search button
newscenter logo
Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

Jim Herrick (left) with SDSU's 1955 Homecoming Queen A. K. Jones ('56) and Anthropology Professor Seth Mallios (right) during the university's 125th anniversary celebration. Jim Herrick (left) with SDSU's 1955 Homecoming Queen A. K. Jones ('56) and Anthropology Professor Seth Mallios (right) during the university's 125th anniversary celebration.

Ahead of Retirement, Jim Herrick Reflects on 37 Years at SDSU

After almost four decades of service to San Diego State University, Assistant Vice President of SDSU Alumni Jim Herrick is retiring. What kept him here so long?
By Tobin Vaughn

This article was originally published on the SDSU Alumni website.


At the end of 2022, Assistant Vice President of SDSU Alumni Jim Herrick will retire after 37 years at San Diego State University. Assuming the administrative leadership position as the new executive director of SDSU Alumni is Stephanie Dathe (’95), who has served for the past six years as director of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union for SDSU Associated Students.


A mainstay on the San Diego campus, Herrick is known to generations of students primarily as head of the university’s alumni organization, where he helped enhance a culture of engagement at the institution through relationship building. He was also instrumental in shepherding the construction of the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, which opened in 2009.


The university’s athletics department, however, initially attracted Herrick to SDSU where he was hired in 1986 by the late Fred Miller, the school’s athletics director, to assist with marketing and ticket sales. Herrick said he knew almost instantly that SDSU was where he belonged.


“I was so into it here, and there was no shortage of things to be done,” Herrick said during a recent interview. “So, I just worked a lot, but it was the old [saying] that if you love your work, it’s not really work.”


High Character


Herrick’s first hire in athletics was Reggie Blaylock (’88, ’06, ’10), a captain of the 1986 Aztecs football team that won the Western Athletic Conference and played in the Holiday Bowl. Blaylock is now the presidential associate for Community, Campus Partnerships and Student Experience at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


Launching his career in athletics at SDSU was a hugely positive experience for Blaylock, who said he learned a lot from working with Herrick. He describes his former boss as “a high-character person” who cares deeply about others.  


The two shared an office and got to know each other well very quickly. Blaylock said he knew early on that he and Herrick would become lifelong friends.


“I have been married for almost 29 years, and Jim was at my wedding,” Blaylock said. “I have two amazing daughters, [ages] 24 and 21, and Jim was at the hospital within two hours of each of them being born. I can say every significant moment in my life Jim has been there.”


Blaylock refers to Herrick as the “ultimate conduit” who connects people across generations and differences, relating equally well with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.


“Jim works in advancement, but everyone feels the same way about him across the board: He is the ultimate cross-divisional, cross-generational leader.”


A Shift to Alumni


Herrick had worked in athletics for a dozen years when he was asked to serve on a search committee for a new alumni director. After talking with several of the candidates, his eyes were opened to other aspects of the university outside athletics.


“I began to realize the scope of what this university does for people was so far beyond four or five hundred student-athletes,” he said. 


As SDSU moved in the direction of more sophisticated fundraising, Herrick found himself feeling the pull of broader-ranging development work. He made the move to alumni relations after first being asked to serve as interim alumni director, taking the job permanently in late 1999.


“I came to see the incredible impact the university has on people’s lives,” he said. “I knew right away I loved it,” Herrick said of his new position. “It was like, ‘All right, we have 35,000 students and they need help in many different ways; how can we keep pushing the university further?’ It felt better.”


Honest and Upbeat


At SDSU Alumni, Herrick came to work with Tammy Blackburn (’94, ’01), whom he met during his time in athletics when Blackburn played for the women’s basketball team.


“I remember Jim bringing his kids, Spencer and Marley, to practices,” Blackburn said. “All of us loved it. That’s how we got to know Jim. It was a big family in the athletics department.”


Blackburn said Herrick likes to keep things light, fun and loose as a boss. Always quick with a joke or a groan-worthy pun, he keeps his staff laughing, while at the same time trusting them to fully exercise their talents and skills.


“With Jim, there is always something different and always something interesting,” said Blackburn, who still works in University Relations and Development. “He allowed me to bring new ideas and execute them, and that was something I really appreciated.”


Through decades of experience, Herrick has come to understand the university’s traditions and quirks. He knows how things work, and the countless personal relationships he has developed along the way have made him a valuable resource for new alumni board members, presidents and new university administrators. 


His orientation meetings are honest, yet upbeat.


“Everybody chooses Jim for that because he’s real. He can be polite about some of the challenges, but he speaks to them, and he certainly shares all the positives because he has an overarching positive outlook about everything," Blackburn said.


Legendary Lyrics


SDSU Alumni Board of Advisors past president Bill Earley (’86) first met Herrick when Earley was president of SDSU Associated Students. Earley had served on the selection committee that hired Miller, who in turn hired Herrick.


