Creating the Framework
In 1878, six years after he graduated from Iowa State, Edgar W. Stanton realized his goal of creating lifetime Iowa State connections for his classmates when he formed the Alumni Association. Stanton, who went on to serve as a teacher and administrator at Iowa State for 50 years, wrote: “As college chums we were inseparable – we studied together, worked in the same office, occupied the same room in Old Main through long winter vacations, walked, talked, planned for the future; knew each other as an open book and grew to be friends, not for an hour or a year, but for life.” The Association today continues to reflect Stanton’s original desire to keep the people of Iowa State connected to the institution and to each other for a lifetime. The challenges and opportunities were similar, but Stanton had to start from the ground up to build his vision into the thriving organization that remains today.
A vision for the organization
The Association was operated entirely by volunteers until 1914, but a lack of paid staff didn’t prevent the organization from doing important work in its early years. A special leadership committee was formed in 1885, and the first constitution of the Alumni Association of the Iowa Agricultural College was adopted in 1889. By 1904, the Association had incorporated.
The early work of the Alumni Association was heavily focused on building alumni connections. The first alumni club was organized in Chicago in 1893, and the first international alumni club was formed in the Philippines in 1905. An alumni dinner was held during commencement week starting in 1905, and by 1910 it had grown into a full-fledged reunion. In 1912, a prominent Iowa State tradition was established when the Association organized Iowa State’s first-ever homecoming celebration – a pep rally on Friday and a reception for alumni and friends on Saturday when Iowa State played the University of Iowa on the gridiron.
In 1914, the “Alumni Bureau” was formed, and math professor Ward M. Jones, class of 1897, was hired as its first general secretary. Some of his first responsibilities were compiling card files of alumni and working to supervise and control requests for alumni donations in order to reduce the number of solicitations alumni received.
Establishing a voice for Iowa State
The Alumni Association took an early role in galvanizing alumni advocacy in the state legislature. In 1915, amid widespread debate about state higher education appropriations, the Alumni Bureau created and distributed two booklets with information about the university that it hoped would encourage legislative support. The Alumni Association also played a role in advocating for the maintenance of Lake LaVerne, in discouraging annual competition with the University of Iowa for state appropriations, and in determining a way to honor the sacrifices of Iowa Staters serving in World War I. A committee approved a $1 million fundraising plan in 1920, and today the fruit of its labor—the Memorial Union—is one of the most important and recognized buildings on campus.
Making a home
After Old Main was destroyed by fire in 1902, the Association was left without accommodations. At its annual meeting in 1903, it was suggested that the Association build a separate facility at a cost of $15,000. However, the Association found a solution by partnering with the YMCAYWCA and contributing $15,000 toward its new building costs. In 1908, the Association began working from the third floor of the newly constructed Alumni Hall (now the Enrollment Services Center).
Expanding our Reach
This was the time when the Association did it all. In 1932, the Alumni Association reincorporated to include provisions for an Alumni Fund and spent more than two decades serving as the college’s primary fundraising entity. From creating scholarships to establishing the “630 Club” (now Cyclone Club) for athletics fundraising, the Alumni Association was the conduit through which alumni could give money to ISC without the dollars becoming property of the state. From 1934-1938, the Association had rights to all potentially patentable processes and devices growing out of college-supported research before the creation of the Iowa State Research Foundation. But, through it all, building and maintaining connections between Iowa State and Iowa Staters remained the Association’s primary focus as Iowa State continued to grow.
The Memorial Union
Leadership of the Association was assumed in 1923 by Harold Pride, class of 1917, who had been initially hired in 1921 with the goal of putting his full effort into the ongoing Memorial Union fundraising efforts. The Memorial Union was incorporated in 1922 and became a separate entity from the Alumni Association. The fundraising goal was reached in 1925, and ground was broken April 26, 1927. A year later, the Association moved into new offices on the second floor of the facility and began hosting several activities there.
At the 1937 annual meeting, arrangements were made to separate the affairs and offices of the Association and the Memorial Union. Since 1923, Pride had been the secretary of both organizations and managing director of the MU. Since this had become too much for one person, Pride’s position was split into two and he became full-time director of the MU. Wallace E. Barron, class of 1928, was appointed full-time director of alumni affairs. Despite the split, the efforts of the Alumni Association and Memorial Union were entwined for many years to follow, and the Association would go on to occupy office space in the building until 2004.
An organization with purpose
During this period, the Association expanded into many new areas – not just fundraising and patents. As a leader, Barron placed new emphasis on the role of the Association in recruiting students to ISC, communicating with alumni, and modernizing its records system. An IBM punch card machine was implemented in 1953, and Iowa State remained on the cutting edge of alumni records system technology for many decades to follow.
Outreach to World War II service members and veterans was important to the Association during this period of time. The “Alumni Employment Committee,” created in 1942, focused on helping veterans gain postwar employment. The Association also offered a membership program that allowed members to purchase discounted gift memberships for those on overseas duty from the classes of 1941-1945.
