Alumni Association president never letting go of connection

Paul Mayne // Western News

As Alumni Association president, John Eberhard, BA’66, LLB’69, hopes to harness his personal journey as a student and experiences as an alumnus to create a stronger connection between the university and its alumni.

John Eberhard never wanted to leave. Even though Western once let him go.

He grew up on Western’s campus, playing on the grounds as a boy. Although the son of a University of Toronto graduate, Eberhard, BA’66, LLB’69, said his father never pushed him to the institution to the east. Western, it seems, was always meant to be his home.

He arrived as an eager undergraduate, fell in love and never wanted to leave.

“I had been involved in both sports and fraternity life as an undergraduate – I was a cheerleader. So, I was involved in campus life and I really wanted to stay in school,” he said. “I had absolutely no idea what Law school was about, but it was the only faculty available to me given my undergraduate degree.

“And it was a way to stay.”

Today, Eberhard leads the Alumni Association as its latest president. His goals for the position are fueled, in part, by his personal journey as a student and experiences as an alumnus to create a stronger connection between the university and its alumni.

Since 1971, Eberhard has worked as a barrister and solicitor for The Law Society of Upper Canada, as well as the owner of Eberhard Management Ltd. In the last decade, he has overseen adjudications as a member of the Canada Pension Review Board and Social Security Tribunal. He has maintained a longtime commitment to his fraternity, and to Rotary International through its local branch.

But an intimate connection with his university escaped him until, relatively, recently.

“When I graduated, we were not given the kind of information, the kind of opportunity to stay involved that students have today,” Eberhard said. “Things like Email for Life, alumni cards, connections with the commercial side of the university, local branch programming around the world – those opportunities we have today didn’t exist then.”

Created in 1949, the Alumni Association serves more than a quarter million alumni living in nearly 150 countries around the world. The non-profit organization is led by its Board of Directors.

For years, Eberhard wasn’t active with the local branch. “Frankly,” he said, “I didn’t know what the local branch did.” Then he got a call for lunch.

“It was very serendipitous, actually. I got a call one day to say, ‘Let’s have lunch and talk about the Alumni Association.’ And when I heard what they were doing, I was rather impressed with what the Alumni Association Board and its staff partners did. But I was disappointed I didn’t know about that before we sat down that day,” he continued.

He joined the board, and what followed was an enjoyable – if not personally eventful – six-year stint on the board. He attended board meetings regularly, but was never asked to sit on a committee. He longed for a deeper connection, even then.

Those experiences drive his agenda today.

Primarily, Eberhard wants to make alumni connections easier for alumni. He wants to be an evangelist for the association, making sure alumni, young and old, understand what the group does and how they can get personally involved.

He mentioned strengthening the connection between alumni and current students via mentorship programs, internship opportunities or job shadowing. “There is wonderful potential there. It is already happening in some places, but we hope to continue and build,” he said.

Once hooked, he wants alumni to take the logical steps from local branch involvement to the board.

Eberhard has yet to face an election challenge for the alumni board, but he would love one. To him, that would signal success.

“People should want to be involved so much that there is competition,” he said. “If there are 20 people running for six seats, we’ll do what the USC (University Students’ Council) does and have an election. It won’t be the same kind of election, but, at least, it would indicate there is a lively interest to participate and contribute back to the university.”

Once on the board, Eberhard wants to communicate the expectations for members clearly from the start.

“I want people to come in with their eyes open, to understand you are expected to spend X number of hours or days or weekends participating in activities for this committee,” he said. “I want there to be a clear understanding of what we need them to do.”

As part of that, he hopes to better define – or even re-define – the work of the association’s standing committees, and help inform the group’s still-forming strategic plan.

In the end, a successful term means a successful university, Eberhard concluded.