Writer, Actor, Comedian
Indian Hills Community College, Iowa
By Evelyn Kent
A saint Tom Arnold is not. Just read his autobiography “How I lost 5 Pounds in 6 Years” for details on his somewhat lurid and hedonistic days. He’s very open about them, and he doesn’t stint to expose anyone else’s flaws either.
Some might find this along with Arnold’s penchant for blue humor, to be off putting. But community college leaders take note: When he talks about Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, he’s eloquent and passionate.
“It really was a dream for me to be one of those kids who got to go to college, as big a dream as going to Hollywood,” Arnold said. “It opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities. It put me into an environment of people with different kinds of dreams.”
Arnold’s dreams had long centered on writing. When he was in fourth grade he wrote an essay about a gas leak at a church. He didn’t win a prize for it, but the newspaper printed it. “I thought to myself, ‘this is how to get some positive attention.’”
He was hooked, but his family was unconvinced. After graduation from high school Arnold went to work at a local meat packing plant. Knowing that he needed a degree to advance, he started college. The plans of a management position evaporated. The college stuck.
“It changed my life, it really did. As much as anything that I’ve ever done,” Arnold said.
Arnold says he made straight As while at Indian Hills “because it was something I really wanted to do.” He also got kicked out of the dorms, said Jim Lindenmayer, president of Indian Hills.
He wasn’t always healthy – in fact he’s a recovering alcoholic – and the upheaval that sometimes caused was exacerbated by undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
After graduating from Indian Hills, Arnold moved onto the University of Iowa where he began his comedy career. He eventually met Roseanne of television fame on the comedy circuit, joined her show’s writing staff and married here. Fame and wealth followed. Today he co-hosts a sports show on ESPN, acts and writes.
He also plays philanthropist. When Roseanne and Arnold divorced, they gave their unfinished mansion and its surrounding acres to Indian Hills. It was appraised at $2.5 million dollars. The college earns income from the property in a variety of ways including land leases.
Arnold also provided seed money for an athletic center at the college, and he lends his name to the college’s acting workshops.
“He’s not forgotten his community or his college and that’s one of the things that I admire about him,” Lindenmayer said.
But it’s the writing scholarships that Arnold endowed about which he waxes poetic.
He chose to endow writing scholarships in a farming community because he fiercely believes that writing -- even simple thank you notes and letters -- teaches people something about themselves. “I just wanted to give some folks the opportunity to try something different. People who normally wouldn’t,” he said.
Arnold said the diverse age and experience of community college students means that the scholarships will draw the attention of people who would not ordinarily have considered writing as a possible educational or career choice. That appeals to him because, “They had to sit down and organize their thoughts and write an essay. That’s an unusual thing for someone to do who grew up on a farm.”
In the end, Arnold wants to give to other people what he found at Indian Hills. “It is about the possibility, about those small things can really change people’s lives.”