This period also saw the beginning of the Association’s outreach to another group: students. In the early 1940s the board began inviting the student body president to all executive committee meetings. In 1952, a 13-member Student Advisory Committee was created to help the Alumni Achievement Fund board and help publicize other phases of alumni work. In 1952 the Association also began awarding the “Senior Prize” to the graduating senior with the highest GPA and helping sponsor annual senior class activities.
Focus on outreach
Several traditions were established during this period in celebration of alumni that still thrive today, including the presentation of gold medals at Alumni Days (1926), the celebration of Founder’s Day on March 22 (1928), and even reunions of the Cyclone football team (1934).
The creation of the Alumni Association’s awards program was also a hallmark of this era. The Chicago branch presented the first-ever Award of Merit in 1932, and in 1948 a committee was formed to plan future awards activities.
Advancing Iowa State University
Iowa State College became Iowa State University in 1959, and the university era brought the Alumni Association into a new period – one of focus on new technology, new ideas, and new constituencies. The Association adopted the provisions of the Iowa Non-Profit Corporation Act in 1974 and became a 501(c) (3) organization. With innovations in the areas of microfilm records, computerized central records, life insurance and credit card affinity programs, and corporate and business outreach, the Iowa State University Alumni Association developed a strong national reputation for its work.
Giving recognition to those who make Iowa State great has been considered a major goal of the Association during this period. In 1961, the Association cooperated with the Memorial Union to help display in Gold Star Hall the names of alumni who lost their lives during the Korean War. But the Association has also worked diligently to honor service to the university – through its ever-expanding awards program, though club leadership training and workshops, and through the creation of The Circle in 1999 to recognize all former chief executives of the Association and leaders of its board of directors.
Connecting on campus
In 1964, the Association took over the duties of overseeing the university’s Parents Day program, and it soon became clear there was a strong role the Association could play in the student leadership realm. In 1973, the Student Alumni Association was formed to work not just with Parents Weekend, but other programs of value to current students.
Homecoming Central Committee was brought into the fold in 1982, and Cyclone Alley in 2003. Today the organization, now known as the Student Alumni Leadership Council (SALC), attracts some of the campus’ best and brightest leaders. The Collegiate Alumni Association, a student membership program begun in 1996 that now bears the Student Alumni Association name, has traditionally been one of the largest organizations of its kind in the country.
Other areas in which the Association has partnered with the university during this period have included taking over responsibility for printing a campus wall calendar (1975), working with the University Book Store to merchandise ISU memorabilia (1978), creating a committee to improve coordination of alumni relations among ISU’s colleges (1987), and in 2007 taking over management of both the ISU Retirees Association and ISU College for Seniors, now called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Iowa State University. Members of The Circle gave $5,500 in 2003 toward the purchase of the official university mace, and in 2004 the ISUAA board of directors partnered with the Association’s credit card affinity partner, MBNA, to donate $200,000 toward the renovation of historic Morrill Hall.
New ideas, new services
In 1963, the Alumni Association announced it would offer a “Holiday in Europe” for members and their immediate families, and the ISUAA travel program has been expanding ever since. In 1967, pre- and postgame football events were planned for Cyclone football road games. Travel opportunities expanded in 1971 with ISU’s first-ever bowl game; the ISUAA has continued to offer bowl travel packages for fans. In the mid-1980s, the ISUAA’s tradition of hosting events and parties in Kansas City during the conference basketball tournament began.
Other innovations during this timeframe included the creation of the legacy program for children of alumni (1990), the student mentoring program (1996), the official ISU Ring (2002), the Sustaining Life donor program (2003), and the Young Alumni Council (2007). The Association expanded and innovated repeatedly over the years, but even as late as 2005 it still found itself without a permanent home.
Home sweet home
In 2004, the Alumni Association vacated its office space in the Memorial Union and headed to temporary quarters in Fisher-Nickell Hall in anticipation of one of its greatest enhancements yet: the construction of the ISU Alumni Center. Thanks to the generosity of lead donors Roy and Bobbi Reiman of Greendale, Wis., as well as hundreds of other generous alumni and friends, ground was broken at Homecoming 2005. In 2008, the dream of a permanent home for ISU alumni, students, and friends was realized in this beautiful, 34,500-square-foot facility.
“Iowa State University has become home for thousands of young people as they begin their life’s journey,” ISU President Gregory Geoffroy told crowds at the building dedication during Homecoming 2008. “Now alumni and friends have a home. Welcome home to your new Iowa State University Alumni Center!”
A gift for the future
In April 2015, Iowa State friends Lora and Russ Talbot of Belmond, Iowa, provided a historic gift of $2.5 million to create the Lora and Russ Talbot Iowa State University Alumni Association Endowed President and Chief Executive Officer position -- the first non-academic endowed position at ISU and the first endowed alumni association president and CEO position at a college or university in the United States.
The Iowa State University Alumni Association is an independent 501(c)3, self-governing organization charged with the mission of engaging the talents and resources of alumni, students, and friends in the life, work, and aspiration of Iowa State University. Our vision is to become the lifetime partner in engaging all alumni, students, and friends with Iowa State University.