SOKY Citizen: Timothy Caboni
When Timothy Caboni left Western Kentucky University in 1994 after earning his master’s degree, he never thought he would come back. While he had enjoyed his time in Bowling Green, he was ready to return to his home state of Louisiana to begin his career. But 23 years later, Caboni did return when he was named WKU’s 10th president. And even though he never imagined he’d be back, he’s certainly glad to be here.
“Every day I know I’m blessed to be here in Bowling Green, which is a wonderful community, and at Western, which is an excellent university,” Caboni said.
Caboni first came to Bowling Green when he was looking for a place to finish his master’s degree. A friend who had studied at Western told him he should talk to people at WKU about opportunities there, and six weeks later “I loaded up the Tercel and drove to Bowling Green,” Caboni recalled.
While at WKU, Caboni taught classes and worked as a waiter and bartender at a local restaurant. He lived downtown, enjoying a bit of the city life he was used to.
“Bowling Green was a great small town,” Caboni said, “but I couldn’t find good crawfish.”
Finding good crawfish is important for a New Orleans native.
“New Orleans is part of who I am,” Caboni expained. “I had a unique New Orleans experience growing up.”
Caboni’s grandmother had an antique shop in the heart of the city and he spent much of his childhood in the French Quarter. New Orleans is a special place because of the food, the culture and the focus on family, he said. “There is this interesting pull back there,” Caboni added. He and his wife, Kacy Schmidt Caboni, go down to visit family twice a year, especially enjoying the annual crawfish boil.
Growing up in New Orleans may have also influenced Caboni’s love of music. He played tenor saxophone in high school and was drum major. He played in the marching band at Louisiana State University, where he was a music major for a while.
Caboni also enjoyed acting on occasion. While studying at WKU, he did some plays with Fountain Square Players, and when he left Western, “I thought I might be going to New York to become an actor,” he said.
Instead, he headed back down south and began his career in higher education at Loyola University.
“I’ve had a bit of a Forrest Gump career,” Caboni said. “I’ve kind of floated along on the breeze.”
That breeze led to some wonderful experiences, including jobs at Loyola, Vanderbilt University and the University of Kansas. Finally, it led him back to Bowling Green.
And all those experiences have helped shape who Caboni is as university president. His time as a professor at Vanderbilt helps him understand what is means to be a faculty member, and his time studying higher education leadership and policy help him know how to reflect on what current literature says and put that into action.
“One of the great things about WKU is that it’s ideas in action,” Caboni said.
“The mission of this place to transform lives is crucial,” he added. “There’s nothing more enjoyable.”
When Caboni came back to Bowling Green, it had been years since he had been here. He was amazed by the growth that had occurred in both the city and the university. And since moving here, he and his wife have learned to enjoy all that the community and university have to offer. The two enjoy golfing, which Caboni says is “the only time I can turn off my cell phone,” as well as visiting local restaurants.
“Food is an important thing to me,” Caboni said. And the good news is that he can find good gumbo and crawfish here now.
When Caboni is out and about, he’s a fairly recognizable figure, what with his southern gentleman style of nice suits, bow ties and fashionable socks. It’s a style he established early in life.
“There’s a photo of me at about 3 or 4 years old wearing a bow tie,” Caboni said. “I grew up wearing that. In New Orleans, it’s normal.”
Another reason Caboni is glad to be in Bowling Green is that his style is more accepted here than it was in Kansas. “There’s a little more appreciation for it here,” he said.
Caboni doesn’t mind being recognized when he is out in public; he knows that is part of being a university president. It’s a 24/7 job, and that is fine with him, especially considering that some of his job is quite enjoyable and fun.
“I love to work,” Caboni said. “And if going to a musical production or watching a basketball game is work, bring it on.”
– by Pam Cassady
About the Author: Pam Cassady is editor and calendar coordinator for SOKY Happenings Magazine. A graduate of Western Kentucky University, she has been writing and editing for various publications for over 20 years.