If Keith Lincoln’s sky blue 1967 El Camino pickup wasn’t sitting in front of his Pullman home, it was likely parked behind the Lewis Alumni Centre. On some weekends, the longtime executive director of the Washington State University Alumni Association would make the five-minute drive to campus, open the center, and often provide visitors a personalized tour.
That came with the territory for one who always claimed to have “the best job at WSU.”
In early September, Lincoln stepped aside after 25 years, making room for his successor, Tim Pavish, and moved upstairs to a small office. Lincoln plans to stay on with the University at least until May, possibly as a consultant in another area.
Sitting in his office, he’s as comfortable as the pair of loafers he wears. He favors polo shirts and khaki pants. A product of the ’50s, he grew up in southern California, but he and his wife, Bonnie Jo, have found no better place to live than Pullman.
His reputation preceded him when he arrived at WSU as a freshman in the fall of 1957, having attracted attention as a quarterback at Monrovia High School near Pasadena. Cougar football coach Jim Sutherland offered him a scholarship. At WSU he became a triple-threat halfback and earned the nickname “The Palouse Moose” from a Spokane sportswriter. His accomplishments on the gridiron led to his being one of the early inductees into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1979. Last fall the Athletics Room in the Alumni Center was named in his honor at the recommendation of the alumni board.
He rarely talks about football, though. No football mementoes occupied his office, save for a modernistic painting of a running back—not Lincoln—breaking a tackle. He purchased the piece from artist Ernie Barnes, a former San Diego Charger teammate.
“It was a great opportunity,” he says of his nine years in pro football. “I have good memories.”
Lewis Alumni Centre
Lincoln’s pride and joy is the $4.5 million Lewis Alumni Centre. It attracts nearly 14,000 people and 350 to 400 meetings each year. Lincoln visited WSU’s historic livestock barn on the east side of campus for the first time in 1982. It was scheduled to be demolished. Stan Schmid, then vice president for university relations, asked him if it could be saved as an alumni center. Lincoln replied, “Yes, if it is structurally sound. But if we do it, it will be done with class, or I won’t touch it.”
WSU wood engineers found the old building to be structurally safe. The barn was spared. The Board of Regents gave approval for the renovation and enlargement project. By 1989 the facility had been transformed into today’s campus showpiece. Distinguished WSU alumnus and ABC sportscaster Keith Jackson ’54 once described it as “the living room of the University.”
Jackson and Lincoln’s college roommate, Dan Nelson, headed fund-raising for the center. The three would sit at length and talk about “a place where tired old alums could go sit in the shade” when they came back to campus.
“Keith pumped new life into the Alumni Association. In his quiet way, he pushed all of us,” Jackson says.
Lincoln has been directly involved in all phases of the alumni centre—planning, design, fund-raising, construction, furnishings, and operational procedures.
“Keith was truly the barn builder,” says colleague Bob Smawley. “The center is one of the legacies he leaves the University.”
When E.G. “Pat” Patterson retired as WSU alumni director in 1978 after 26 years, he looked at his assistant as an “ideal successor,” but with one reservation. Keith seemed uncomfortable, even bashful, about asking people for money, says Patterson. He thought Lincoln’s high profile as a former athlete would “open doors and bring in gobs of money” for WSU.
“Keith did turn out to be a good fund-raiser,” Patterson said recently. “But that effort began with his involvement in the alumni center. He always maintained he was a friend-raiser first.”
Lincoln found innovative ways to generate money. He sold 8,500 ceramic floor tiles, each engraved with the donor’s name. Now donors can go to a computer in the center and with a few keystrokes access a grid showing exactly where their tiles are located. He also arranged for the purchase of sculptures and beautiful paintings. A large, colorful mixed-media mosaic entitled, “Magic in the Hills,” by alumnus and sculptor Harold Balazs of Spokane, hangs above the stairway to the Great Hall. Lincoln also acquired a beautiful chandelier, crystal art pieces, and the four life-size bronze Cougar sculptures that line the entryway.
Alumni goals parallel University’s
No University representative is more connected with alumni than Lincoln. The Alumni Association’s goals, he says, parallel those of the University: cultivate friends, create good will, recruit students, and develop legislative liaisons.
While making friends for WSU is what he does best, in private Lincoln says the Alumni Association deserves credit for “setting the table” for many gifts the University acquires. For example, the Lewis Alumni Centre was constructed entirely with private donations and in-kind services. Lincoln will point out that 29.9 percent of Cougar alumni, one of the highest rates among public universities nationwide, contributed to Campaign WSU from 1992 to 1997. The University’s first big-time fund-raising effort exceeded $275 million.
