Always an Eagle

Longtime Alumni Association Leader Retires

You might say Wendell Tompkins arrived at Georgia Southern in 1982 and never left. Aside from a short absence, he has spent almost 40 years at Georgia Southern – first as a student then as an employee. Tompkins admits he found a second home at the institution he loves.

“As graduation approached in 1987, all I could think of is that I didn’t want to leave Georgia Southern and Statesboro,” he said. “I moved to Savannah for my first job and immediately began exploring ways to return to Georgia Southern in some capacity.”

In May 1989, Tompkins was back at his alma mater as the very first assistant director of the Southern Boosters, now known as the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation. Frank Hook, the Southern Boosters executive director who hired him, remembered Tompkins’ first big assignment — a pre-game social for several hundred guests and donors. A few hours before the event, he was astonished to see that his new hire had planned everything with a meticulous attention to detail.

“Wendell was finishing up some things and I looked down and every table, the tablecloths, the table arrangements, the brochures were lined up, not anything was out of line,” Hook said. “He was cutting the lemons and the limes for the bar area and they were lined up to a tee. The wedges were cut exactly the same, side by side by side. Everything was covered and wrapped and put in a refrigerator. Everything was spotless. I said, ‘that’s all I need to know about my employee and now my new friend, Wendell Tompkins.’”

Tompkins is from Sandersville, Georgia, and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. He recalled that 1989 “was a very exciting year to return to Georgia Southern and Statesboro and have the opportunity to be directly involved with so many historic events.” Among the events he cited:

On Sept. 12, 1989, it was announced that Georgia Southern would become a university. The Hugo Bowl was played in Paulson Stadium on Sept. 12. Georgia Southern won its third football national championship at home on Dec 16. Football Coach Erk Russell retired four days later.

For the next 30 years, the alumnus witnessed many other momentous events in Georgia Southern’s history. But last fall, Tompkins retired after serving in various roles, which included director of annual giving, associate director of the Southern Boosters and finally as senior director of alumni relations and annual giving. As an advocate for Georgia Southern and its alumni, he engaged with thousands of Eagle Nation members over the years and built lasting relationships with alumni all across the country.

“What I love the most about Georgia Southern is the people,” said Tompkins, who took on additional duties as the University’s cheerleading coach from 1995 to 1997. “It all goes back to Dec. 1, 1906, when that group of Statesboro and Bulloch County residents rode to Savannah on the train to present the winning bid for Statesboro to be the location of Georgia Southern. It is about the blue-collar work ethic, doing more with less and building something great from the ground up with very little in resources. Georgia Southern is a family, from the students, faculty/ staff, alumni and the people of Statesboro and Savannah.”

As senior director of alumni relations and annual giving, Tompkins found many ways to celebrate the passion alumni have for their university. He planned and guided dozens of projects that included homecoming festivities, fundraising initiatives, banquets, luncheons and many other alumni- related services.

“There is no way I can choose one thing that I am most proud of over a 30-year career,” he said. “I am proud of all Georgia Southern alumni, students, faculty and staff and what we have ALL been able to accomplish to bring Georgia Southern where it is today and the success we have had since its founding.”

Tompkins also expanded his commitment to service outside Georgia Southern. He served on the executive committee of the Georgia Education Advancement Council (GEAC) and was elected GEAC president 2015. In 2019, he received GEAC’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Now that he has retired, the alumnus plans to spend as much time as possible outdoors, whether it’s relaxing at the beach or hiking in the mountains of north Georgia. Looking back, he is proud of how far he and Georgia Southern have come.

“I have been fortunate to be a part of the unbelievable success and growth of Georgia Southern. From the small Georgia Southern College of 6,800 students in 1982 to the major research university of today with more than 26,000 students on three campuses,” he said. “So many people have been part of my journey at Georgia Southern but the one person that believed in me the most is Frank Hook. Frank instilled in me a strong work ethic, a love for people and a deeper love for my alma mater. Frank became my friend, mentor and brother.”

Hook is retired now but has a part-time role as director of special projects for the Athletic Foundation. He expressed deep appreciation for Tompkins loyalty, work ethic and organization. Hook added, “One of the best day’s work I ever did at Georgia Southern was hiring Wendell Tompkins.” — Sandra Bennett