University of Southern Indiana

A Mistake Added up to a Lifelong Passion

by C. L. Stambush

professor and two male students

When 15-year-old sophomore Wanda June Best was given the opportunity to choose one of her high school classes in 1936, she picked bookkeeping. “I thought, oh good, I'll get to work in the library,” said Dr. Wanda Best Hibbitts, Professor Emerita of Business.

That miscalculation instilled the now 100-year-old (April 26, 1921), retired USI faculty member with a love for accounting and put her on the path to teaching the discipline for more than 40 years, despite not being allowed to earn a degree in it and told "there were no opportunities for women in accounting.” Instead, she earned a degree in business education and “took accounting courses on the side.”

After graduating college in Owensboro, Kentucky, she taught bookkeeping (accounting) in a high school, quickly learning it was not for her, as well as night classes in a business college. When she discovered one of the premier business colleges (Lockyear Business College) was in Evansville, she applied, remaining there for the next 27 years until she “saw the writing on the wall.”

There was a time when universities didn’t teach business courses, and business colleges flourished. But a new discipline—master of business administration—was taking hold, and Wanda knew she needed an MBA to teach at a university, seeing that business colleges were  starting to go under.

There was just one hitch: women weren’t allowed in the program at the first institution she wanted to attend. Not to be deterred, she applied to Indiana State University and was the first woman to be accepted into its MBA program and the first woman to graduate.

Sheepskin in hand, Wanda knocked on Indiana State University–Evansville’s door in 1970 and was a welcomed addition to the seven-member
faculty. “I had no trouble getting on with just an MBA, they were so short-staffed and needed help so badly,” she said with a chuckle. Dr. Wanda Hibbitts

The first year she taught a little bit of everything: statistics, accounting, typing and maybe one other that she can't recall. “We all taught overloads. Students piled in when we opened because so many people were in need of an education they could afford.”

True to the times, Wanda's first students were “all fellas,” with class sizes limited to 40. “Most of them were older students,” she said. “They were the ones who recognized how badly they needed an education, I guess.” Dr. Hibbitts’ memories of USI's early days brim with energy and excitement.

Buildings sprang up like wildflowers and were filled with faculty because of a growing student population. Between 1970 and her retirement in 1988, the student body expanded from hundreds to thousands, and she moved offices three times. What she recalls best was USI fighting for its independence. Other Indiana institutions were not in favor of it. “The only way we got our independence was because [then Governor Robert Orr] was from Evansville,” she said.

Today, Wanda’s memories are refueled by the cards she received in April from former students when she turned 100. More than a 100 arrived, most with handwritten letters updating her on their career paths—some having already retired. “It’s impossible for me to thank every one of them individually. I’m just so appreciative of their letters. I just can't believe it.”

What she can believe is how well they’ve all done in their careers. “They've all done so well,” she said. “I’m so proud of all of them.”

Dr. Hibbitts holding stack of cards

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