opening experience that required me to be creative and on my toes.

Bob Pitman

Place of birth: Logansport

Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1949

Title: Executive Director of Mill Race Center Inc.

Education: Bachelor’s in political science, master’s in college student personnel administration; both from Indiana University.

Family: Wife, Judy, a teacher’s aide who works with deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Columbus East High School; two adult daughters.

Community involvement: I serve on the Thrive Alliance advisory board, volunteer with the Democratic Party and am involved nationally in senior center work.

Hobbies: I like to fish, which is almost therapeutic for me, because I like to be outside and distracted somewhat. I also like to read, mainly presidential biographies or history and light fiction, such as Nicholas Sparks or Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

How did your leadership experience develop?

I was elected president of the freshman class in high school, but I did not seek a lot of leadership roles per se. I got involved as a student at different levels, volunteering for projects. The time in the Peace Corp was a leadership experience in a lot of different ways. And throughout my professional career I’ve been in leadership positions including serving as chair for the National Institute of Senior Centers.

What are some of the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned?

You need to be realistic about how much you can take on. If you get overloaded, you may do a lot of things but probably not very well or effectively. You should also be involved in leadership capacities that are meaningful to you, from which you derive satisfaction. It’s important to me that I do things where I think I can make a difference for others. I also learned that you should remember that if you have a decision to make, especially an important one, you can control the process, you can try to make the best decision you can — but you can’t control the outcome. That’s a mistake that a lot of people make, and it causes them to be really reluctant to make a decision because they think that if only they had more information, the right decision would be obvious. But that’s not really the case. People also tend to go through life afraid of making a mistake, and somebody once told me that it’s probably best if we make a mistake early on, learn from it and realize that that’s one of the ways in which you can improve. Plus it takes away that pressure of absolutely having to avoid that first mistake.

What do you like best about your job?

I like to feel that I’m in a job that contributes positively to people, and I like that I get to be around a lot of fantastic role models for how to grow older, to see how I’d like to be — and not to be — when I’m older.

What advice do you have for younger people who are trying to get involved in the community?

Try to follow your interests and passions. Get involved in activities in which you think you can make a difference. And try to be realistic about what you can do. Be aware of your limitations, and learn from them.

What’s your favorite place to visit and why?

Wherever I get to see old friends. I’ve had a great year because I got to have a small reunion at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y., with some of my friends at the Peace Corps. And I got together with some high school friends in Tombstone, Ariz. Some of us had not seen one another in 25 years. When we were younger, in 1969, some of us hitchhiked from Indiana to Arizona, which was probably the worst thing I ever did and which I did not tell my parents until many years later. It took 50 hours, and we were involved in an auto accident — though nobody was hurt. And when you see your old buddies after so many years, it transports you right back to those experiences.

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