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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Smith: A man apart

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In 2003 I resigned from an executive role at a company that ranks in the top third of the Fortune 500. I did so to pursue a nonprofit career after having accepted the call to the ministry. Given my experience and education, I was certain that I would very quickly find a comparable role in my newly chosen field. Disappointingly, that didn’t happen as quickly as I had anticipated.

Somehow I learned that Indiana Sports Corporation was holding a conference, featuring then-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, at the convention center. Given my desire to join the nonprofit sector, as well as my being a lifelong athlete, I was hopeful that I would get to meet someone from that esteemed organization.

As I surveyed the room, I became quite aware that there appeared to be fewer than five African Americans in a crowd that numbered well into the hundreds. While such experiences are common for me, I was somewhat apprehensive. As I was standing at a table by myself, a distinguished African American gentleman approached me and introduced himself. That gentleman was none other than Milton Ollie Thompson.

I had no idea who Milt was, but I was very grateful that he took the time to make me feel welcome. I quickly came to learn — from other people — that Milt is a legend in Indiana’s business, sports, entertainment, civic and political circles. I have never allowed him to forget his kindness on that day, even though he wishes that I would. I am all too aware that not all African Americans of his stature would make such a gesture.

Milt has an incredible biography. He was such a superb baseball player at Wittenberg University that he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles. (He now serves as a trustee emeritus at Wittenberg.) Deciding to forego a baseball career, Milt chose to attend Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. He became a deputy prosecutor before embarking on an incredible business career. Milt has been recognized as an “Indiana Super Lawyer.” He also has served as president of the IU law school’s Board of Visitors and president of its alumni association. Milt has also been inducted into the Academy of Law Alumni Fellows, which is the most prestigious honor the law school bestows.

Outside of the law, Milt’s honors include being selected to receive the Business & Philanthropy Award from the National Center for Black Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. Most recently, he was selected as the 2020 recipient of the Charles L. Whistler Award, which is generally recognized as Indiana’s most prestigious public service award. In presenting the award, Mayor Joe Hogsett remarked, accurately, that “we all take our que from Milt.”

Simply reading Milt’s list of accomplishments is exhausting; it is difficult to comprehend how he has managed to be so involved in so many endeavors — at the highest level. Milt is president and CEO of Grand Slam, which is a sports, entertainment and recreation management consulting firm. He is also the co-founder of Play Ball Indiana, which supports youth baseball in the inner city. He has been a certified contract advisor with the NFL and the NBA Players Association and a board member of the Indianapolis Indians Baseball Club. Known simply as “the Voice,” he hosted the weekly radio show “Playing for Keeps” on ESPN950. Currently, Milt hosts a talk show on WHMB 40 called “Playing for Keeps.”

Milt is well known for his work in community development and in building collaborations that create highly effective partnerships. For example, he served as president and interim director of Big Brothers as it was merging with Big Sisters to create Big Brothers Big Sisters of Indiana. He also played a key role in negotiating the merger between the Legacy Fund of Hamilton County and the Indianapolis Foundation to create the Central Indiana Community Foundation in 1997. Milt currently serves on the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board, the Tourism Tomorrow Board of Visit Indy and the English Foundation, among others. In addition, he is the former general counsel to the Pan American Games and held the position of vice president of Indiana Sports Corporation.

The motto of Milt’s beloved alma mater, Wittenberg, is “Having Light, We Pass It On to Others.” Milt has spent decades sharing the spotlight. Even more frequently, he has lifted others into the light — while choosing to stand in the shadows. Thus, I am honored to highlight him. He is “a man apart” who delights in bringing people together.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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