Tommy Housman
Many people would have quit. But not Tommy Housman. Faced with challenges that could bend the strongest will, Tommy and his wife, Kelly, persevered to make their dream of earning a college education happen. Tommy lives by the mantra, "Do more. Be more." and has learned that you have to be your own advocate — ask for what you need and give back to the community.

Meet Tommy

I am a current student at the University of Evansville, a freelance graphic designer, and I work at Ivy Tech Community College as a lab tech among many, many other things. I was born and raised in Evansville, and after high school was over, I got married and had two kids. I had just started to go back for my college degree when I got subcutaneous nerve damage in my left leg. It’s a flare-up in the nerves right on the skin, and it causes a lot of pain. At that time I didn’t really know how to deal with that much pain, so I stayed home with the kids. I dropped out of school; my wife at the time finished college. She took care of everything, and I took care of the kids — homeschooled them, and then they grew up. And that left time for me to think about, ok what should I do? And so I tried school again. I had dabbled in videography and discovered that I enjoyed making art, so I enrolled at Ivy Tech to pursue that further.

Then I got sick again; I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. After several trips to the ER, no one really knew what was going on and I missed a lot of classes. I ended up having five surgeries inside of three years, several other procedures, and lots more trips back and forth to the ER. That laid me down for a long time.

Recovering from that is where my real story kind of starts ….

Tommy Housman

"We haven't been apart since."

Right before my first surgery, I got a divorce, dropped out of school, and I didn’t have a lot of means to take care of myself, so I did the best that I could. Then, I met my current wife, Kelly, and that changed the direction of how I wanted to do things. We went to high school together and reconnected on Facebook. Right before my last surgery, we started talking and I was like, ‘This isn’t really a good time to go out, but maybe when I get better.’ Well, she came up to the hospital anyway after I had my last surgery, and we haven’t been apart since.

She tried to go to college when her son was born, but couldn’t manage it while taking care of him at the same time. So, together, we found out how we could get back into school. First of all, it was about money — it usually is. So, my grandfather worked at Town & Country Ford, and we drove cars all over the Midwest and South for purchase, trade, and auction. We made three or four trips a week for a year. We took all that money and bought ourselves a car. We did all the driving and didn’t have our own car! That's still the car that I’m driving now. Then, we paid off all our bills to get back into school. Now, you had to go through certain programs when you’ve been out for a while — they call it the Start Program at Ivy Tech. And they want to limit how much you take and want you to take certain classes. It’s a great program, but I wanted to take five classes and get this done. They let me do it, and I got straight A’s. It was not easy. It was a challenge — every day was a challenge.

If you feel like the odds are stacked against you, it’s because they are. They are stacked against you.
And that’s why you fight.

"There were times where we showered at the school because we didn’t have water."

Kelly and I took lots of classes together because we were both in Visual Communications. So we literally did it together. We sat next to each other in class; we helped each other study; we broke down together; we threw our arms in the air and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ together; and then we said ‘Yes we can.’ together. It was a rollercoaster.

We had financial issues trying to go to school full-time. There wasn’t a semester where we took less than 15 hours. So it was above full time, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room to earn extra money to pay bills.

"When I found out that you could draw on the computer, it changed everything."

One of the things that kept me from pursuing drawing or painting was the expense of all the paints, brushes, and canvases. When I found out that you could draw on the computer, it changed everything. I totally switched what I wanted to do. I was like, ‘Ok, I’m going to do graphic design.’ I lived, breathed, and ate [the computer design program] Illustrator. If I was watching TV, Illustrator was open. If I was eating, Illustrator was open. If I was having a conversation on the phone — Illustrator. 

I still ask myself the question, 'What are you going to do when you grow up, Tommy? You’re 41 years old now.' And I still ask myself the question, because things keep changing. My experience at UE has changed the direction of what I want to do. I still want to illustrate, but I also want to teach.

I’m actually teaching a class here at UE in the fall; a GAP course about alternate transportation grid. I’m interested in helping students get the same opportunities that I had because I went through that program. The GAP program here puts you in a position where you’re working with real-world clients and trying to solve a real-world problem. It put me in front of people who saw my work, and that put me in a position where I got jobs. The job I’m working at now is because of that program. I know that this program can make a difference for these students like it made a difference for me, and I know that it can make a difference in our community. That is what led to me being so involved in my community — knowing what’s going on in my community and how to change it. Why things should be changed.  

"You just have to put your phone down."

I’ve lived in Evansville my whole life. I have watched things get in the way of progress, I have watched things progress rapidly, and I've watched things stay the same. What I love about this city is that I’ve watched it go through all the same stages that I’ve had in my life. You’re not moving quite as fast as you want to and then all of a sudden, hey! There are all kinds of things to do and be involved in. You just have to put your phone down. You have to go outside and you have to find those things. You have to say, "I want to be a part of this."  

There are so many people here who want to help make the lives of people in this city better. There are so many people who are involved, and they will tell you why having a bike lane is important — why having a walkable city is important. Whether you believe in climate change or not, how can you say that NOT polluting and getting a little exercise is a bad thing?! That’s what our future generations are looking for. They’re looking for a place where they can eat, live, and work all within 2-5 miles. And I see our city saying, ‘That’s what we need to do. Let’s do that.’ 

“Tommy, how do you…?”

I don’t know how to define success because a lot of it’s about being happy, and that’s the most important thing. Food, clothing, and shelter are important too — you have to have those things. You have to be able to live. How much extra do you need to be happy? 

My favorite thing is to answer the question, 'Tommy, how do you…?' To be able to say, 'This is how you do it.', and, that person learns something — takes something away that makes their life easier in the future. 'Tommy, how do you…?' is my favorite thing to hear. It makes me feel better than anything I’ve ever created. I’ve never felt as proud as when somebody asks me how to do something, and then walk away able to do it. So that’s my definition of success.