#TIYMLI with Lorene Burkhart

photography by Polina Osherov

Growing up in Indianapolis, I saw lots of stories about Lorene Burkhart in the media. In those days, meeting a woman so accomplished was just a dream for yours truly.

Then one day, a friend and colleague of mine, Jeff Cohen, mentioned that he wanted me to meet Lorene because he thought we would get along great and because he thought I could assist her in one of her projects.  I wasted no time and presented myself at her fabulous condo on top of the Tarkington Towers and the two of us have never looked back.

Born and raised in Vincennes, Indiana on a farm, she became the valedictorian of her class and went on to enjoy a dynamic career that resulted in national recognition for her work in PR and advertising.

During her storied career, Lorene held leadership positions at Ruben, Montgomery, and Associates, JennAir Corporation and Borden, Inc. Lorene also founded the Women’s Investment Network.

After retiring, Lorene dove into full-time volunteer fundraising, helping dozens of local groups with such passion and commitment that it earned her many accolades and awards for her philanthropic endeavors, including being named Most Influential Woman in 1996 by the IBJ.

But that’s not all!! Lorene also got into newspaper publishing and writing (The Indianapolis Register), authoring many books while continuing her philanthropic work through membership on multiple non-profit boards.

It’s impossible to list all the incredible things this woman has done in Indianapolis – she’s truly a legend, and it’s an honor to call Lorene my friend and my mentor.

Deborah Dorman: Where does your inspiration come from?

LB: My inspiration comes from people, both those I meet and those I read about, events around me and in the world, publications that open my mind to new ideas and venturing beyond my comfort zone.

DD: In your incredible journey of life, has there been a time when you fell off the ladder and if so, who was there to help you pick yourself up?

LB: Pulling myself together required a combination of turning to my faith and my friends.  I have never lived near my immediate family so didn’t rely on them as much.

DD: What one thing you wish your 25 year old self knew before embarking on your personal and professional journeys?

LB: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

DD: If you had the opportunity to start all over, what would you do?

LB: I would learn about conflict resolution.  If I had known how to talk through conflict, it would have saved me a lot of heartache.

DD: Describe a life-changing moment. 

LB: My marriage to John Burkhart.  He was exactly right for me in every way.

DD:  What’s one of your favorite mantras to live by?

LB: Hope is a resolution you can keep.  Also, NO is not definite.

DD:  I consider you a life saver. If you could save our world now, what would you do?

LB: I would lobby for all young people to be required to learn life skills – how to eat and prepare meals, manage their time and resources and learn to become responsible adults.

DD: What three characteristics are essential to being a great leader and philanthropist?

LB: A great leader and philanthropist inspires followers to think creatively, act with resolution and have faith in their decisions.

DD:  Is there a dream that you never fulfilled?

LB: I never dreamed I would live the life I have been given, every opportunity has been a dream I didn’t know I wanted.

DD: What are five words that best describe you?

LB: Teacher, worker, designer, writer and friend.

DD: You’ve organized so many events and fundraisers. Which one stands out as the most meaningful one and why?

LB: The Louis Feraud Fashion Show to benefit the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  It inspired Indianapolis women to think about their personal style and where they fit in the world of fashion.

DD: You’ve lived in Indianapolis for many years, and have watched it change over the years. What do you regret seeing change, and what did you love seeing change?

LB: I regret the loss of the high end stores in Circle Center Mall (Nordstrom) and I love seeing the improvement of the city parks and green spaces.

DD: What is the best advice you ever received, that you never followed? 

LB: I really can’t think of any.  I always marched to my own drummer.

DD: Tell us how you came to love fashion. What was the first designer dress you bought? Who are your favorite designers? 

LB: I learned to love fashion when I wanted to win the Dress Review at the 4-H County Fair. I had to sew my outfit and pick the correct accessories. There wasn’t much fashion inspiration on the farm so I had to be resourceful.  My first designer dress was designed for me by Nolan Miller. He was visiting a local store and assisted customers with their design choice then had it made in his shops. My favorite designer has always been Oscar de la Renta. I got to meet him when he did a store appearance and I was impressed with his elegance.

DD: Do you have future plans to showcase your fashion collection to the public?

LB: No. What remains will go to my granddaughters (the eldest loves to “shop” in my closet) and to friends before being donated somewhere.

DD:  What is your proudest moment and why?

LB: There are two proudest moments.  One was my grandaughter’s wedding and the other was receiving an Honorary Doctorate from my alma mater, Purdue University.

Thank you, Lorene, for sharing part of your life journey with all the PATTERN readers. You are a woman of distinction that I still read about, and now I am the one who has the honor to write your story.

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