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Alex G. Markle: Twenty-five years as Alumni Director

Alex G. Markle is the Executive Secretary of the Alumni Association and Alumni Affairs Editor of New Trail. He has served the University in this capacity for twenty-five years; in the fall of 1951, he succeeded his father, John Markle, as the third permanent alumni secretary of the University of Alberta. As Mr. Markle explains: ‘When I came in 1951, I really wasn't sure that I wanted to stay. I had obtained my Bachelor of Arts from here and my Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton on the Veterans Program after the war; I had been working in eastern Canada and decided that I wanted to come back west. My father had had his first of three major heart attacks — and I offered my services to the President of the University at that time, Dr. Andrew Stewart. I suggested perhaps that I might come in to the Alumni Office just to keep the office open while Dad was convalescing. So in this year of 1976, twenty-five years later, I'm still keeping the office open.’

Mr. Markle acts as the principle liaison officer between the University and the 60,000 graduates in fourteen alumni branches across Canada. He is a graduate in Arts (BA, Alberta, 1948), in journalism (BJ, Carleton, 1949), and in Education (BEd and MEd, Alberta, 1962 and 1965). Following employment as assistant editor and circulation manager of The Legionary, official magazine of the Canadian Legion, in Ottawa from 1949 to 1951, he returned to Edmonton to take up his present duties.

New Trail: What do you see as the main function and concern of the Alumni Association?

A.G. Markle: I suppose we should establish what the basic purpose is as far as the Alumni Association is concerned. As I see it, the Association is an integral, basic, and vital service component of the University. This element of service is really the raison d'etre of the Alumni Association, not only here, but of any university in Canada or on the North American continent.

How we accomplish this service varies. It is the purpose of this office, which I suppose you could call the ‘nerve centre’ or conduit for the graduate family of the University, . . . to implement the program which is established for it by an Alumni Executive Committee, which is composed of graduates of the institution representing all faculties and schools. The Executive Committee meets once a month to consider a service program that the Association might carry out in aid of the University.

As Executive Secretary, it's my requirement and obligation to carry out the mandate or the wishes of this Executive Committee and its program.

NT: What do you see as the ideal relationship between the University and its alumni?

Markle: As a two-way street, certainly. The ideal arrangement would be such that the University would not lose sight of the fact that a ‘sheepskin curtain’ does not drop at the time of Convocation. The ideal arrangement is for the University to continue to have an interest and concern for the alumnus.

Perhaps the best way of doing that is for the University to insure that it provides the sort of means and facilities that would entice alumni to come back to the University through a lifetime and take part in activities on the campus. Then, as a corollary, you must have the role of responsibility of the alumnus to the University as the institution from which he or she graduated.

Often graduates ask, ‘What's the University doing for me?’ That's the question. Through the Association, what we have been doing, for example, is building up for graduates admissibility to the phys ed facilities, to the library after graduation. These are the sorts of tangible things that the University can do for the alumni, and we would like to expand this even more if we could.

NT: In what ways, then, are the alumni of service to the University? Why is it important for the University to maintain a strong relationship with its alumni?

Markle: To put it succinctly, I think of the relationship in terms of the three ‘F’s. Alumni can do three things which are very important to the University. The first is to cultivate friends. The University is in constant need of friends, at this time perhaps more than any other. Always there's a need for friends or for people who are disposed kindly toward the University. Graduates, because of their special relationship with the University, go out into the community and are its educational ambassadors, if you like, of goodwill and do, by the manner in which they approach their fellow-citizens, make friends for the University.

Then there's the matter of funds. Every institution of higher learning is concerned, particularly, with the raising of additional money, and what better group than from its own? We have appeals that are made to alumni to raise funds for certain amenities on campus which normally wouldn't be supplied through the government budget or coffers.

Freshman is the third service. It is important that this University, and all universities, attract and cultivate quality undergraduates, young people who are leaving high school and coming to this University, provided space is available. Alumni can be of great assistance in the community, encouraging and influencing quality young people in their particular area to come to this institution.

NT: In what specific tangible ways do the alumni support the University?

Markle: Tangibles have to do with money. Since 1945 when the Alumni Association officially became a constituent full-time entity within the University body — and certainly in the more than sixty years that the University has been in operation — the alumni have responded on various occasions to the needs of the University at particular times. For example, the Memorial Organ in Con Hall was a gift largely from the alumni and interested firms and businesses after World War I.

That goes back a bit, but to bring it a little more up to date: there was a need on the campus, when I first came on the job in the early fifties, for additional residences. There was some difficulty at the time about influence and ‘seed money’ to get this thing going, and the Alumni Association became interested.