“We treat all people the same, warm and friendly, whether they are a million dollar contributor to the University, or if they don’t give a thing,” he says of the philosophy he and his staff shared. He’s also grateful for the untold hours alumni devote to their alma mater “with no strings attached.”
“You aren’t going to be any stronger than your volunteers. You can implement all kinds of programs, but the real key is alumni support.”
Lincoln’s commitment to WSU has been unwavering, alumni say.
“With vision and tenacity, Keith has heightened the association’s visibility on campus through the rebirth of a barn . . . and throughout the country and the world by nurturing regional leadership,” says Shelley Carr, Olympia, alumni president in 1986-87. “Under his leadership, the fierce loyalty and dedication of WSU Cougars everywhere was given voice and opportunity.”
During his tenure, the Alumni Association has expanded its outreach in 27 alumni districts from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., including 17 in Washington state. Alumni clubs have sprung up in Hong Kong and in Japan. Alumni alliances have been forged with Native Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and African Americans. WSU colleges and branch campuses now have constituents on the alumni board of directors. Four alumni representatives sit on WSU’s Athletic Council. The alumni president is an ex officio member of the Board of Regents.
Lincoln takes particular pride in the association’s ability to complete the Alumni Centre and present it to the University. “We made a promise to the original investors that we would do it first-class. I think we’ve done that . . . set a benchmark. The center does a great job of positioning the University in the state, and goes with WSU’s tag line ‘World Class. Face to Face.’
“We didn’t leave any money on the table during the 14-month construction period,” he says. When the center was debt free, an endowment fund was established. Key to the fund was the adoption by the association of an affinity- or credit-card program. A portion of all purchases made by cardholders is returned to the as
sociation. The fund helps maintain the center, and supports alumni programs and services.
“No one could have been more conscientious in directing the affairs of the organization,” says former alumni president Joe Caraher (1947-48, 1977-78), Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Three generations of Cougars still talk about the 1998 pre-game Rose Bowl football rally staged by the Alumni Association. To pull it off, Lincoln admits he took “a little gamble.” Familiar with the Cougar culture and the fact that fans had waited 67 years for WSU to play in “the granddaddy of all bowl games,” he was banking on everyone being there. The Cougar faithful didn’t disappoint. More than 20,000 flooded one fairway of the Brookside Country Club adjacent to the stadium.
“People had a great time,” he says with a smile. “It’s something they will remember.”
Alumni volunteers make a difference
In 1977 Lincoln introduced the Crimson Company student show choir. Two dozen singers and dancers with musical accompanists performed on campus and spread the WSU word around the state during its annual spring break tour. In 2000 the popular group was disbanded, a victim of economics.
He oversaw the creation of Alumni Leadership Scholarships and the Alumni Achievement Award. Approximately 500 top high school students from Washington have received scholarships, and nearly 400 alumni, who have brought distinction to WSU and/or their community or profession, have been recognized. “If you have awards, they should be given on a regular basis so long as you don’t dilute them,” he says.
Lincoln is grateful for the support of WSU presidents Glenn Terrell, Samuel H. Smith, and V. Lane Rawlins. He cherishes his interactions over the years with alumni presidents and directors, as well.
“Working for the Alumni Association, you don’t often get a lot of recognition. You are in the trenches. It’s a blue-collar job. But to see the difference these volunteers are making for WSU is rewarding,” he says. “We’ve been fortunate to have great leadership.”
The longtime executive remembers only one occasion when he didn’t look forward to going to work—following an evening of student unrest on the Pullman campus in May 1998. Concerned alumni and parents kept his office phone busy. “What’s happening over there?” the wanted him to explain.
“I can apologize and did,” he says. “More important, people just want you to listen to them.”
“If you want Cougar pride, then you have to hear their complaints, too. I try to give them their day in the sunshine.”
The Student Alumni Connection, initiated by Lincoln, claims more than 300 members. They’ve become directors and deputies of the Alumni Association in their communities, infusing the organization with new ideas and enthusiasm.
“Some people say that status quo is okay,” Lincoln says. “The truth is there’s much more we can do—from membership to communications and outreach—given resources.
“If you look at what we are trying to do, developing a strategic plan, it becomes complicated. We need growth. It’s not like some people used to view the Alumni Association. I can see a huge change.”
He’s confident the University will decide to take a bigger stake in the association and the major role it plays. When that day comes, he says, “the Alumni Association will be ready.”
Lincoln was not a member of the search committee that selected Pavish, but spent several hours visiting with his successor shortly after his arrival.
“Tim’s a quality guy . . . who has been successful. He’s coming back to his alma mater for the right reasons. He wants to be here. He looks at Pullman as the place to live, work, and raise his family. He has great love for the University.
“I’m predicting it won’t take Tim long to realize he has the best job at the University.”