Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations and Stewardship Betsy Oberst has announced her plans to retire this summer after 35 years of service to SUNY Oswego and its more than 86,000 alumni.
In this role, she served as executive director of the Oswego Alumni Association (OAA) and publisher of the OSWEGO Alumni Magazine. She oversaw alumni relations, alumni and development communications, and donor relations and stewardship programs at the college.
“Betsy has done a tremendous job leading the alumni operations at the college for more than two decades, and through her personal outreach and the development of award-winning programs, she has strengthened our alumni ties to SUNY Oswego,” said Mary Gibbons Canale ’81, vice president for development and alumni relations.
“She has helped build an alumni office that is the envy of our SUNY peers, and she is leaving the OAA in a much stronger place than when she started,” Mary said. “We are so grateful for her dedication, commitment and many years of service to all of our alumni.”
Some of the alumni who know her best worked with her through their roles on the Oswego Alumni Association Board of Directors, including current board President Dana Segall Murphy ’99.
“Betsy has amazing knowledge of our school’s history and an infinite number of connections to our alumni and their Oswego stories and families,” Dana said. “It takes a truly special person to embrace Oswego the way Betsy has. I don’t think you can find many people who can do what Betsy has done for Oswego and its 86,000+ alumni. She will be greatly missed but has left an amazing impact on Oswego in so many ways.”
Betsy first joined the Oswego Alumni Association in October 1984 as a part-time assistant director of alumni relations who worked with students involved in the Undergraduate Alumni Association (now called Future Alumni Network).
But her connections to campus began in 1973 when she frequently traveled from her alma mater, St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., to Oswego to visit her now husband of 40 years, Dr. Jerry Oberst ’77, who is entering his 41st year in the SUNY Oswego admissions office.
“I think those early experiences help me relate to Oswego alumni,” she said. “I experienced the tree-stump stools at Nunzi’s and went to Buckland’s when I was dating Jerry. This has really been a shared journey with him. Throughout my career, he would accompany me to alumni events and could speak about the campus and the students he was recruiting.”
It was a journey that she never intended to take. After graduating with a bachelor’s in English, she earned a master’s in advertising from Syracuse University and her teaching certification at SUNY Oswego, fully intending to become a high school English teacher.
Initially, she took the job because she liked the idea of working at a college, and being able to work part time gave her the flexibility to spend more time with her three young children. When she accepted the interim role as alumni relations director in 1995, she knew she was hooked on a new career path.
“The mission of the Oswego Alumni Association has always been to engage alumni,” she said. “That never changes. We’ve engaged them in different ways over the years. I enjoyed being able to launch new initiatives and programs, and not just manage existing programs.”
Many of the Oswego Alumni Association’s signature programs began during her tenure—programs, she said, that wouldn’t have been able to be launched without the stalwart support of College President Deborah F. Stanley, who became interim president in the same year Betsy became alumni director.
“We have been so fortunate on this campus to have a leader like President Stanley who has always understood that alumni are a really important part of the fabric of our college community,” Betsy said. “She has always supported alumni and development operations, and she thought it was important enough to make it its own division. I really appreciated that.”
Among the programs and initiatives Betsy said she is most proud of developing are the following:
• Welcoming Torchlight
Ceremony to welcome students on their first night on campus, mirroring the Commencement Eve Torchlight held on students’ last night on campus
• New York City Career Connections to bring students and alumni together for professional networking
• Golden Alumni Society and Induction Ceremony to recognize all 50-year plus graduates of the college
• Peace: Free and Easy Memorial between Seneca and Tyler halls dedicated by classmates in memory of four alumni
She was recognized in 2016 with a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Professional Excellence, the highest honor bestowed by SUNY.
As she reflected on her years with the college, she said she is so grateful for a career path that she never knew existed, yet fit her so well.
“This job really felt like a gift, because you don’t go to school to become an alumni director,” she said. “You grow up thinking you’ll be an attorney or a doctor or a teacher. But I was fortunate to discover this work. I had more fun and laughs than I thought you could have in a job. This work has become a passion, a calling—and the alumni have become an extension of my family.”
Betsy is frequently invited to weddings and family celebrations of alumni, and she has even been asked by families to deliver remarks at the funerals of alumni.
“I never wanted another job because I loved what I did—mostly because of the people,” she said. “They made it joyful to come in every day. I got energy going to an alumni event. Hands down, what I loved the most about my job—and what I will miss most—are the people and the relationships.”
Betsy said she doesn’t have any set plans for retirement, except possibly training her newly adopted dog, Jackson, to be a therapy dog, spending more time with her children and grandchildren, and traveling with and without Jerry, who remains in his role within the college admissions office.