BLOOMINGTON — Michael Arnolt left Kosciusko County in 1962, determined to make his own mark in the world. Rather than immerse himself in an already storied family legacy, Arnolt chose a path similar to noted journalists Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Veronica Guerin.
“The ink still runs through my veins — when I see something, I think of it as a story,” said Arnolt, who graduated from Leesburg High School in 1962. Arnolt emerged from Indiana University with a marketing degree, but was hired as a news reporter in his first job after college. It wasn’t long before this profession whetted his appetite for digging deeper into stories, leading him down the path of investigative journalism.
Four and one half decades after leaving the profession he loved to help shore up the family business, which included a factory in Warsaw, Arnolt has earmarked a sizable portion of a well-earned fortune to give back to the institution that helped mold him into an-award-winning writer.
“I’ve been thinking about doing something with the school of journalism for a long time,” said Arnolt. “The idea of creating a center for the investigative part of it is what really enthralls me.”
Indiana University announced last week, Sept. 7, that Arnolt will donate $6 million to the university’s Media School for a facility dedicated to cultivating the investigative journalists of tomorrow.
The new facility will bear Arnolt’s name — The Michael I. Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism. It is slated to open in the fall of 2019.
In a press release Sept. 7, I.U. announced “The center will make its work available at no cost to local, regional and national news media. Stories will be distributed through professional networks. Plans call for the initial funding to provide fellowships for up to four graduate students and scholarships for up to 10 undergraduates.”
Arnolt, an Indianapolis resident, said the idea came after numerous discussions with other like-minded individuals who shared an interest or passion for watchdog journalism. One of those people is James Shanahan, dean of The Media School. “We met at a gathering of alums and interested persons,” said Arnolt.
The Leesburg native said after much thought, he felt offering such a significant bequest would benefit the profession more than if he delayed — making the contribution posthumously.
“Making a significant contribution to IU journalism always has been a part of my estate planning,” he said. “The problem with estates and distributions is that they typically come after one goes toes up — and one simply doesn’t get to see the results.”
Arnolt is the son of Stanley H. Arnolt, an industrialist and entrepreneur known not only for his adventurous spirit, but also for his innovation. In the 1950s, the senior Arnolt began customizing sports cars and today, his customized Arnolt-Bristol is considered a rare classic. Michael Arnolt still owns one of the cars.
Arnolt graduated from I.U. in 1967, and began working as a reporter for the Elkhart Truth. While there, he won several journalism awards at the state level, including one for uncovering a scam involving rest homes. Being fair, objective and even-handed was always his goal. He recalls a communication he received from then-presidential candidate and Alabama Governor George Wallace, who touted his coverage while the southern segregationist visited Michiana.
“Here was someone whose philosophies I was diametrically opposed to, complimenting me on my objectivity and fairness,” he said.
Today, he still volunteers at the Indianapolis Star, ensuring he stays connected to his beloved former profession.
Arnolt said he left journalism in 1973, when his mother asked for his help with Arnolt Corporation.
“It was the easiest hard decision I’ve ever made in my life, which was too leave the job I loved to help with the family business,” he said.
Long after Arnolt left his newsroom chair to engage in non-journalistic endeavors, he still emphasizes the value of strong accountability reporting.
“That’s what I think is the basis for the center, which is to uphold these principles,” Arnolt said. “I don’t care what your socio-economic background is, everything we do in journalism makes a difference in peoples’ lives.”
Arnolt shares his father’s sense of curiosity and adventure, which served him well as an investigative reporter and then later as an entrepreneur like his father.
“I have a simple philosophy when it comes to business, which is ‘have some fun, raise some hell and make some money,’” Arnolt said. “My philosophy for life is similar, which is ‘have some fun, raise some hell and make a difference.’”