June 14, 2024

Mark Thaden: It’s Show Time

For most of UMW, Reunion Weekend is a three-day affair. For Executive Director of Alumni Relations Mark Thaden ’02, it’s life. He and his staff spend more than a year planning each of the annual events, which bring nearly a thousand alums back to campus.

Executive Director of Alumni Relations Mark Thaden

Executive Director of Alumni Relations Mark Thaden

When the throngs of nostalgic Mary Washington alums – from Baby Boomers in their 90s to Gen Z’s in their 20s – start converging on campus tomorrow, it’ll be Thaden’s job to keep them all happy, all weekend long.

Now, that’s a tall order.

Q: How did you come to work at UMW?

A: After I graduated from Mary Washington in 2002, I was hired as the assistant director of Annual Giving. The position was only part-time, so after a year I moved on to work in development at other institutions, including the University of Virginia. I promised myself I’d return to Mary Washington if I got the chance. In 2011, my goal of leading UMW’s alumni engagement efforts was realized.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?

A: Working with a dynamic team that cares about our alumni, about the institution, and gets excited about creating programs that support and engage our alumni.

Q: What is most challenging?

A: Keeping alumni happy! Most people have one boss. I feel like I have 40,000, all with different opinions, experiences and suggestions.

Q: What do you most look forward to during reunion weekend?

A: This might sound cheesy, but seeing the pure joy of alumni reconnecting with each other and campus is energizing for me. Mary Washington alumni truly love this place, and seeing them relive their college days with classmates and friends inspires me and my team to continue creating those opportunities for them.

Q: Do you have any favorite stories from past reunion weekends?

A: I had one extremely challenging alumna from the Class of 1949, who wasn’t particularly happy that a (“young”) man was in the alumni director position with an alumni base of primarily women. It seemed there was nothing I could do to make her happy. We pulled out all the stops and did everything we could to make her reunion experience the best she’d ever had. At the end of the weekend, I sent over one of the floral arrangements for her to take home because she had mentioned how beautiful they were. She then yelled “COME HERE!” and grabbed my face and planted a big kiss right on the lips. We have a special bond to this day.

Q: Any recurring themes that you hear from alums?

A: They love how the school has updated and built buildings while keeping with the architecture and preserving green space. They’re amazed with the beauty of campus and updated facilities.

Q: What’s the earliest graduate you’ve met?

A: I had the pleasure of speaking with a member of the class of 1943 during one reunion. One member of the Class of 1947 has attended each of the past six reunions.

Q: What kinds of stories do you hear from older alums?

A: Hearing about the notorious Dean of Women Nina Bushnell is fascinating. She ran a tight ship! No walking on the grass in Ball Circle, strict curfews, interviews for dates and no skirts above the ankles! I also hear about the guys from U.Va. and Quantico who would pack into trucks and head to Mary Washington looking for dates. Classes of the ’80s enjoyed a brief period when the drinking age was 18, and it sounds like there were some pretty epic parties in the Underground, Lee Hall Ballroom (fourth floor) and around campus.

Q: UMW grads often talk about how special this place is. What do you think makes it so?

A: It’s a small school, and the friendships developed here are deep and lasting. I frequently hear stories about the faculty members who helped guide them through their time and impacted their careers. So many say this place was a home for them.