It seems like only yesterday that we were saying farewell to Jim Hopson as he retired from the Iowa State Alumni Association after 30 years – 20 as our executive director. But that was back in 1999, and soon thereafter Jim and his wife Judy moved to Arizona to enjoy the year-round sunshine.
We still saw Jim regularly. He and Judy came back for the dedication of the ISU Alumni Center in 2008 – an alumni facility for which Jim himself laid the groundwork. In fact, we had just seen Jim last fall at Homecoming 2010 and he looked as fit and happy as ever. He said he was golfing every day.
So we were shocked and deeply saddened when we received the news on Jan. 24 that Jim had died of congestive heart failure. He was 71. Jim’s death has left a big hole in the Alumni Association – and throughout the Iowa State community and the alumni relations profession.
“When Jim spoke, people listened,” said Amy Button Renz, president and CEO of the Kansas State University Alumni Association. “He just had a quiet leadership style. He made a difference in the lives of a lot of people – not just at Iowa State but in the alumni profession.”
“Jim modeled for those on his staff what it meant to be dedicated – not only to the Alumni Association and its constituents, but to the University,” said Phyllis Lepke (’69 journalism, MS ’74, PhD ’91), a retired vice president of the ISU Foundation. “I think Jim’s legacy is inclusiveness. He cared about volunteers, cared about alumni, cared about students. He involved everyone in the life of the University. That’s the definition of an alumni director.”
Karen Tow (’67 English and speech) worked at the ISU Alumni Association for 20 years as Jim’s second-in-com-mand. “He was the best boss I ever had,” said Tow, who recently retired as the chief operating officer for the University of Illinois Alumni Association. “He was kind and fair and caring and supportive and encouraging. Under his leadership, the ISU Alumni Association became one of the most highly respected organizations of its kind in the nation.”
Jim often mentored up-and-coming alumni relations staffers. “Jim asked me to chair a round table at the district conference early in my career,” said Button Renz. “When he called to ask me, I was so honored. I instantly became very involved in CASE, and I owe that to Jim.”
Likewise, Loren Taylor, the president and CEO of the University of Illinois Alumni Association, said he was a young staffer with no real alumni relations career aspirations when he first met Jim at a district conference. “I had a wonderful conversation with Jim,” he said. “He took me aside and told me that alumni relations was a noble and worthy profession and that I should consider it as my career. Twenty-six years later, here I am.”
Alumni say Jim made them feel special, even when they were students. Kevin Drury (’83 ag business) says, “I remember when I was elected senior class president and Jim invited me into his office. That really sticks out in my mind. He was so friendly; he had an easy smile. He always seemed interested in what you were doing.”
Jim will be remembered for modernizing Iowa State’s alumni records, for implementing an outstanding student alumni program, for completing the Association’s first fundraising campaign, and for launching VISIONS magazine. But he will also be remembered as a kind and generous man with a sense of humor that kicked in just when it was needed most; for giving all of the credit for the Association’s success to his staff; and for quietly leading by example.
“Jim was a wonderful boss and friend,” said Julie Larson (MS ’84 education), director of outreach and events for the ISU Alumni Association. “He gave us constant encouragement and recognition. Even when he deserved credit for things, he would never take it.”
“Jim had a genuine kindness that really drew people to him,” said Jan Breitman, retired ISUAA director of travel and educational programs.“He treated everyone as an equal.”
“Jim was a team player. He always wanted what was best for Iowa State,” said Jeff Johnson, president and CEO of the ISU Alumni Association. “His legacy lives on in our hearts, in our minds, and in everything we do on behalf of Iowa State University.”
James A. Hopson was born May 22, 1939, in Washington, D.C. A longtime Iowa resident, Jim received a B.S. in education from Iowa State in 1969. He joined the staff of the ISU Alumni Association in 1969 and was named the Association’s executive director in 1979. He held that position until his retirement in 1999.
In addition to his Association duties, he was active in his professional organizations, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE). He served on numerous university committees and was active in community organizations such as Rotary. He was a member of the Order of the Knoll, was a life and sustaining life member of the Alumni Association, and was a governor of the ISU Foundation.
CASE presented Jim with the Distinguished Service Award in 1988, and he received the Professional and Scientific Award from Iowa State in 1998. Jim is survived by his wife of 52 years, Judy (Frederick) Hopson and daughter Cindy S. Howe, both of Sun City, Ariz.