Back home and building relationships

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Neubauer

“Who’d you see, John?”

That was the first question my mother would ask my dad when he came home from errands, church, work. As a sales manager for Kellogg’s, he met many people. And as a relationship builder, he worked to know each of them in a meaningful way.

His warm heart led to more than a few cold dinners that had to be reheated. But he didn’t mind. He treasured the relationships he built with people.

He passed on that love of relationship building to me. And I cannot tell you how excited I am to be bringing that love back to my hometown, Champaign, in serving my Alma Mater as president of the University of Illinois Alumni Association.

To be candid, this has been my dream. To come home and practice the profession I love at my Alma Mater. I went away for many years—but I always hoped I would return.

I had grown up just a few miles from the U of I. Yet, when I set foot on campus as a freshman in 1977, it felt magical. The pristine lawns of the Quad, the stately and storied buildings, the magnificent Alma Mater at Green and Wright…it all felt like part of some grand adventure.

And it was.

And now, 40 years later, that grand adventure has come full circle. I am back home in the community that I love, on the campus that I love, in the job that I love—building relationships with some 750,000-plus alumni.

I think my dad, who has passed on, would be looking for a way to come along for the ride.

There’s something else you might like to know about my dad (because in telling you about him, I am revealing a lot about me): He loved his job. During 45 years of working for Kellogg’s, he missed only 11 days.

A strong work ethic and a love of people. That’s what he brought to his work, and that’s what I’m bringing to mine. I have worked in alumni relations for almost 35 years at Carnegie Mellon University,  University of Pittsburgh, Indiana University, and most recently, Ohio University, where I had assumed I would retire.

To be candid, this has been my dream. To come home and practice the profession I love at my Alma Mater.

Instead, I have been given the opportunity to come home to continue the legacy and the work of former presidents Chilly Bowen, ’22 BUS, Gene Vance, ’47 AHS, EDM ’55, Jim Vermette, ’60 LAS, Lou Liay, EDM ’62, and Loren Taylor. I am humbled to be following in their footsteps and thankful for the confidence that President Timothy Killeen, Chancellor Robert J.  Jones, UIAA Board Chair Steve Van Arsdell ’72 BUS, MAS ’73, and the search committee have shown in me.

With my dad’s work ethic and love of relationship building firmly implanted, I won’t let them down.

If he were still with us, and checking in on me at the end of each day, I know the first thing he’d ask:

“Who’d you see, Jen?”

And I’d tell him I’d seen some of the most inspiring, engaging, insightful and caring people around: you.


Jennifer Lewis Neubauer, ’82 ED

President, University of Illinois Alumni Association