Perched above the first floor of Pollock Alumni House, a Spanish-styled home built in the 1920s, sits Christine Gantner’s office. At the top of an ornate yet charming staircase, her cove-like office is a converted reading room, drenched with light pouring in from the towering bay windows, a sun-seeker’s paradise. Running behind schedule after dropping her kids off at school for a late-start day, Gantner sheds her black trench coat and workbags like a labradoodle shaking off water droplets. After settling into her work nook in a corner of her roomy, antiquated office, Gantner looks up with an effervescent smile. Thoughts of errands left undone that once invaded her head seemed to retreat to the back of her mind as she melted into her comforting executive, leather chair.
Gantner has always been a busybody since she took on the role of alumni relations director at UW Oshkosh in 1998. Gantner is responsible for helping UW Oshkosh alumni stay connected to their alma mater now and for the rest of their lives. Through communication efforts, events and collaboration with other campus departments, Gantner sets out every morning, always stylishly dressed with her trendy yet manageable Tinkerbelle haircut, to work on one mission: connect with UW Oshkosh alumni, all 80,000 of them.
Growing up in Fond du Lac, Gantner made her way to Milwaukee where she attended UW Milwaukee in pursuit of a journalism/mass communications degree. Although she is now part of the UW Oshkosh family, the university wasn’t at the top of her list of colleges to attend when she was making the decision because it was “too close to home,” she said. However, throughout high school and later years, she became involved in numerous UW Oshkosh events and spent a lot of time on campus visiting with friends.
“I have visited UW Oshkosh several times and was fond of the institution, so I felt very familiar with UW Oshkosh as a campus,” Gantner said.
As a student at UW Milwaukee in the late 1980s, Gantner worked in the alumni relations office as a student employee. She was exposed to opportunities that allowed her to help plan events, work with alumni and write for their alumni publication.
“My experience there really honed my skills,” Gantner said.
Not only did her work in alumni relations help her perfect her skills as a journalist, but it also was there that she discovered her love of working with people.
In addition, she realized that her work in alumni relations utilized both of her skill sets, “the writing side and the people side,” she said.
“I was a mass communications major with a public relations emphasis,” Gantner explained. “I thought I wanted to be a journalist because writing was always a strength of mine, but instead of writing in a traditional newsroom, I felt that some of my skill sets really were building relationships, interacting with people and public speaking.”
In a sort of alignment of the universe, UW Milwaukee’s alumni relations office had an opening for a special events coordinator at the same time that Gantner was ready to graduate. Gantner figured that she had essentially been filling that role as a student worker, so she “threw her hat in the ring” and in the end got the job.
“I was really fortunate that I got that job right out of college doing something that I really really love,” Gantner said. “I can’t say enough about the power of networking and keeping your mind open to new opportunities.”
After a couple of years, she was promoted to assistant alumni director at UW Milwaukee, and for a stint, Gantner served as interim alumni director.
“My career in alumni relations just blossomed from there,” she said.
Although Gantner has been working in the UW schools system since graduation, she said she never envisioned herself working for her alma mater.
“I thought I was going to be a journalist or something and I kind of had tunnel vision,” Gantner said. “I had some internships where I did corporate communications, so I really was focused on more traditional paths you can take with a journalism/mass communications degree, but I had a professor tell me ‘don’t use tunnel vision when you’re searching for jobs.’”
Before accepting a full-time position at UW Milwaukee, Gantner was an intern at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield at its Waukesha corporate headquarters. She wrote for its internal employee newsletter, which reaches thousands of people worldwide. She also pursued an internship in her hometown for the Fond du Lac Conventions and Visitors Bureau.
“As part of that internship, I was able to hone my skills in event planning and public relations,” Gantner said.
She got the chance to team up with several community volunteers and plan major events for the city of Fond du Lac.
“That was a wonderful opportunity because it helped me make a lot of connections with business professionals who volunteered,” Gantner said.
From 1992 through to the end of 1997, Gantner worked at UW Milwaukee in alumni relations, both as the special events coordinator and then assistant alumni director. And then Gantner heard of an open position through a friend at UW Oshkosh as the director of alumni relations. She thought it would be a good fit, Gantner said.
“I interviewed and was fortunate enough to get the position in 1998 and it’s been great ever since,” she said.
