In a move that’s been described as both extraordinary and unprecedented, Iowa State University in April became the recipient of a gift to establish an endowed alumni association president and CEO’s position.
Lora and Russ Talbot’s $2.5 million gift created the Lora and Russ Talbot ISU Alumni Association Endowed President and Chief Executive Officer position – the first known endowed alumni leadership position at a college or university anywhere in the country as well as the first non-academic endowed position of any kind at Iowa State.
And what may be the most remarkable element of the newly created endowed alumni leadership position is this: Lora and Russ Talbot are not alumni of Iowa State University.
A lifelong commitment
Endowed chairs, professors, and deans are becoming increasingly common on college and university campuses across the country, and Iowa State is no exception. The ISU Foundation currently manages funds that support 207 named faculty positions, including endowed deanships for four of Iowa State’s seven colleges. In many cases, an endowed position is the highest academic award that a college or university can bestow on a faculty member, and it’s an enduring tribute to the donor who establishes it.
The Talbots, who live in Belmond, Iowa, have been long-time supporters of Iowa State. Their gifts to the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Alumni Association, and the College of Human Sciences’ annual student fashion show have made an immeasurable mark on the campus and its students. But their most recent gift to endow the Alumni Association’s president and CEO position is truly unique.
“Simply stated, we wanted our contribution to make a difference,” Lora explained. “We wanted to increase the visibility of the Alumni Association. We are dedicated to the goal of ensuring that the Alumni Association is the organization that makes a positive difference for alumni, students, and friends for many years to come.”
Funding Johnson’s vision
The Talbots’ relationship with the Alumni Association began in 2008 when they heard Jeffery W. Johnson (L)(PhD ’14), president and CEO of the organization, speak at a Foundation campaign meeting on campus. Johnson made a point to emphasize that non-ISU alumni in the audience could join the ISU Alumni Association.
“We did not know we could be members of the Alumni Association, because we were not alumni,” Russ said. “After that meeting, we immediately became not only members, but life members.”
And the relationship grew from there. Johnson later invited both Russ and Lora to become involved in volunteer positions with the organization. Lora took on a five-year term as the sole non-alumni member of the Board of Directors, and Russ began serving as a board associate on the Awards Review and Selection Committee. They then became sustaining life donors and gave generously to a variety of Alumni Association projects.
“When I think about Lora and Russ,” Johnson said, “I think less about their financial gifts and more about the kind of people they are. They don’t just write a check and disappear. They are the ultimate statement of partnership. They don’t just invest in you; they believe in you and work with you. They become part of the team.”
Johnson is the first holder of the ISUAA Talbot Endowed President and CEO position. He says the new endowment will allow the ISU Alumni Association to more visibly connect with and engage Iowa State alumni, students, and friends. Funds will specifically support Johnson’s professional development and a portion of his salary and travel expenses, as well as expanded programming initiatives within the Alumni Association. It will also establish a new Talbot Student Intern position for the organization.
Johnson was named the ISU Alumni Association’s chief executive in September 1999. He has a contagious passion for Iowa State and a strong vision for the Association’s future.
Under Johnson’s leadership, the Association has grown to be the second-largest dues-paying alumni association in the Big 12 Conference – now with nearly 53,000 members – and in 2008 the Association moved into a new $13.6 million, 34,500-square-foot alumni center.
“The Talbots’ endowment is the second major impact on the longterm positioning of the Alumni Association,” Johnson said. “The first was Roy (’57 ag journalism) and Bobbi (’06 honorary) Reiman’s (L) gift that allowed us to construct the ISU Alumni Center.”
Johnson said the Association’s work is not yet finished.
“As our alumni base continues to expand, our third goal is to endow some of our key programs to allow us to better serve alumni, students, and friends and to engage a greater number of alumni leaders and supporters for Iowa State.”
The historic gift announcement was made at the April 10 Cardinal & Gold Gala, an ISU Alumni Association fundraising event in Des Moines. ISU President Steven Leath (L) introduced the Talbots and Johnson at the annual dinner and dance.
“We are very grateful to Lora and Russ Talbot for their generous gift to establish this endowed position,” Leath told the gathered crowd. “The Iowa State University Alumni Association is a vital organization that ensures our alumni, students, and friends are connected, involved, and informed. Jeff Johnson is a tremendous and enthusiastic leader, and this gift will bolster his already successful efforts to move the Association forward.”
The Talbots say their contribution is a “wonderful opportunity” to demonstrate how they feel about the Alumni Association.
“We are extremely proud of the historic nature of our commitment to the Alumni Association,” Lora and Russ said. “Our contribution has created the first non-academic endowed position at Iowa State. It also initiated the first endowed alumni association president and CEO position at a college or university anywhere in the country. As donors, it doesn’t get any better than that!”
The Talbot endowment was established by a gift made through the Iowa State University Foundation, a private, nonprofit corporation dedicated to securing and managing gifts and grants that benefit Iowa State University.