Vince Nelson is an enthusiastic University of Iowa champion who shared the Hawkeye spirit with countless alumni and friends during his 26 years at the helm of the UI Alumni Association (UIAA).
Under his leadership, the UIAA thrived, growing its membership to an all-time high of more than 52,000 and introducing programs that reflected Nelson’s deep passion for Iowa. Although he spent 20 years at Drake University in Des Moines—first as a student and then as a faculty member and director of alumni relations—Nelson devoted the bulk of his career to the UI, and he was its loyal promoter.
In 1997, UI President Mary Sue Coleman appointed Nelson as executive director of the UIAA, following his 18-month stint as interim executive director. “Vince was the kind of leader who was enormously important for a strong and effective association,” says Coleman. “He worked to reflect the voice of the alumni, but he also clearly understood that the university has many constituencies.”
Nelson found innovative ways to connect with these many groups. When he joined the UIAA, its IOWA Clubs did not yet exist; however, within months, he had helped establish several in Iowa and surrounding states. Today, the clubs are among the most popular of the UIAA’s programs, celebrating the Hawkeyes in 53 U.S. cities and 15 international locations.
“The familiar slogan, ‘Once a Hawkeye, Always a Hawkeye,’ which so resonates with Hawkeye fans around the country, can be traced directly to Vince Nelson and his relentless and enthusiastic support for the University of Iowa,” says Ron Steele, a past chair of the UIAA board. “He always focused on improving the relationship between the university and its alumni.”
Nelson, whose title changed from executive director to president in 2001, helped usher in a number of new programs and initiatives, including volunteer service trips through Iowa Voyagers and the Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow organization (now known as the Future Alumni Network). He also forged stronger links between the UIAA and its campus partners, including the colleges and UI Athletics.
In his time at the UIAA, Nelson oversaw the growth of the organization’s annual budget from $2.1 million to $3.3 million, and he increased its staff from 18 to 27. The alumni association also won 33 national awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)—including the prestigious CASE national gold medal for overall alumni relations—during his tenure. Nelson was a member of CASE, Big Ten Alumni Executives, and the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE).
As UIAA president, Nelson hosted numerous UI Homecoming programs, in addition to a variety of alumni events and Hawkeye Huddles across the country. “I valued the opportunity to meet so many wonderful alumni and friends of the university through all of our programs,” says Nelson, who retired in 2014. “I will always be proud to wear the black and gold and to embrace the history and heritage of this great institution.”
Through his energy, humor, and hard work, Vince Nelson ensured that the UI Alumni Association was a trusted partner for the University of Iowa—and a true friend to legions of Hawkeye fans.
Nelson is a member of the UI Alumni Association’s Directors’ Club Honors Circle and the UI Foundation’s Presidents Club.