Earley describes Herrick as wicked smart, yet utterly unassuming.


“He is like the brilliant guy next door,” Earley said. “His brain is operating at a speed that is hard to imagine.”


Known for rapidly solving math equations in his head, Herrick is also adept at rhyming. His skill of rewriting and then reciting popular poems, literary passages and song lyrics at various gatherings has become legendary.


Herrick willingly suppresses his own ego to achieve a humorous effect.


“Jim is a showman,” said Earley, who on more than one occasion has served as a partner in comic crime. 


In board meetings, Herrick usually occupies the seat next to the board president.


“You get the benefit of hearing his quips that everyone can hear, but you also get to hear some of the quips that nobody else can hear,” said Earley. “I will just leave it at that.”


When SDSU Vice President of University Relations and Development Adrienne Vargas was new on the job in 2017, she tapped Herrick for his institutional knowledge and judgment.


“I felt like he had my back and would do everything he could to help me be successful,” she said. “It was not a personal thing, but it was so the university would be successful. I think he thought if I was successful, it would help all of us advance our mission.”


She, too, came to see the value of Herrick’s presence at important meetings where serious topics were discussed.


“There will be this lull in the conversation and then Jim just drops the funniest comment or joke, and everybody bursts out laughing,” Vargas said. “He has a way of lightening the conversation and letting us realize that we are all here for a charitable purpose. We are all here to make a difference, and while this is important, in the end, this is supposed to also be fun and enjoyable.”


Cartoons and a Combination


Fun, along with fitness, has always been a high priority for Herrick. Since his college days at Cornell University, he has been involved with disc sports, including ultimate and goaltimate, a sort of half-court version of ultimate that he invented (Really. Google it!).


Herrick has played all over the world in front of tens of thousands of fans. He was a member of the team that won the 1983 World Ultimate Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden.


At SDSU he has been known to toss discs with anyone willing to engage. As often as not, he will meet up with SDSU History Curator and Anthropology Professor Seth Mallios at the nearest open space to get some tosses in. 


The two have worked together on numerous projects over the years, including several aspects of the ongoing celebration of the university’s 125th anniversary. One of their higher-profile collaborations is the pair’s “Tom Swifty” cartoon series. Herrick is largely responsible for the puns, and Mallios creates the art. 


Over the past five years, they have created approximately 1,000 of the single-panel cartoons. Their work has appeared most recently in The Daily Aztec.


“Jim is one of the gems of the university,” said Mallios. “I love collaborating with him every chance I get.”


Mallios shares a story to illustrate Herrick’s selflessness: The professor had come to campus casually dressed and unaware of a scheduled media interview set to take place in just minutes. He contacted Herrick who offered up the combination to his locker at the Aztec Recreation center.


“Jim gave me not the clothes off his back, but the clean clothes that were in his gym locker,” Mallios said. “That's what Jim does for people. He drops everything to make sure others succeed.”


Travel Plans


When asked about his successes at SDSU, Herrick reflects on the “we” as opposed to the “me.” He views accomplishment as the cumulative effect of effort over time.


The 2020 campus expansion into Mission Valley, he posits, might be the most significant development. “But there’s a lot of elements that led up to that,” he said. “I think of it more as a million drops of water than as a singular momentous event. I feel that it was able to evolve because there was a large element of trust in the university, and I got to be a part of building that trust over decades.”


Herrick has the relationships to prove it.


“I’ve got more friends than I probably could have imagined from having hung out here for 37 years,” he said.


So now what? Having traveled the world as a competitive athlete and having visited most of the country’s major universities following SDSU’s football and basketball teams, what’s left for retirement?


“Somehow, I wake up and I have never been to the Grand Canyon — and it's right there,” Herrick said.


Herrick plans to buy a camper, pack up his mountain bike and hit the road. In six to eight months, he intends to return “to see if there are any odd jobs” around Montezuma Mesa.


“I could be the person who rolls out the cart at basketball games and collects the balls after the teams shoot around, or I could help people find ways to give the university millions of dollars, or anything in between,” he said.


Herrick reflects on the words of Fred Miller: “We are lucky to work on a college campus,” his mentor would say as the two would stroll between meetings. 


“He was right,” Herrick said. “There’s something about a college campus. It's youthful, and there’s a lot of things going on, but our campus is spectacular. 


“It has a lot of canyons and cool buildings and cool facilities. It has great jacaranda trees and peaks and valleys, sports fields and laboratories, new buildings, old buildings and haunted buildings. It's got a big old subway station running underneath it that miraculously appeared about 20 years ago. 


“Not to mention the fact that there are 35,000 students walking around here trying to figure out how to pass something. So, it’s high energy, it’s a beautiful physical place, and I pride myself on understanding every nook and cranny of this campus because it’s huge and it's got so many great features that I feel like there’s no reason to ever be bored here.


“And I never have been.”