Leading Alumnus

John Wissler announces his retirement after more than 30 years at Alumni Association's helm

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

When John Wissler applied for the position of Boston College Alumni Association executive director in 1967, he wondered if, despite his BC degree, his non-Massachusetts background would hurt his chances of getting the job.

He needn't have worried.

After more than 30 years of service to the University's graduates, Wissler will retire at the end of the current academic year. As executive director, Wissler has guided the Alumni Association during its largest growth in University history, from some 30,000 graduates when he accepted his appointment to nearly 120,000 members today - the most of any Catholic college in the nation.

John Wissler--"I've had one of the greatest jobs in the world. Not everybody can say that they truly love the place where they work. I loved Boston College from the very first day I stepped foot on campus." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
The range of alumni services has mirrored this growth, from the traditional receptions and class reunions to innovative programs of social service, mid-life employment counseling and retirement education classes.

"John Wissler has provided outstanding leadership and service to Boston College and the Alumni Association," said Vice President for University Relations Mary Lou DeLong, a former Alumni Association staff member. "Our alumni programs have been recognized nationally for their excellence and that reflects John's tremendous contributions to the University."

"I've had one of the greatest jobs in the world," Wissler said. "Not everybody can say that they truly love the place where they work. I loved Boston College from the very first day I stepped foot on campus.

"At some universities, the alumni are looked on as 'people that you want to try to keep happy,'" he said. "At Boston College, we've always tried to keep our alumni informed, educated, involved and connected. I have always emphasized that the alumni are the biggest constituency in a university. They are the longest-lasting one, too."

A graduate of a Jesuit prep school in Brooklyn, Wissler served as senior football manager during his undergraduate years at BC before graduating in 1957. After service as an Army officer, Wissler entered the New York City business world as a sales representative for the 3M Corp.

But Wissler kept close ties to his alma mater. Returning to campus for his 10th anniversary reunion in 1967, Wissler learned that the University was searching for a new executive director for its Alumni Association. After thinking about it for three weeks, Wissler said, he decided to apply and became one of about 30 candidates for the job. Wissler was the unanimous choice of the selection committee for the position.

"They took a chance on me. I was a New Yorker, an outsider," he recalled. "Although I probably have 'broken a few eggs' along the way, we have always strived to have programs that reach out to the alumni. To me, the more services we can offer, the better."

One of Wissler's first acts was to ensure the involvement of Boston College's growing number of female graduates in the Alumni Association. In 1967, 17 percent of Boston College alumni were women, a significant increase for the once all-male institution, and Wissler encouraged women to take a leadership role in alumni affairs. The first female member of the Alumni Board of Directors, Wilma Fallon Lane '59, was elected within four years of Wissler's appointment.

In addition to traditional alumni activities such as the Laetare Sunday Communion Breakfast, Family Day and Alumni Weekend, Wissler and his alumni leadership added extensive opportunities to provide a wide variety of benefits to members. These included issuing Boston College library cards to alumni, the establishment of a Career Advisory Network and numerous alumni-driven community service projects such as "Second Helping," a food collection and redistribution program that benefits Boston's homeless citizens.

Under Wissler, who earned a Boston College MBA in 1972, the association also established the Institute for Learning in Retirement, an on-going series of seminars on a wide variety of topics of interest to senior citizens.

In 1994, the Alumni Association was named winner of the Grand Gold Award for alumni programming, the highest honor in its field accorded by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

Wissler, however, is quick to share credit for the association's accomplishments, and is proud of his many staff members who have gone on to prominent positions in the alumni, development and the business world.

"I've had some fantastic boards of directors," he said. "We have had some great alumni leaders, along with superb staff members."

Among the thousands of BC alumni Wissler has known over the years, one in particular stands out: his wife of 40 years, Jeanne, whom he met three weeks into his freshman year. They were married in St. Ignatius Church in 1957.

"She's been by my side the whole way," said Wissler, who plans to do consulting work for various university alumni associations around the country. "She's been a huge, huge help."

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