(May 22, 1939 – Jan. 24, 2011)
James A. Hopson was a longtime executive director of the Iowa State University Alumni Association.
James A. Hopson was born on May 22, 1939 and graduated from Exira High School in Iowa in 1957 and married Judith Mae Frederick on Dec. 10, 1958 in Exira, Iowa. The couple had one daughter, Cindy Howe, and two grandsons, Donnie and Steven Howe.
Hopson attended Iowa State University and received a bachelor of science degree in industrial education in 1969. He joined the ISU Alumni Association staff in 1968 as the records coordinator. From 1971 to 1975, he served as assistant director and records coordinator of the association. From 1975 to 1978, he served as assistant director and business manager of the association and the ISU Alumni Achievement Fund, the precursor to the ISU Foundation. From 1978 to 1979, he served as assistant director and manager of annual giving for the association and achievement fund. In 1979, Hopson was appointed executive director of the ISU Alumni Association.
During his tenure at the ISU Alumni Association, Hopson was responsible for bringing the organization’s alumni records into the 20th century. When he first began as the records coordinator, he discovered that the university’s alumni files were stored in giant drums and file cabinets. Since its beginning in 1878, the Alumni Association had kept records manually, on thousands and thousands of file cards. Working with a team of computer experts, Hopson developed a software system that was one of the first ever designed specifically for alumni records. It was so successful that other universities began buying the system.
He was also instrumental in transitioning the association to a 501c(3) not-for-profit organization and for expanding its awards program, leadership training, student programs, alumni travel, athletics spirit rallies, legacy program, and Homecoming.
Hopson’s staff members described him as the kind of leader who inspired trust and confidence, and he encouraged staff to explore new projects and initiatives.
One of Hopson’s major goals as executive director was to reestablish an alumni magazine. The Alumnus, an ISU alumni magazine, had died quietly with little fanfare in 1973 and had been replaced by The Iowa Stater, a tabloid newspaper produced jointly by the Alumni Association, ISU Foundation, and University Relations. Hopson was never happy about the magazine void, and in spring 1988 Hopson’s young communications team launched VISIONS magazine.
Hopson was a masterful fundraiser. In the mid-1990s, he realized that the Alumni Association needed more revenue than it was receiving from the university and from membership dues. By this time, the fundraising functions of the university had already separated from the Alumni Association with the creation of the ISU Foundation. Hopson convinced the Foundation that the Association needed more financial resources, and he went on to raise nearly $5 million in gifts and pledges.
During the time he was executive director, the ISU Alumni Association tripled the number of alumni of record, increased membership three-fold, and the organization’s assets 10-fold. Over 30 years, Hopson worked with 20 volunteer presidents of the association’s board of directors and thousands of Iowa State alumni and friends.
Hopson always knew that Iowa State University needed a proper home for its alumni, and he dreamed of building an alumni center. He retired from the ISU Alumni Association on June 30, 1999, without ever having realized his dream. However, through the generosity of Iowa State’s alumni and friends – many of them cultivated by Hopson – the private dollars were finally raised, and the ISU Alumni Center opened its doors to the public in 2008. The Hopsons were guests of honor at the October 2008 building dedication. Within the walls of the new building is the Hopson Staircase, and just outside the building on the west lawn is the Hopson Memorial Garden and Patio, dedicated to Hopson and his contributions to the Alumni Association. The space is filled with native grasses, daffodils, jonquils, magnolias, mums, sumacs, and Buck roses.
In addition to his work at Iowa State University, Hopson was in leadership roles and active on regional and national committees of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. He was also involved in the Ames Chamber of Commerce, the National Cyclone Club, Rotary, the ISU Memorial Union, and on many university committees.
In retirement, Hopson and his wife, Judy, moved to Sun City, Ariz., where they lived until his death on Jan. 24, 2011. A memorial service was held on April 30, 2011, in the ISU Alumni Center. Judy moved back to Ames, Iowa, to be closer to family; she died at age 77 on April 29, 2018 in Ames.
ISU Alumni Association website (ISUAA history), www.isualum.org
Hopson retirement story: ISU News Service, 12/9/98
VISIONS magazine, summer 1999 (“The end of an era,” by Karol Crosbie)
Obituary, Audubon County Advocate Journal, Feb. 21, 2011