Politics and serendipity lead Douglas Dibbert to his current position as President of the University of North Carolina General Alumni Association where he has been able to cultivate an encouraging environment for students as well as beneficial programs for the alumnus and a 75,000 square foot building used for much more than just office space.
While visiting past President Dr. Jim Harrell on Friday Dibbert and Harrell reminisced about the beginning of their relationship. “We were in an old apartment building,” remembered Harrell, “we used to say it didn’t matter which door you came in, it would be the wrong one.”
“When I started [Harrell] told me my first job was to get [the alumni center] built,” laughed Dibbert. “Now we have a 75,000 square foot, 5 story building with a sound system in the chandeliers. I remember the Secret Service taking it over for a couple days when Clinton came to speak.”
Although the alumni center looks like two buildings it is a perfect representation of what Dibbert sees as the duty of the Alumni Association with a breezeway running through the building so as to not disrupt the natural path students took. “We recognize that the quality of the student experience is important to becoming a member of the Alumni,” stated Dibbert explaining the purpose of the Alumni Association.
The Association does much more than maintain alumni records for the university and produce an award winning magazine. This self-governed association provides various programs for the alumnus such as travel, reunions and career services, it also makes a point of aiding students before they graduate. By sponsoring such groups as a cappella choruses, student mentorships and leadership programs and the Order of the Bell Tower which preserves university traditions, the Alumni Association hopes to creates an atmosphere conducive to life-long friendships and habits that improve the university culture and the lives of UNC graduates.
Harrell and Dibbert have also been key in changes made to winter graduation. In contrast to the large summer graduation that has been celebrated with a large turnout of staff as well as students and their families, winter graduation was an comparatively informal affair with very few professors and no caps and gowns. “Jim came to one of our board meetings and he was hot,” revealed Dibbert explain that Harrell had been to a winter graduation in the banquet hall of the Moore Hall building, “he wanted to know why on the ever of our bicentennial would we not want these students to have the climactic experience that the students had in May.”
“Herbert Thorp did a real job his first year,” conceded Harrell as Dibbert described how UNC winter graduation has grown in prestige as well as numbers.
As President of the Alumni Association Dibbert has a significant job caring for the needs of approximately 317,000 living UNC Alumnus compared to the 140,000 members when he started in 1982. Approximately 25,000 were paying members compared to 66,000 now with nearly 60 percent of them as lifetime members. The UNC Alumni Association receives much of it’s funding through membership dues unlike other such groups who are not self-governed who are dependent on the university for their funding which pays for the many programs they offer students as well as alumni.
Dibbert also recognizes that, “our biggest donor to the University is the tax payers.” With ten years of experience in Washington D.C. which included serving as Chief of Staff for a Senator, Dibbert knows the importance of good relationships the most important of which is family. As the oldest son of a Veteran who lost his life in Vietnam Dibbert felt the need to be close to his family. His work in Washington kept him away from home where he often went to work before the family had finished breakfast and did not return until the children were in bed.
On Apr. 1 1982 Dibbert announced he would be leaving Washington D.C. for an undisclosed location because his schedule kept him away from home, but also because he had yet to decide where he would be moving. Returning from a vacation his wife Debbie pointed out an advertisement form a paper she had been reading. “At 35,000 on a flight from Florida my wife read me a description of a job. I told her there was only one place where I’d be willing to move to,” remembered Dibbert,” I didn’t have a resume [written] so I wrote a three page letter. “
That letter wasn’t the only thing that impressed the board. Dibbert spoke of being questioned about retirement before even being offered the job. “At 34 years old I wasn’t ready to think about retirement,” said Dibbert whose willingness to be honest and to only do the job while he felt he had something to offer in the position was exactly what the board needed to hear. “I’ve concluded that it was meant to be,” stated Dibbert, one of only four individuals to hold the position since permanent staff started in 1922.
Dibbert’s love of UNC is obvious but it is the university itself that encourages attendance. “You are fortunate to have a world class university in your state,” Dibbert proclaims to all residents of North Carolina, “We will provide you direction and opportunity both personally and professionally at UNC where you will be challenged by professors and other students. There’s no need to go someplace else.”
Harrell agreed pointing out the recent article in Kiplinger’s Magazine which named UNC as the top college value for another year. UNC has retained this honor since the magazine began compiling its list.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.