Dr. Bernard Francis Thiemann ’62 taught business administration and finance to some 5,500 students during his 31 years at Bellarmine University, becoming one of the most beloved professors in school history.
“He engaged you. I don’t think there was a student in the classroom who wasn’t listening to every word he said,” recalled Don Mucci, a vice president at Garrett-Stotz Company in Louisville who took three or four classes from Dr. Thiemann on his way to earning a degree in business administration in 1981. “You learned a lot. He wasn’t an easy A – not an A for me at all, probably! He was tough, but even if I was getting a C, I was learning.”
Outside of class, “Bernie” Thiemann was “a cut-up,” Mr. Mucci said, a witty man who once went parachuting with a group of students and who gave one senior this career advice: “Before you interview, clip your ear hairs and your nose hairs and get a real haircut.”
Dr. Thiemann went to St. Xavier High School and graduated with an accounting degree from Bellarmine in 1962, serving as Student Council president that year and earning the Lenihan Leadership Award. He received his MBA from Indiana University and a law degree from the University of Louisville before returning to Bellarmine to teach.
During his tenure at Bellarmine, where he also served as chairman of the Department of Business Administration, he earned some of the most prestigious awards given to faculty members (Teacher of the Year in 1977 and the Commitment to Excellence Award in 1990) and to alumni (the Alfred F. Horrigan Distinguished Service Award in 1992 and the Alumnus of the Year and Department of Accounting awards in 1997). He was a Bellarmine Trustee for six years (1978-82 and 1990-92).
In 1999, Bellarmine University recognized him as Professor Emeritus. Shortly after that, Mr. Mucci, whose three children also graduated from Bellarmine, took Dr. Thiemann to lunch to ask his permission to start an endowment fund in his name. “I knew I was going to make a gift, and I knew that by putting it in Bernie’s name, that would give me the opportunity to capitalize on how loved he was by students to help Bellarmine.”
He pulled together a committee of other notable business graduates and started contacting people. In just the first two months, they had raised $300,000 from Bellarmine alumni, members of the Bellarmine Boards of Trustees and Overseers, and Bellarmine administration, faculty, staff, friends and family. The Bernard F. Thiemann Endowed Grant Fund was established in 2003.
The grant is based on financial need and may be used for tuition, books and fees. The recipient must be a graduate of a Roman Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Louisville, a practicing Roman Catholic, and a traditional undergraduate student entering the fall semester of the freshman year and majoring exclusively in the Department of Business Administration. The grant pays up to 50 percent of tuition at Bellarmine University and is renewable throughout the recipient’s academic career at Bellarmine as long as he or she maintains a 2.0 GPA. So far, three students have received the scholarship.
Dr. Thiemann, whose health was failing when Mr. Mucci had lunch with him, was thrilled by the scholarship, and Mr. Mucci believes that it also lengthened his life. “The scholarship gave him a reason to keep on living – he wanted to meet the first recipient and be there when they graduated.”
That first recipient was Katie (Fleig) Farley, now a Talent Acquisition Specialist for Brown-Forman in Louisville. She got the news about the grant in 2005. “I remember when they called me I was floored, completely ecstatic,” she said. “I knew that without a scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to go to Bellarmine. When you’re 18, you don’t have a backup plan. It meant the world to me. I knew it would change my life – and it has.”
She met Dr. Thiemann at the annual Heritage Society event that brings donors and scholarship recipients together. “I went every year,” she said. “He was such a nice guy. He was genuinely interested in my life, not just about school. I ride horses, and he would always ask about the horses. He would talk about where I would get my master’s. He was always looking to the next step. And I appreciated that a lot.”
At one point, though, Ms. Farley was considering changing majors. “I thought I wanted to be a vet.” Doing so would have meant forfeiting the grant under the terms of the endowment.
When Dr. Thiemann got wind of her plan, he pulled her aside at one of the Heritage Society events and said, “‘Hey, let’s talk about this,’” she recalled. “He said, ‘Go ahead and get your business degree. That way, if you change your mind, you can always fall back on that.’”
She went on to earn her degree in Business Administration in 2009. “He was going to come to my graduation, but he got really sick and couldn’t make it.”
Bernie Thiemann died on Sept. 4, 2011, at the age of 70. “He was a loved and loving member of the campus community who contributed richly to Bellarmine as a student, a professor and a friend,” Dr. Joseph J. McGowan wrote in an email to the campus community.
And through the generosity of his friends and former students, he is still contributing. In lieu of flowers, his family requested donations to the Bernard F. Thiemann Endowed Scholarship Fund at Bellarmine University.
Pictured Above: Dr. Bernie Thiemann, center, celebrates with Katie (Fleig) Farley, left, Joseph Clayton, right, and Clayton Scholars Sara Jane Byrne, Kimberly Williamson-Davis, Becca Clark Becker, Adam Embry (and wife Angie) and Megan Rogers Peters at the 2008 Heritage Society event. To contribute to a scholarship, contact Joan Riggert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.272.8330.
Carla Carlton | email@example.com