When Gantner left UW Milwaukee, her title was assistant alumni director. Although she loved her job there and the people she worked with, Gantner “carped the diem” and took the position at UW Oshkosh. She yearned for the opportunity to be a full-time director of a successful program and for her career to flourish as well, Gantner said.
Now Gantner, a bubbly and enthusiastic director, uses communication, event planning and interpersonal skills she learned from previous internships and job positions to succeed at her profession.
“We have 80,000 UW Oshkosh alumni worldwide and I think the most fundamental thing we do with all 80,000 of those people, or try to do, is communicate with them,” Gantner said. “We keep them informed and updated about what is going on at their university so they still feel a connection and involved.”
In efforts to connect to and engage with alumni, Gantner works diligently with communications manager Natalie Johnson through outlets such as Engage magazine and UW Oshkosh Today. Johnson, with both her computer monitor and laptop opened in front of her, frantically searches the database to remember when she began working at Pollock House. The year was 2003 when Johnson was working in university relations before it became integrated marketing communications, and Gantner was dabbling in alumni relations. The two collaborated on projects for events such as homecoming, and now Gantner serves as Johnson’s supervisor, but their relationship is far from that of a boss and employee.
“She gives direction but is very in to hearing my ideas and we work side-by-side to get the word out and promote all the good things that are going on at UW Oshkosh for alums,” Johnson said. “She’s one of the most enthusiastic and supportive supervisors that I have ever had. It’s a joy; we come to this house and we share a lot of really great ideas and it is fun work to be doing together.”
Another way that Gantner tries to reach out to alumni is by organizing special events. The alumni relations office hosts several events in various cities throughout Wisconsin and the U.S. Those are called geographical alumni events. Upon graduation, many UW Oshkosh alumni have migrated to warmer regions of the country where separate alumni chapters are now thriving. Gantner has been able to visit chapters in the central Florida and Phoenix areas.
“Those alumni events allow us to take the university on the road and to our alums in the communities in which they live and work,” Gantner said. “We get to share updates about what is going on around the campus and help alumni be proud of what is still happening at their alma mater.”
Gantner said these events also provide alumni with the opportunity to meet one another, network and develop professionally. The alumni relations office, under the direction of Gantner, also hosts larger campus events in hopes of getting alumni to come back to Oshkosh. Homecoming and the Golden Titan Reunions, which ensues every spring, are two momentous events for the alumni relations office.
Gantner often teams up with university services associate Linda Cotton to effectively coordinate these events. Cotton has been working at Pollock Alumni House since Gantner graduated from college in 1991. Cotton’s duties include a lot of secretarial work and database upkeep as well. From behind her bulky, oak desk, she staffs the entrance of Pollock House. Religious calendars, scribbled notes and Jesus knickknacks are scattered about her desktop, personalizing her territory. Although things at the alumni relations office can get hectic during homecoming and the weeks before commencement, Cotton feels that the ladies at Pollock House make a great team.
“We all have our expertise, our strong suits, and we blend beautifully with what our responsibilities are,” Cotton said.
Having known Gantner the longest, Cotton’s relationship with her extends far beyond employee and boss. Cotton said Gantner is always very supportive and has always treated her employees with great appreciation.
“I’ve been very blessed to have wonderful alumni directors during my whole career here,” Cotton said. “She’s definitely one I’m thankful I can call my boss and my friend. That is how I introduce her, because she truly is a friend. It makes work a pleasure every day when you don’t have to live under a heavy thumb.”
Student workers at Pollock Alumni House also expressed their gratitude for an understanding and patient boss. Sheraden Bobot, the program and development intern for Pollock Alumni House, works closely with Gantner to market alumni relations services to incoming and current students.
“I really feel like what we do is we collaborate and we come together and have sort of a meeting of minds,” Bobot said, whipping a strand of her curly red hair out of her face. “I say what I feel about my experiences with students and she will take it and run with it. It’s a great feeling to have your superior take your ideas and make them happen. It makes you feel valued and appreciated and you feel like you’re in a self-fulfilled position.”
Another student worker at Pollock Alumni House, Stephanie Dercks, serves as a student assistant. She met Gantner a year and a half ago and immediately thought of Gantner as an outgoing, determined and personable boss, Dercks said.
