Alumni Ambassador

Bob Lumsden helped launch the Student Alumni Association and empowered students to establish new programming

Bob Lumsden (Image courtesy of UI Public Affairs)
Bob Lumsden helped launch the Student Alumni Association and empowered students to establish new programming


Champaign native Bob Lumsden, ’53 BUS, first joined the U of I staff in 1963 to fill a brand-new position at Illinois—coordinator of campus tours. The job had been created by the University as part of a statewide effort to boost tourism and make the Urbana-Champaign campus part of that excitement.

Prior to his return to his Alma Mater, Lumsden spent two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, stationed in Mainz, Germany. He then worked as a salesman for the Armstrong Cork company in Lancaster, Pa., and Colgate-Palmolive in Chicago.

In 1975, Lumsden joined the staff of the University of Illinois Alumni Association as the organization’s office manager. His extensive knowledge of the campus benefited students and alumni alike.

“I loved working with students,” says Lumsden, now age 89, a UIAA life member and a charter donor to the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. “I got to know them personally. It was a wonderful experience for me.”

Lumsden established himself as someone quite adept at bringing people together. He worked with a core group of students to form the Student Alumni Association, which grew considerably during its first three years. But then Joshua Grafton, ’83 LAS, walked into Lumsden’s office in 1978 and shared an idea that would change everything: SAA could boost its presence on campus by sponsoring Homecoming, an event that had lost its luster during the campus unrest of the ’60s and ’70s. Homecoming ’79 was a success that included a parade, a giant pep rally and fireworks. 

Lumsden and SAA went on to play a role in what would become another time-honored Illini event. In 1980, SAA helped host a party for graduating students. It took place in a field near the U of I president’s home and featured a band playing aboard a flatbed truck. Judith Ikenberry, the wife of then–UI System President Stanley Ikenberry, ’02 HON, ’19 HOS, wandered by and asked what the fuss was all about; when told, she offered to host the reception at the president’s home. In 1981, the Ikenberrys shook the hands of thousands of graduates and parents who toured the house; everyone then enjoyed a continental breakfast in the backyard.

Then came yet another innovation under Lumsden’s leadership—“Be a Part From the Start,” held on the first night of New Student Week—the concept borrowed from Penn State University. Thanks to these events and others like them, applications for SAA skyrocketed and joining became competitive. “We never really had to look back,” Lumsden says.

Another SAA innovation: Finals Survival Kits. The group raised money by selling kits stocked with snack foods and other necessities to get students through exams week. Over the years, the group has been responsible for or involved in a number of U of I traditions, including Illini Comeback and the Senior 100 Honorary.

A second organization, Student Alumni Ambassadors—a student-run organization sponsored by UIAA that develops positive relations and interactions among students, alumni, faculty and staff—spun off from SAA in 1983, and Lumsden advised these two groups until his retirement in 1993. The group is a widely known student organization that provides students with new leadership responsibilities such as planning, organizing and creating events for the entire student body. Through its hosting and tour services, the Ambassadors develop connections between students and alumni and instill pride in the University. The organization brings together a diverse group of students from all different areas of interests, majors and backgrounds to work together to make a difference at the University, working through the Alumni Association.

Today, Lumsden remains in Champaign with his wife, Sharon Lappin Lumsden, ’53 FAA, ’64 MFA. The couple’s son, Paul, ’87 ACES, is a pilot for United Airlines.

In 2016, Lumsden came out of retirement to help organize SAA’s 40th anniversary party, held at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. “People had the same description of Bob’s big smile and his calm demeanor,” says then-SAA President Kip Kuster, ’17 BUS, who attended the event. “He gave students the sense of autonomy to dream big, take ownership and create amazing programs.”


The University of Illinois Alumni Association presented its annual Alumni Awards as part of “virtual” Homecoming Week 2020, Nov. 29—Dec. 5. The UIAA honored the recipients of two Alumni Achievement Awards, the recipient of the Lou Liay Spirit Award, and recognized two Honorary Alumni. In addition, two new awards were presented, one recognizing an outstanding Young Alumni and the other championing noteworthy efforts to promote Diversity and Inclusion.

To see all recipients of the 2020 University of Illinois Alumni Awards, click here