Alumni Association

Tom Tillar '69

Outgoing Vice President for Alumni Relations Tom Tillar '69

Trust and Hokie Spirit

Tom Tillar '69

Trust is the prism through which alumni bond with their university. I have attempted to provide leadership to alumni programs during the past 40 years to earn the confidence of our alumni. As our Alumni Association evolved, it became the link through which alumni have chosen to engage with the university, ever since the association's formation in 1875. Our brand promise, "Virginia Tech for life," encourages alumni to stay involved and provide support over a lifetime.

When I entered as a freshman exactly 50 years ago, I never would have expected to spend my entire working life serving my alma mater. Now I realize there is no path I would have enjoyed more. My life actually began here when my father attended Virginia Tech as a married WWII veteran. With my Hokie DNA, I have been fortunate to make the university my career and Blacksburg my home. In my time here, my priorities have been focused on building community in the Hokie Nation. I have listened carefully to the needs of alumni, attempting to engage them individually and thoughtfully.

I knew dangerously little about alumni association operations when I was first hired. Managing nearly 50 alumni chapters, along with reunions, records, and merchandising, occupied my early years. We served about 40,000 alumni. Annual giving, for which I later was given oversight, was included among our programs, and I assisted with the university's first major-gifts campaign.

Enrollment began expanding in the mid-1960s, growing our alumni rolls significantly. Tech's 100,000th degree was awarded in 1986. Thousands of alumni supported annual and capital needs. Hundreds served each year as volunteers for alumni chapters, the Hokie Club, the colleges, the Corps of Cadets, and other initiatives. I observed firsthand the powerful commitment of the Hokie Spirit that seemed deeply embedded in every volunteer and donor. This spirit is part of our culture.

Virginia Tech instills a brand of loyalty that is unmatched anywhere. I have witnessed it, encouraged it, and managed it to the best of my ability. I frequently observe how the contagious passion of our alumni—now 244,000 and counting—spreads to children, relatives, neighbors, and friends. The positive spirit that embodies the Hokie Nation through our brightest and darkest days is unique and enviable.

Throughout my career, my priority has been to expand outreach programs—adding more programming for academic college alumni, more multicultural programs, and more themed enrichment programs. I have attempted to shape these opportunities around engagement and inclusion, not using annual dues or annual giving as a requirement to participate. Often challenged by modest budgets, I am grateful to our staff and volunteer leaders for their creativity in leveraging resources to successfully engage more alumni each year. I always enjoy hearing accounts and testimonials from alumni describing the value and lasting impact of their Virginia Tech experience.

I have traveled thousands of miles; enjoyed hot dogs, crab feasts, and chicken dinners; delivered PowerPoint presentations and remarks; shown videos; written columns; answered thousands of letters and emails; trained volunteers; mentored staff and students; and expressed gratitude to alumni for their service and generosity. It has been a privilege to help enrich and extend the Virginia Tech experience for our alumni. Tech consistently ranks highest in surveys measuring alumni pride and engagement—clear evidence that defines our unique culture and brand of loyalty that has spanned our association's 140 years.

Thanks for the memories, and thanks for being a trusting Hokie Nation. We are united as Virginia Tech and proud to be alumni of one of the finest universities in the world.

Reflections on 40 years of service to alumni

by Tom Tillar '69

Class of 1969 service trip to the Dominican Republic

Tom Tillar '69 and members of the Class of 1969 with University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni on a service trip in the Dominican Republic.

In my many years of talking with alumni, some topics have seemed to surface more often than others. As I prepare to step down as vice president for alumni relations, I wanted to reflect on some of those topics.

