Tom Hill honored at farewell ceremony

Tom Hill and his wife, Billye (R), greet Iowa Sen. Herman Quirmbach (M) and other attendees during Hill’s retirement ceremony on Dec. 14 in the Sun Room.

Danielle Ferguson

Tom Hill is the kind of guy who will yell across a Sam’s Club, the ISU campus or Walmart to say hello, the type of guy you can get a superdog at 1:30 a.m. and break your diet with.

Hill is also the kind of man who will lead collaboration, take the time to chat with students on a regular basis and who will always put students first.

All of this and more was shared about Hill at his farewell ceremony Monday afternoon, where about 400 people from the both inside and out of the university community gathered to share their stories about how Hill influenced their lives.

“He’s been a wonderful advocate for students,” ISU President Steven Leath said. “Everyone from students to administration is going to miss him.”

A reception in the Memorial Union allowed Hill to greet each one of his guests one-on-one, after which they all mingled over a snack bar of spicy chicken wings, shrimp, deviled eggs and mini apple frangipane tarts.

They had to bring out the good food for someone like Hill, a guest in line said.

Hill will transition to a position as a senior adviser to Leath after his time as Iowa State’s senior vice president of Student Affairs for almost 20 years, an amount he never could have anticipated.

“I kept my stuff in the garage for the first three years. I did not unpack,” Hill said in regard to considering Iowa State a stop on his way to a different position. “After the fourth year, I thought, meh, maybe I ought to unload.”

Prior to the two-hour program that featured numerous speakers, the crowd took a moment of silence for the 18-year-old ISU student, Emmalee Jacobs, who died Monday morning after a hit-and-run accident.

The two hour program featured Leath, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Martino Harmon, Provost Jonathan Wickert, Student Government President Dan Breitbarth, Student Support Services Director Japannah Kellogg and three ISU alumni on whom Hill had made an impact.

Leath told the crowd of a time he and Hill were out on Welch Avenue to “make sure things were going well,” and trying to “embrace the student [culture].” Where were the students? In a line.

“I said to Tom, ‘Have you ever gotten a superdog?” Leath said. “Tom is kind of on a restricted diet and I’m just supposed to be on a diet. We looked around, didn’t see [our wives] anywhere nearby, so we got in this line and the first question we got from the students was, ‘What are you doing here?’”

“I just looked at them and said, ‘Getting a superdog.’”

Leath said he approves of the superdog.

Leath also spoke of Hill’s work with the Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity, the conference which Hill helped create on campus, saying Hill’s push to get people talking about the sensitive topics of race and ethnicity have spread through campus. Japannah Kellogg, program coordinator for student services support and director of ISCORE, later announced that ISCORE was going to be renamed the Tom L. Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity.

Others shared fond memories of Hill, as well, including former student Robert Taylor.

Taylor, a 2013 ISU graduate with a bachelor’s in liberal arts and sciences and sociology, attributed his success to Hill, and used his turn at the podium to use his trade skill of poetry as his way to say thank you. Taylor shared a poem he wrote after his graduation from Iowa State an act — he said, that started with Hill.

When Taylor was an undergraduate, he received a pink letter from the university that essentially said after reviewing most recent transcripts, his “stay here [at Iowa State] ha[d] come to an end,” suggesting he attend a community college to get his grades back up and regain confidence.

“I left feeling devastated because the first time my father had seen a college campus was when he dropped me off,” Taylor said. “I remember thinking, ‘I failed. I messed up. I blew it.’”

His friend told him to go to Dr. Hill.

“I get there and Dr. Hill has my transcripts laid out all over his desk,” Taylor said, to which the crowd, Hill included, responded with laughter. “I had practiced when I was going to bring out the tears and everything but at that point, I knew this wasn’t going to go the way I wanted it to.”

The first thing Hill said to Taylor as he walked through the door was, “I know you, but the person in this transcript is completely different.”

Hill told Taylor that he deserved the chance at an education, recommended he go to DMACC to get the A he deserved and return to Iowa State.

“You deserve to show yourself that you can make A’s. I wanted to feel broken, but everything he said was about ‘You are worthy of the A.’”

Taylor did that, returned to Iowa State and was able to walk across the stage. He now works as a poetry consultant in the Des Moines school district, a position that was created for him.

“The great thing about that office, was he reminded me of my worth,” Taylor said.

Hill’s sons sent in videos with messages of love and thanks. Hill will be moving to Dallas where one of his sons lives.

Iowa State performed an international search for whom will fill Hill’s position, Leath said. It’s now down to the final three, whose names will be released to the public in January, he said.

“They say if you find something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Hill said. “I actually don’t feel like I’ve been working. In fact, I’ve been waiting for somebody to come tap me on my shoulder and say, ‘Hey dude, you’ve been stealing.’ This is about serving students. I have much love and respect for Iowa State University.”