Aside from the puttering of Kirk Bixler’s 1924 Ford Model T engine, it’s a quiet day. He cruises down a county road, observing the machines as they swallow this year’s corn harvest.
“The caterpillars are really out today,” says Director of Career Development Kirk Bixler, pointing to the tiny black figures that adorn the asphalt.
It may not look like it, but these corn fields south of Franklin narrowly escaped an impervious fate. In the past, federal planners considered building an interstate here to bypass Indianapolis.
“All of this would have been built up,” Bixler said. “It would have really changed the character of Franklin.”
With a stop sign in the distance, he employs his engine brake. He turns into a residential neighborhood near Blue Heron Park.
“Sometimes I feel like Franklin is getting too big. I like the small-town feel,” Bixler said.
The Quiet Connector
Bixler likes a small crowd. His wife Cheryl said he doesn’t like to be the center of attention. After being married to him for 29 years, she feels confident in her assessment.
“I think I pretty much know it all,” Cheryl said.
Growing up, Bixler didn’t need a car. He grew up in Huntington, Indiana where he rode his bike everywhere. The habit of reading lingers from his childhood. According to Cheryl, he reads—constantly. He can finish a book in one day.
She is not like him. She is social and an organization guru. Yet, she makes compromises for her family.
“I used to not be able to function if things weren’t in place, but I can do that now,” Cheryl said. “You have to have a mess.”
Adjunct instructor Ellis Hall met Bixler 20 years ago when he began his work in the former center for student affairs. The two of them get together with other faculty and staff members from the college to play board games.
“Kirk is subtle in his competitiveness. When he thinks he’s on the road to winning he just gets this little smile and nods,” Hall said.
Bixler’s love of board games and antique cars fits with his personality, according to Marti Schrock, executive secretary for the student development department. She said he is a connector, who focuses much of his time on relationship building. His car gives him the chance to interact with a wide range of people.
The Patient Experimenter
The car brings him joy, but it has also given him a fright on occasion.
“I was coming down a hill getting ready to cross 31, and I went to stop and the car didn’t stop,” Bixler said. “I actually rolled halfway across 31. I was really, really lucky.”
Bixler and Cheryl bought the car, which has been in Cheryl’s family for decades, from an uncle at a family wedding. He didn’t want it anymore and suspected that the Bixler’s did. He was right.
Bixler likes its pace: It maxes out at 35 mph. He said he would choose it over Mustang any day because it provides a unique challenge.
“Driving that thing is like a dance. Unless you’re just going down a long straightway, you’re sort of constantly in movement,” Bixler said.
Bixler’s friends aren’t surprised that he values his car.
“Kirk likes to tinker. Kirk does not like to stay idle,” Hall said. “He likes driving around on backcountry roads and seeing the domain—seeing what’s changed. I think there is a contentment.”
The only thing that surprises his wife about the car is Bixler’s level of devotion to it.
“He always surprises me,” Cheryl said. “Kirk is not scared to tackle anything. He tries to fix everything.”
The Humble Professional
Bixler has spent his professional years tinkering around higher education. He spent his undergrad years at Earlham College, where he became a hall director his senior year.
He got his Masters at Ball State University and later took a split career development and housing position at Albion College in Michigan. He then worked at New York’s Oswego College and Montana State University in residence life positions.
He moved to Franklin, where his face is a common sight after voluntarily staffing the box office at the Artcraft Theatre for nearly two decades. He’s also the treasurer of the Franklin Rotary Club, an international service organization, and the president of the Johnson County Library Board.
Greg Moore, who has served on several city committees and the rotary club with Bixler, said he puts service above himself to the extent that he can’t stop helping people.
“You get a lot more out of it for yourself than you might think going in just by helping other people. I think for him it’s addictive,” Moore said.
Between volunteering, helping students find jobs and taking his elderly neighbors on nostalgic rides, Bixler stays fairly active.
Jenny Cataldi, director of the office of global education, said that the town is lucky to have him. As his former coworker, she knows that Bixler doesn’t like to brag about his off-campus endeavors.
“I don’t think I’ve met anyone as committed to the community as Kirk is,” Cataldi said. “Kirk is kind of the man about town, and he does it so quietly,” Cataldi said.