On growth in enrollment and quality:

My class was the beginning of the baby boomer generation that exploded college enrollments. High-rise residence halls, academic facilities, student parking, dining, and other services grew to accommodate more students. Blacksburg's infrastructure grew with off-campus housing, restaurants, theaters, and entertainment for students. Blacksburg has been ranked alternately as Virginia's largest or second-largest town, in a county that has swelled to about 97,000 residents. As the university attracted diversity among its students, the benefits of increased inclusion have been powerful. Our alumni programs have been shaped and expanded to serve constituencies sharing common interests. Accompanying enrollment growth, Tech has expanded academic, research, and outreach programs. Our rankings compared to peer institutions have soared. The university has moved to No. 38 in research funding, according to the National Science Foundation, in a competitive academic climate. In recent years, record numbers of students have applied and chosen to attend Tech, resulting in increasingly competitive credentials in the student body.

On university leadership:

I have been privileged to serve six of the university's 16 presidents. These leaders have pursued strategic avenues of excellence. The presidency of T. Marshall Hahn Jr. was transformative, raising the bar for his successors. Virginia Tech is an extensive enterprise serving students, communities, and nations, with research and outreach placing the university on a global stage. The university's mission, its emphasis on STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, math, and health) programs, and its multidisciplinary programs have all been strengthened. Presidents Hahn, William E. Lavery, James D. McComas, Paul E. Torgersen, Charles W. Steger, and now Timothy D. Sands have attracted faculty, staff, and administrative talent to lead and innovate, be resourceful, and emphasize programs that put knowledge to work. I have enthusiastically encouraged alumni to support each of these presidents and their initiatives.

On the Holtzman Alumni Center and The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center:

The Alumni Association has had three temporary homes on campus since the mid-1920s—War Memorial Gym, Burruss Hall, and Donaldson Brown Center. In 1996, critical discussions began regarding building our first alumni center, and the design and campaign were guided by the theme of "A Home of Our Own." It was a particular thrill to help plan the complex to ensure the inclusion of all the features of a modern-day center. A reception hall, museum, library, board room, staff offices, and outdoor program space adjoin a 147-room hotel and spacious conference center. Alumni Relations collaborates with Outreach and International Affairs to manage the complex. With striking collegiate Gothic architecture and a comfortably decorated interior, the building is often recognized by alumni and other guests as a campus icon. We just celebrated its 10th year serving alumni.

On the Class of 1969:

I am amused by references to several well-known classmates—including Steger, Frank Beamer, Ray Smoot, and Joe Meredith—who have served simultaneously with me in leadership roles at the university. As students, none of us would have predicted that our careers would intersect at our alma mater. However, I feel that we each have contributed a special brand of loyalty through core values instilled in us as undergraduates. We have maintained a mutual respect and trust since then. No institution, to my knowledge, has ever had five alumni serving together in significant levels of leadership at their alma mater, and we are quite proud of that distinction.

On our alumni staff and volunteers:

It has been a true blessing to work with so many talented staff members and volunteers. Some staff are in roles in which they seem to be tethered to a computer maintaining alumni records, entering registrations, managing budgets, and sending communications. Others have planned and hosted events, traveled to alumni chapters and college programs, received visitors, and given tours. Always displaying energy and enthusiasm, volunteers have served chapters, reunions, and other programs. Our association has been fortunate to attract the kind of talent that embraces a culture of warmth and hospitality. The enthusiasm of staff members and volunteers has helped strengthen bonds with Tech, and we simply could not have managed without their dedication to promote the theme of "Virginia Tech for life."

On intercollegiate athletics:

Virginia Tech intercollegiate athletics provide an opportunity to develop young athletes into leaders, while attracting a large fan base. Our athletic teams also attract the attention of many prospective applicants. Thankfully, in the past 22 years, postseason football bowl invitations have become an annual tradition. That distinction, thanks to Coach Beamer, has enhanced all of our intercollegiate programs. Scholarship athletes have excelled academically, with a graduation rate higher than the general student body and among the highest in the nation for athletes. Our alumni and fans have a reputation of impressive attendance at bowls, tournaments, and home games. More televised games, inclusion in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the civility of our fans, and financial support for athletic facilities all underscore our pride in our athletes and athletic teams.

