The Herald-Times

Powell recalls leaders, followers, successes, failures

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 12:16 am | Updated: 12:25 am, Fri Apr 25, 2014

By Jon Blau 812-331-4266 |

Colin Powell commanded a stage in front of the Ivy Tech Community College logo Thursday night and gave attendees at a fundraising dinner their money’s worth.

For 90 minutes, they reviewed successes and failures, making deals with Vladimir Putin and selling a case for the Iraq War to the United Nations, along with a host of stories about Ronald Reagan, the time he spoke faster and louder in an attempt to grab the president’s attention in regard to a national security issue, only to see “The Gipper” stare over his shoulder and out into the White House lawn, rambling on about squirrels.

A leader, if Powell’s ever seen one.

“He was showing me, I’ll listen to your problems as long as you want,” Powell said from a stage at the Bloomington-Monroe County Convention Center, pulling together his best Reagan impression. “But until I have a problem, I’m watching the squirrels.”

The best leaders allow their followers to do the work, Powell said. Catering his speech to the mission of raising money for Ivy Tech Bloomington’s O’Bannon Institute for Community Service, the retired four-star general, who worked in leadership roles under four different presidents, stressed the importance of giving the next generation an opportunity to serve.

Powell didn’t shy away from giving the audience what they would expect from him. In a question and answer session after his speech, questions came to him about the situation in Ukraine, and he rehearsed a mock conversation with Putin, sounding like a disappointed friend as he said “Come on, Vlad, you know better than that” and tells him to get his Russian troops off Ukraine’s eastern border. “We have to deal with Crimea. You shouldn’t have taken it, but you’ve got it, and you well know nobody is coming with an army to kick you out … but stop doing things and causing problems in Eastern Ukraine that are destabilizing things.”

And after getting off the fake phone with Putin, Powell picked it up again, called the White House and gave U.S. politicians a lashing: “You have to knock it off. Stop calling him names. Stop acting in a way that’s not respectful, because the more you do it the more he becomes popular.”

Powell’s presentation mixed seriousness with light-heartedness, often at the same time. Even as he recounted what many will regard as the worst moment in his political career, the moment he said will probably be in the first paragraph of his obituary — pitching the U.N. on the dangers of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — Powell smiled as he came to the end. “I’m asked that question every day,” he said.

He still uses the word “stunned” to describe the moment he learned the intelligence was wrong, saying the only time he gets annoyed by questions about the WMDs is when he’s accused of knowing the truth and lying.

“It was awful,” Powell said of the whole situation.

But then Powell reminded everyone how much he’s failed, wishing kids nowadays would have their chances to be disappointed, rather than every child earning a medal in their soccer league. He’s been a leader who has lived with fear, serving in Vietnam and surviving two helicopter crashes, but Powell has learned to live with failure.

He comically recounts the moment he was called on the road and told Condoleezza Rice would become secretary of state, and the bodyguards at his side came into his home and pulled out all the phone lines and the security cameras and left. “Leave one so I can call Domino’s tonight,” Powell said.

In a way, Powell has come to cherish his role as a well-known person on the outside who can advocate for what he believes in. He received strong applause when he touted universal health care. He also preached community, recalling a newspaper article about community colleges that were thinking about dumping the “community” in their name: “I don’t know if I should editorialize about this,” Powell said, “but I think that’s a terrible idea.”

Award winners

As part of the 11th annual O’Bannon Institute for Community Service, Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington honored local leaders in civic engagement Wednesday. Each award winner received $500.

Winners include:

Community Partner: Positive Link

Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Community Partner: Artful Learning Program at Fairview Elementary School

Gayle & Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship Community Partner: Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship

Excellence in Student Volunteerism: Audrey Post.

Excellence in Faculty/Staff Volunteerism: Pennie Rogers.

Excellence in Service Learning: Steve Arnold, Jeanine Galbreath, Amy Poehlman, Sarah Cote and Sean Miller from Super Science Saturday

The Jeanine C. Rae Humanitarian: Joshua Wilson

John R. Whikehart Civic Engagement: Keith Klein

— Compiled by MJ Slaby


About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.