By: Gail Werner—
Ball State University has lost an institutional icon.
J. Allan Rent, known to the campus community as Al, was serving as executive director and general manager for public broadcasting operations at Ball State when he died after an extended illness. He was 73.
“It’s an immeasurable loss, not only for public broadcasting but the city of Muncie and Ball State,” said Angie Rapp, marketing manager at WIPB-TV and Indiana Public Radio (IPR). “There was no one else like him … he meant so many things to so many different people.”
Over the years, Rent, a 1967 graduate of the university, held multiple roles at Ball State, beginning as coordinator of radio and television news for its public information services office. For the next 20 years, Rent worked outside the university in public relations, advertising, and as vice president and co-owner of local radio stations WLBC-FM and WXFN-FM. He returned to campus in 1993 as director of marketing, a position that became director of relationship marketing and community relationships in 2006. He held that role until 2015, when he took over as director of WIPB-TV and IPR.
“Al was a fixture in local broadcasting for decades, and was one of the university’s greatest champions,” said Terry King, interim president. “To know Al was to know a man who was warm, generous and always wearing a smile and offering an encouraging word. His loss is felt deeply by members of the Ball State and greater Muncie communities, and his many contributions to both will have lasting impact.”
A mentor behind the camera
Community leader Terry Whitt Bailey remembers Rent as a mentor turned friend.
“Al gave me opportunities I didn’t even know I wanted,” said Bailey, community development director for the city of Muncie. “He was one of those people who helped me understand how important it was to cross over into the community as a representative of Ball State.”
When she and Rent first met 20-plus years ago, she was a university employee and he needed someone to fill his shoes for some on-air work. “I didn’t have a background in television, but he taught me everything, from how to talk in front of the camera to how to use a teleprompter.”
In the decade that followed, the two co-hosted multiple broadcasts, from coverage of Ball State’s commencement exercises to producing half-time shows for the men’s basketball games.
When Bailey left to work outside the university, Rent championed her as a local leader. “He’d call people like me and say, ‘I’d like for you to consider serving on this board,’ and in that way, his mentor hat never came off.”
‘You could never tell Al no’
Rent’s positive attitude and boundless energy—“We called him the Energizer Bunny,” Rapp said—made him a welcome presence on multiple committees and boards in the community.
He was a founding board member of Huffer Memorial Children’s Center, and served on boards for Meridian Health Services, Minnetrista Cultural Center, Muncie Symphony Orchestra (MSO), Meridian Health Services, the Greater Muncie Area Council on Youth Leadership, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Team.
His charisma also made him a powerful salesman on behalf of causes dearest to him.
“Just last year, he convinced me to participate as one of the leaders to raise money for MSO,” said Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler. “Of course I said yes, because you could never tell Al no.”
Tyler described Rent as “an icon for all the right reasons—for the way he loved Ball State and the people of Muncie. I never saw him without something positive to say.”
‘He was Muncie’
Michelle Kinsey, who cohosted WIPB-TV’s biannual telesales fundraisers with Rent for more than a decade, said all of her favorite memories with Rent involve laughter.
“Doing the telesales spots with Al were some of the times I’ve laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed,” said Kinsey, community engagement coordinator for WIPB-TV and IPR. “He had a story for everything, a funny anecdote no matter the situation.”
Like Bailey, Kinsey said Rent made her believe in herself. “When he brought me in to co-host the telesales, it was with a ‘You’ve got this kid’ attitude. He wanted everyone to succeed and he wanted the community to be the best it could be. He was Muncie, in every sense of the word.”
He was also “Mr. Ball State,” said friend and former colleague Tim Underhill.
“Over the years I worked with Al promoting Ball State, he never had to put on an act,” the telecommunications instructor said, “because he loved this place and it showed. His voice is recognizable far beyond our campus.”
Rent’s legacy well recognized
A lifetime of service to the Ball State and Muncie communities led to multiple honors for Rent.
In 2010, the local newspaper, the Star Press, named him Person of the Year and in 2016, the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce awarded him with its highest honor, the Legacy Award.
“Giving him that award was a symbol of how much his influence touched all of us,” said Jay Julian, chamber president.
Every spring the chamber hands out the “The Al Rent Spirit of Muncie Award” to an influential member of the community. Rent was the first recipient, said Julian, noting Rent’s involvement with the chamber also included creating the Muncie on the Move breakfast series, a networking event that “Al always made sure was high-energy and fun.”
“He was always challenging everybody all the time to do something for other people,” Julian said. “That’s just who he was.”
Rent and his wife, Linda, have two children and four grandchildren.
Services for Al Rent are being handled by Meeks Mortuary. The celebration of life will be 11 a.m. Saturday at High Street Methodist Church, 219 S. High St. Calling hours will be 3-7 p.m. Friday at the same location.
Gail Werner is a Media Strategist at Ball State University
In 1988, Al narrated a promotional video about Muncie. You may view below.