Yvonne Shaheen named Living Legend

by Zoë Berg | Feature Editor
Published: Last Updated on

Each year, the Indiana Historical Society gives  Living Legends Awards to people who have made significant contributions to Indiana through their personal or professional work, according to Vice President of Development and Membership at IHS Andrew Halter. This year the recipients include former Indiana Governor and Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, Indianapolis Children’s Choir Founding Director Henry Leck, Indiana historian James Madison, Central Indiana Community Foundation President and CEO Brian Payne and civic and corporate leader Yvonne Shaheen.

UIndy trustee and benefactor Yvonne Shaheen with the Indianapolis skyline as seen from the outdoor terrace on the top floor of Eli Lilly headquarters on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo: D. Todd Moore, University of Indianapolis)

UIndy trustee and benefactor Yvonne Shaheen with the Indianapolis skyline as seen from the outdoor terrace on the top floor of Eli Lilly headquarters on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo: D. Todd Moore, University of Indianapolis)

Shaheen has been a chair on the board of trustees at the University of Indianapolis for more than 20 years and has made many contributions to various central Indiana arts, educational and nonprofit organizations, according to a press release from IHS. She also serves on many boards of directors in the central Indiana area including the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Community Hospital, the Greater Indianapolis
Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Central Indiana.

Shaheen also has given many philanthropic gifts, earning her various awards such as the Indiana Lifetime Philanthropy Award. She was the CEO of  Long Electric from 1987, following her husband’s death, to 2004,  and was the largest woman-owned electrical contractor in Indiana, according to a press release from IHS.

Halter feels that her time serving as Long Electric’s CEO makes Shaheen stand out. He said that when she took over the company, there were very few female-led companies, especially in the male-dominated field of electrical contractors, so Shaheen faced many challenges.

“However, she used each of these hurdles as an opportunity, which in the end led to her success as a leader,” Halter said. “She has used her leadership skills to mentor other women faced with similar challenges. Anyone, woman or man, who has had Yvonne as a mentor is a lucky individual.”

Halter said that as well as her time serving as a CEO, Shaheen’s donations to Indiana organizations and her time spent serving on boards made her a good candidate for the Living Legends award.

“In addition to being a generous supporter of local arts, educational and nonprofit organizations, Yvonne volunteers a significant amount of time as a board member and is hands-on when it comes to fundraising for these organizations,” Halter said. “Yvonne leads by example.”

Shaheen recently supported UIndy through a naming gift. She gave a gift of $5 million to what is now called the Riad and Yvonne Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences.

Dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences Jennifer Drake said the gift was a way to honor her husband and has allowed the college to begin new programs and projects. Drake said that she is able to work with faculty to determine projects that the faculty would like to start because of Shaheen’s gift. The projects focus on what Drake describes as the college’s core values: a focus on students,
promoting student engagement and promoting collaboration across departmental lines. She said she gets to choose what projects are picked and tries to keep Shaheen in mind while deciding.

“Yvonne has been very generous in giving us flexibility to use the gift as we wish,” Drake said. “As dean,  I’ve thought a lot about what values she has, so I’ve been intentional in working with the faculty to choose projects that would honor Yvonne’s legacy and the commitments she has.”

Drake feels that Shaheen is very deserving of the Living Legends award because to her activities in the central Indiana area.

“That award is a perfect way to honor Yvonne Shaheen’s commitments to the University of Indianapolis and to the Indianapolis community at large,” Drake said. “She’s such an engaged citizen and has done such good work in the community over the years. She absolutely deserves that award.”

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