On the April 16 tragedy:

The entire world followed and mourned the tragedy eight years ago. Sadly, too many similar tragedies at other locations have followed. What emerged from that darkest day was a recognition of the power of community to console and help the healing process. Thousands of alumni visited, called, and emailed, demonstrating support and compassion. Nearly 90,000 items of memorabilia arrived as expressions of caring, as well as more than $10 million in unsolicited memorial gifts. The Hokie Nation suddenly grew exponentially to include all those who embraced us around the globe. I was honored to chair a committee tasked with building a permanent memorial. With 32 stones as its focal point, the memorial was completed quickly and dedicated as the fall 2007 semester opened. The memorial serves today as a symbol both of healing and of honoring the victims. April 16 provided a powerful glimpse into the unique qualities of the extended family of supportive Virginia Tech alumni and friends.

On a bright future for Virginia Tech:

The institution I experienced as a freshman was one that allowed its students to explore academic programs, form friendships, be mentored, hone leadership skills, and enjoy one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Perhaps it is because I valued all of this so much that I chose to spend my career as a university administrator. My great joy has been to promote and advance Virginia Tech the past 40 years, encouraging alumni involvement, advice, advocacy, volunteerism, and philanthropy.

Virginia Tech is poised for greater national and international prominence. Employers frequently recognize and compliment the strong work ethic of Tech graduates. There is a healthy spirit of collaboration among colleges and research units that leads to interdisciplinary research and academic programs. A number of institutes have emerged to focus on cutting-edge research. President Sands' leadership is guiding the expansion of internship and mentoring opportunities. A new university advancement program, led by my long-time colleague and friend Charles Phlegar, will strengthen private resources through the expanded engagement of alumni and friends. An increased emphasis on entrepreneurship will further brand the university as a hub of creativity, research, and business innovation. Eventually, there will be increased opportunities for student and faculty interaction through residential colleges that uniquely integrate living, dining, and learning. I look forward to my role in the Pamplin College of Business, working with Dean Robert Sumichrast to develop a new residential college, the Business Learning Community.

Our alumni possess a sense of ownership and pride that strengthens their bonds and networks. All that has transpired over the past 50 years encourages me that Virginia Tech will achieve greater heights in its service to society in the next 50 years and beyond. I look forward to being part of that evolution, and I know that I'll be joined by fellow alumni in celebrating each new discovery, victory, and contribution.

2014-15 annual activities report

2014-15 annual activities report

2016 travel tours


Learn more about these exciting tours »


Jewels of Central America | Jan. 22-31

Island Paradise Eastern Caribbean | Jan. 23-Feb. 2


Tasman Treasures | Feb. 21-March 9


Atolls and Islands | March 25-April 4

Ecuador – Quito and Cuenca | March 30-Feb. 2


Croatia's Adriatic Coast | April 18-29

Waterways of Holland, Belgium | April 23-May 1

Stepping Stones of Western Europe | April 23-May 1


Portraits of the Past | May 9-20

Italy – Sorrento | May 11-19

Essence of the Atlantic | May 14-28

Spain – Barcelona and San Sebastian | May 15-24

Mediterranean Spring Serenade | May 20-June 2

In the Wake of the Vikings | May 24-June 1

London Immersion | May 29-June 9

Celtic Lands | May 31-June 9


Southern Culture and Civil War (TSP) | June 4-13

Regal Routes of Northern Europe | June 13-24

Mediterranean Crossroads | June 25-July 3


Baltic and Scandinavian Treasures | July 12-23

Town and Country Life – England | July 22-30

Alaska Passages | July 25-Aug. 4


The Magnificent Great Lakes | Aug. 22-31

The Art of Living: Provence | Aug. 26-Sept. 17


Great Pacific Northwest (TSP) | Sept. 17-25


Grecian Delight | Oct. 1-9

Symphony on the Blue Danube | Oct. 2-11

Captivating Mediterranean | Oct. 8-16

European Empires and Artistry | Oct. 14-22

Country & Blues | Oct. 23-31


Cuban Discovery | November/early December

Adriatic Gems | Nov. 1-9


Holiday Markets | Dec. 6-17