Many graduates in that era and prior to that time had been in residence and they knew the value of residence living. So there was a campaign within the Association, politically and from a monetary point of view, to lean a little bit on the provincial government and come up with some ‘seed money.’ As a result of the efforts of the Alumni Association and other interested parties at that time, we have the fine new Lister Hall Complex residences.

There was also a felt need for amenities in residence for students: pianos, typewriters (where students could sit down and type out a paper). None of these things were available at the time through the provincial grant. The Alumni Association raised several thousands of dollars in the neighborhood of seventy to eighty thousand — that was a lot of money in those days — by general program, which was put into a special fund called the Alumni Residences Fund, which is still extant. From those several thousands of dollars raised, we were able to provide a grand piano, upright pianos in the old residences, stereos, typewriters and so on.

Another item is books for the library — always a felt need and always popular with graduates. They all recognize the need to build the library, and each year the response is tremendous. In my stint at fund-raising, we turned over ten or twenty thousand dollars annually to the Librarian for the purchase of books, with the purchase in his hands. Over the years, this builds up to be quite an item. These are a few of the tangibles.

NT: Could you elaborate a little on the intangible support given to the University by the alumni?

Markle: In dealing with the intangibles, I would revert to two of my three ‘F’s-friends and freshman, in particular — and this matter of establishing and maintaining friends for the University. Graduates who have had a happy experience on the campus, graduates who leave with some sense of affection and loyalty for the institution, do this automatically by the manner in which they conduct themselves in society.

That's why we are all here: to insure that as many quality young people as possible in the province can have the advantage of acquiring a university education. In concert with the operation that the Office of the Registrar has to take the University to the community and the high schools, particularly, to answer questions and so on, we can, through this office, request professional people and other graduates of the University in a particular area to come together with the students [the liaison group from the Registrar's Office] has congregated. They can be of great advantage in giving first-hand, or at least elaborating first-hand, on what, say, dentistry has meant to them as practitioners.

Another intangible involves the 3AU Fund, for example. Nobody will ever know how many dollars, how many corporate dollars, that were donated to the 3AU Fund were influenced by alumni of this University who are in positions of influence in various boardrooms. This is an intangible and once again it is difficult to measure, but it has a particular bearing on a very important aspect as far as the University is concerned.

NT: Perhaps some of our readers might be interested in knowing what the job of the Executive Secretary entails; could you give us a brief description?

Markle: The job is contact... a matter of identity and communication from this office the ‘nerve core’ or conduit, as I keep referring to it, between the University and the graduate family.

Communication is effected in two ways. Because of the number of graduates, there is no longer a small college atmosphere. With graduate numbers being as large as they are, we have a ‘split’ system or type of contact. Each fall each of the classes that are graduating, at the request of this office, names one or more of its number to serve as the alumni class representative in perpetuity.

These representatives, then, of each of the graduating classes come together with me and we have a chance to talk about the Alumni Association, its intent, what we would hope that they might do as alumni class representatives, in other words, the ‘how to’ of being a class representative.

We can do this effectively because it's the feeling of the Alumni Association, and I think rightly, that when graduates leave the institution, when and if they think of the University, they reflect in terms of people they met when they were there. It is for that reason that we establish contact at the alumni class representative level.

The other means that we have for communicating with the broad spectrum of graduates is through our alumni branch system. We have about thirteen or fourteen of these branches functioning actively across Canada and in the US at the moment, where we have large concentrations of graduates living and employed.

These are self-reliant and independent organizations; their terms of reference are their own. Branch constitutions resemble very much the general constitution of the general association but in every way they are independent of the central organization, even to the point that they can levy their own fees for membership. They have regular meetings of a varied nature. Notices for these meetings are sent from this office. All we require from the branches — and this is a service we perform at no cost to the branch executives — is a draft of the letter that they want to send out, and we look after it from here.

This works very well, so we have a two-way system here, apart from the contact I am able to make personally with as many graduates as possible.

NT: You mention personal contact. Is that the purpose of the various trips you make each year to visit the various alumni branches?

Markle: These trips are part of the total PR picture, the total University PR picture — the service which this Association or this office is able to render. We have a set pattern whereby we visit all branches, or most of them, annually; certainly all of them every second year. To these meetings we take the President of the University, the Chancellor, Vice-President or one of the senior University people, along with our alumni president, perhaps, and myself.

The Association feels that it is important that the graduate in the field should hear, very regularly, from key people, such as the President and the Chancellor, on the state of the University and on particular matters that are of concern to the graduates at the time, such as enrolment quotas and admissibility to University. In this way, along with New Trail and Folio [the staff bulletin], which is mailed from this office to each alumni class representative and to branch representatives, graduates are kept informed directly as to the course of the institution. Having been informed, they will have a better understanding of what is going on and, particularly, in-province, they can then share that information and understanding with other members of the general citizenry.

NT: Could you tell us in what ways your twenty-five years of service to the University as Executive Secretary has been rewarding?

