Alumnus still hostage in Iraq

By Acton Gorton

Jeffrey Ake, a 47-year-old University alumnus and successful businessman, remains missing after he was taken hostage last week while in Iraq to install machinery for bottling water.

Vanessa Faurie, a spokeswoman for the University’s Alumni Relations, said the University is devastated to hear about the kidnapping of Ake – who graduated in 1981 with a double major in history and psychology – and is hoping for the best outcome.

Faurie said the University has a reputation for producing alumni that are great citizens of the world.

“He is very much a role model,” she said.

Back home in his small town of LaPorte, Ind., Ake has developed a reputation for giving back to the community. According to the Marquis “Who’s Who” directory of outstanding people, Ake is active in various organizations: the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program; a prison-sponsoring program to help reform inmates; and Jaycees, a junior leadership development program.

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Ake also maintained several memberships with business and leadership development organizations and wrote a book titled Aggressive Exporting: How to make your company an international tiger.

Ake’s commitment to bettering society extends outside of his community. He has traveled to several developing nations around the world to install machinery made by his company, Equipment Express Inc., for bottling and labeling clean water – something desperately needed in developing countries. His company has won awards from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business for three years in a row and has been listed as one of Indiana’s 100 fastest growing businesses.

Winton Solberg, a University professor emeritus in history, remembers Ake from a class he taught. Solberg said that when he heard news about a businessman taken hostage in Iraq, it didn’t occur to him until he read a news article in the Daily Illini that it was his own student.

Solberg is not a stranger to foreign conflicts – he was an infantry officer in World War II. He expressed concern for Ake’s safety and felt compelled to write his family a letter as soon as he learned it was his student.

Solberg said Ake is as close as you can get to an ideal student, “a marvelous human being.” He recalled that Ake wrote a difficult honors thesis on the American transcendentalism movement in the 1830s, a literary movement with religious and philosophical meaning. Initially, Solberg said, he was very concerned that the paper may have been out of Ake’s league, but Ake did a great job.

Solberg said he remembered how Ake sometimes came over to the house for dinner and kept in touch with him after graduation.

Ake also is an alumnus of the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity on campus. However, due to concerns of creating a media storm over Ake’s hostage situation, the fraternity’s national headquarters advised the local chapter to not speak to the press – a situation that has been replicated in Ake’s hometown where the city’s mayor canceled a scheduled prayer vigil for unknown reasons.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Ake’s family and friends have also been advised by federal officials not to speak to the press. Additionally, local churches have taken any mention of Ake out of their Sunday sermons due to concern that media attention could worsen Ake’s situation. Even local townspeople are quiet when talking to the press – in some cases, they are lecturing the press for turning their small town upside down.