Non-graduates fund first-ever non-academic endowment


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Lora and Russ Talbot made a $2.5 million endowed gift to the ISU Alumni Association.

Claire Norton

Preserving connections and strengthening a sense of community — qualities two non-ISU graduates, Lora and Russ Talbot, feel Iowa State offers to everyone, leading them to preserve an essential part of the university — the Alumni Association.

Despite the Talbots’ love and appreciation for the university and spending the majority of their lives in Iowa, they did not attend Iowa State, making their $2.5 million endowed gift to the university unique.

Living in Belmond, Iowa, most of their lives, the Talbots planned and reached success through smart financial decision-making.

“We started early in our marriage to plan and systematically save for the future,” Russ said. “We have invested wisely throughout the years.”

The Talbots started their lifetime membership with the Alumni Association in 2008 after approaching the president and CEO for the ISU Alumni Association, Jeff Johnson.

“They were not aware that a person who is not a graduate of the university can join the Alumni Association,” Johnson said. “We have about 10,000 members of the association who are non-graduates.”

Johnson said many of the “friends” of Iowa State are parents of graduates or those who have not had the opportunity to attend a university, but if they could have, it would have been Iowa State.

From the first interactions in 1998, donating to and providing for students of Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the couple has connected with and prized the faculty and students’ passion and loyalty for what they do and the college they represent.

“We started dropping our donations off in person, and through that we felt [veterinary students’ and employees’] passion for the animals and what they do,” Lora said.

Throughout the years, as both of their interests in the university have grown, so has their generosity of donations and gifts. The Talbots have improved their scholarship funding for the College of Veterinary Medicine, and began taking initiative with their involvement within the Alumni Association.

Since joining the Alumni Association, the couple has been involved in events like rallies and tailgates, and has provided funds for the College of Human Science’s fashion show — making an endowed increase from a $500 to a $1,000 prize for the first place winner of the event.

“They also started coming in and helping on game day, working on special projects with us and really showing deep interest in us,” Johnson said. “Not just writing a check and saying ‘we’re members.’”

The Talbots’ most recent endowment has achieved more than being a place for funding for the university’s Alumni Association, but it is a brand-new standard for universities across the nation — the first of its kind.

With a $2.5 million value set to increase the Alumni Association’s prestige and worth, the award endows the seat of the president and CEO of the association, making it the first non-academic endowment in the United States.

Karen Simon, the assistant vice president of communications at the ISU Foundation, said donations collected since March 2014 have surpassed its goal of $115 million and are distributed in various ways.

“We honor our donors’ wishes regarding the areas they wish to support but those funds are generally directed through priorities identified by university leadership, including deans and department heads,” Simon said.

The Talbots said the amount of money donated was for a mutually beneficial outcome, where they are able to give back to a university so welcoming, and the university is able to put funding where it sees it beneficial and continue setting an example with positive networking.

“Our focus has been on thinking and acting long term, not for immediate rewards,” Russ said.

Johnson said this endowment will create deeper graduate connections, spread the word about alumni, provide undesignated funds to expand, create internships for students to learn and will allow for flexibility when the next Alumni Association president enters into this endowed and pre-funded position.

“This endowment is coming at such a critical time in the life of the institution where the university is growing,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we give our students as many opportunities as possible from a career perspective, but also a connection perspective.”

Lora described her appreciation for everyone at Iowa State, and felt that she, too, through connections with other graduates at the Alumni Center and Association, is a Cyclone as if she had graduated from Iowa State.

“If you drew my blood right now, in the syringe it would be cardinal and gold,” Lora said.