Markle: This is rather personal, but I suppose the gratification that I receive goes back to the time of my father, who preceded me in this office from 1947 to 1951. He was the second alumni officer. Dad was a very well known person; he had been a high school principal throughout the province for years; he was a marvellous teacher, a tremendous personality, very musical, and did a great deal for this Association. One of the gratifying things to me is that I've been able to at least maintain a certain level of his established accomplishment.

These fund drives that I've spoken of earlier, they all have been reasonably successful, and, of course, when you feel that your input to them has been substantial, there is some gratification.

One of the great rewards of this office is the people you meet, certainly the people I've had the pleasure of serving on the Alumni Executive Committee, including four Presidents of the University and twenty-one alumni presidents, and, of course, the graduates to whom we've attempted to render what service we can. The people that you meet, this constant flow of faces and new people coming along with new ideas makes it a continuing challenge and an interesting position to occupy.

Well, there are lots of intangibles, but it's been most gratifying. And when you see worthwhile projects coming to fruition and we have an opportunity to steer them through this office, there is a gratification that ensues.

NT: Over the past twenty-five years, you must have seen a great many changes in the University — changes in students, changes in priorities and direction of the University, and changes in the spirit of the University as a whole. Do you have any thoughts about these changes, and do you see any trends developing?

Markle: There's a dichotomy — two camps. You have the original graduates of the University up until the early sixties, say, and the people in that area are a receptive, loyal family of graduates. The institution for many of them was small; they had a chance to live-in; their associations were such that they acquired this feeling of affection and loyalty to their alma mater. They involved themselves in the history and the tradition that had gone on here; for example, the tree planting ceremonies at Spring Convocation, the presentation of the graduating class gift. These were tangible things that were a lovely part of the fabric, the mosaic, of the University.

Then you have the younger graduates, that great number of graduates who have convocated since the late fifties and early sixties, who moved away dramatically, I felt, from the history and the traditions of the University. The Evergreen and Gold was dropped; the Convocation Banquet and Ball was considered a frill — out the window!

I shouldn't speak in blanket terms, but many of the newer graduates interests moved off the campus. Their extra-curricular activities were often off-campus. They were concerned about minority rights, about accessibility to university for all, about some of the social ills of society. And since their interests were focussed off-campus, naturally, they leaned away from the institution, and their feeling of affection and loyalty — if they had any at all — was in many instances, I think, minimal.

What this Association has to do then, and again it is not peculiar here, is realize that it is dealing with two quite different alumni groupings. You have the loyal, interested early group that is receptive to the Association, to the University, to its program. And then you have the others who are really quite opposite: they are not particularly interested, though I suppose they have a segment of loyalty. To foster that or to make it come forth is something else. So the Association has to come up with programs that will appeal to both.

There seems, however, to be a return, at least a slight return, in the direction of affection and loyalty toward the institution. We got away from that in the last ten or fifteen years, but I'm noticing a return to the ‘traditional’ side. It's reflected in the Spring Convocation Banquet and Ball, which the Alumni Association now handles; our numbers are increasing each year and the sort of reaction and vibrations we're getting from the brand-new graduates is just excellent. If we can do this sort of thing while the student is a student — if nothing more than to identify ourselves — this is essential. We're not doing enough of it. We will have to impinge into the University community more than we are as an alumni association to make this identity known.

NT: Once the educational association with the University has ended, does this lead to a severance of feelings of belonging to the University community? Does the Alumni Association encourage or sponsor any programs or activities that might increase the feelings of affection, loyalty, and a sense of continuing active participation in the University community?

Markle: Getting back to the early graduates, those up until, shall we say, the time of the activists: the work of this Association was easy because those particular alumni, when they were here, acquired a feeling of affection and loyalty for college life and the institution.

It is very difficult for this Association to know just how to cope with the other group because, when the graduates of the late fifties and sixties were here, they didn't generally acquire that sense of belonging, loyalty, and affection. It's very difficult, if not impossible, for an alumni association to perpetuate very much of what I've been talking about if it wasn't instilled and established when they were here.

One of the things that the Association can do is to foster continuing education; certainly, if it has an appeal to the younger graduates. Mind you, it takes at least ten years for graduates to sit down and really take a backward look at the University and say: Sure, I wouldn't mind getting boned up on the old school, or find out what's going on, or maybe get involved with some of the things that are going on... new courses being offered, etcetera. When graduates leave here, they are so busy setting up their businesses, their homes, their families, they frankly don't have the time. So really, in many respects, we give them up temporarily as lost, with exceptions of course. But after that ten-year period — if they have acquired that sense of affection and belonging when they were here — we can touch them, and they will come back and they will become involved again in the life and well-being of their alma mater.

Published Fall 1976.

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