“I think her openness is what sets Chris apart from others,” Dercks said. “She always carries herself with a sense of grace and pride. Her work ethic shows how strong and determined she really is.”
The two are currently working on a video where Gantner will give a tour of the historic Pollock Alumni House, from the ostentatious foyer and grand staircase to the musty and cozy bedrooms turned offices.
“There is never a time when Chris doesn’t have a million and one things to do, yet she manages to pull it off perfectly every time,” Dercks said with a glint of admiration in her eyes.
Bobot agreed and said Gantner is always going the extra mile to make alumni, students and faculty/staff on campus happy.
“If someone needs something from her on her end, she immediately responds and is more than accommodating,” Bobot said reassuringly.
Other ways that Gantner and her team try to reach soon-to-be alumni are through the Student Alumni Ambassadors program, in which Bobot serves as the adviser, and through the “almost alumni” lunches held every year near commencement.
“Chris is a very innovative director and is always thinking of new ways to engage alums and students in all ways they approach ‘alumni-hood,’” Cotton said. “It’s an exciting and non-stagnant thing to work with Chris.”
Not only does Gantner build and maintain relationships with alumni, students and employees, but her influence also spider webs out to different departments on the UW Oshkosh campus.
“She is a very work-driven woman and just a pleasure to work with all around in every capacity, with departments, alumni and student,” Bobot said.
Most recently, Gantner helped the journalism and radio-TV-film departments bring back several alums to speak to students over homecoming weekend.
The alumni relations office also joins forces with UW Oshkosh’s career services to provide alumni with career-related help and to identify alumni who are willing to come back to campus and participate in some of the career services programs like Dining with Professionals.
“All of the things we do are to engage our alums and let them know that they can continue to use the resources at the university long after graduation and actually throughout their lifetimes,” Gantner said.
Overall, Gantner’s work efforts and influence reach almost every corner of the UW Oshkosh community.
“She is very much in tune with the every aspect of the alumni office, alumni relations and reaching out to the alums,” Cotton said. “As the years go on, many of our alums, locally and non-locally, see what a wonderful alumni director she is. She’s definitely the right woman for the Job!”
Gantner said that her favorite part about her position is working with people.
“I have met so many alumni and friends of the university through this position and that to me is the most energizing part of my job, working with people and listening to their stories,” Gantner said. “They tell me how transformational UW Oshkosh has been for their lives and how their education here and the relationships they made impacted their lives in very significant ways. That is very rewarding.”
Johnson said that Gantner is always really receptive about incorporating new ideas and alumni tales into the alumni relations agenda.
“There are so many great stories out there and she is always on the lookout for chances to spread the word about what our alums are doing,” Johnson said.
When Gantner is not a busybody at work, she’s a busybody at home. She lives in the Fond du Lac area with her husband, Tom Gantner, and their two children, Sam, 11, and Madeline, 8.
“I almost forgot to mention, we also have two dogs, two cats and a bunch of fish,” Gantner said with a chuckle.
She and her family love the outdoors, Gantner professed as her eyes drifted to the sunny autumn day outside.
“We live in the country, so we love going for bike rides and walks in the woods,” she added. “We love earth and nature.”
Gantner, when not acting in her official capacity as alumni relations director, is a member of the Lomira School District Parents and Teachers for Children, an organization that conducts fundraisers and social functions.
“I try to be active and involved as much as my schedule allows with my kids’ school,” she said.
Gantner also spends time volunteering at Hope Lutheran Church as a Sunday school teacher and with youth activities. On top of trying to make time for family and religious activities, Gantner serves as a member of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, an international professional development organization for people who work in alumni relations. She is a part of the CASE V district of the Midwest. Last year, she and her team won an award for best practices in alumni relations for an institution of 10,000 and more full-time-equivalent students. As part of her work with CASE, she and Johnson have been asked to present at its annual meeting in Chicago this December.
Despite the pressure of 80,000 alumni waiting to be reached, Gantner manages to maintain her confident composure by finding solace in spending time with her family and in enjoying what she does.
“The one thing that is kind of hard is juggling a somewhat demanding job, which requires long hours, weekends and nights, with the family stuff like band concerts and sports activities,” Gantner admitted. “I’ve been able to find an opportunity for balance. I love what I do here and have a passion for it, so it all flows pretty naturally.”