A Utah Man through and through, John Ashton has served as executive director of the U’s Alumni Association for nearly 30 years. Now, he’s decided to hang it up and move on to new adventures this spring. “At first it felt quite strange, because I’ve been doing this for so long,” says Ashton BS’66 JD’69. “But as more time goes by, I realize it’s time for fresh eyes and a fresh attitude.”
He and Fred Esplin MA’74, vice president for institutional advancement, have known one another since the late 1980s, when Esplin was manager of KUED-TV and Ashton was the Alumni Association’s newly appointed leader. “Because of the many new programs and activities John implemented, thousands of alumni have become involved with the U through board service, volunteer leadership, and financial support,” says Esplin.
Indeed, Ashton has accomplished a great deal in the world of alumni relations. Beginning in the early ’90s, he helped establish Continuum magazine and has since served as executive editor. He also founded the alumni scholarship program, which today has a $2.5 million endowment. Under his tenure, the annual food drive was started and now garners enough donations to feed more than 100 families of four for a year. And, it was his idea to begin a legislative advocacy committee, which has impacted successful legislation on behalf of higher ed for many years.
Before his role as executive director, Ashton served as president of the Alumni Association and as a member of the university’s board of trustees. In addition, he was a member of the boards of Red Butte Garden, KUED, and the Hinckley Institute of Politics. He also served on the University of Utah Hospital board for 11 years and the Utah Hospital Association board for five years. Ashton credits Lee Ence, his predecessor, who served 23 years as executive director, and Ted Capener, former vice president of community relations at the U, as the two people who most influenced him for success leading the association. And during his tenure, he says, he has especially enjoyed interacting with the many alumni board members.
“John has a keen, dry sense of humor that puts people at ease, and he’s very careful to consider all sides of an issue,” says John Fackler BS'89 BS'94 MprA'95, director of business and outreach for the association. “We know he will stay active in the campus community and will remain a proud Utah fan and supporter.” Ashton’s wife, Linda, can attest to that. “The football and basketball games are ‘must-attend’ events.” John adds that staying involved with the U and doing community service are things both he and Linda look forward to.
Ashton’s ties to the U are long and deep, and most would agree with Esplin, who says, “In his retirement, John should take great pride in how he has successfully engaged countless alumni and students with the U.”