After graduating from Elmhurst College in 1987, Thomas Newton launched a successful career that revolved around engaging high school students—preparing them for college, work or whatever the next phase in their lives would be.
In January, Newton returned to Elmhurst to become the College’s new director of alumni relations. The role, while different from his previous positions, is familiar to him because it too is about engaging people—this time to remind alumni that their Elmhurst experiences shaped who they are today, and that the meaningful ties they created with the College need never be broken.
“This has been like coming home for me,” Newton said, “and it’s really good to be back home.”
Newton grew up in the Elmhurst area and attended York High School before enrolling at Elmhurst College. In college he majored in physical education, and as a high-jump standout he was inducted into the Bluejay Backer Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993.
Yet his favorite college memory is about a class; the last class he ever took at Elmhurst. He had already graduated but needed one more course to get his degree. It was a summer course, so he figured it would be a walk in the park. Then he met his professor—Barbara Swords, widely known as one of the toughest professors at Elmhurst. Her summer English class would be no exception.
“I never worked so hard in my entire life,” he recalled, “but it was the best class I had at Elmhurst. She was the best teacher—tough but fair. I never felt as rewarded as I did when I was done and able to get my degree.”
For the next two decades, Newton worked in secondary education, serving as a teacher, dean of students, assistant principal and principal at high schools all over the Chicago area and in Arizona. He also coached a variety of sports, including football, track and field, cross country, basketball and swimming.
When he started as alumni director at Elmhurst, he immediately felt a similar team spirit: “I got a good sense of the camaraderie and team atmosphere that’s been created here.”
The Alumni Relations team, which also includes Monica Lindblom, Beverley Krohn ’10 and Pam Savino, has been working hard “to make relationships happen so that people will want to be, and remain, engaged with the College,” Newton said.
“Our job is to find out what our alumni want and to make sure they understand that what we do is for them. We want people to know we’re here to help them and work with them whenever they want to come back to the College, whether it’s for Homecoming, an affinity event or a reunion.”
One of the office’s priorities is to continue to launch alumni clubs around the country. Now that clubs have been established in St. Louis and Chicago, the office is making plans to launch a club in Washington, D.C., later this spring or by early summer.
“Our goal is that these become self-sustaining, with a leadership that determines their own direction and activities,” Newton said. “We want our alumni to be proud of Elmhurst College and to be able to network with other people from the College—old, young, just graduated.
“We hope it ultimately will bring them back to the College, and encourage them to give their time and money to help others come here and get that Elmhurst Experience.”
Another goal is to engage current students and help them to understand the role of the Office of Alumni Relations and how it can help them.
“We want current students to know that when they graduate, they’ll join a lifetime network of people who’ve shared the Elmhurst Experience,” he said. “They’re only students here for four or five years, but they’re alumni forever.”