Paula Bonner stepping down as Wisconsin Alumni Association’s leader

Paula Bonner likes to dust off an old quote from former UW-Madison Chancellor Donna Shalala when she talks about the power and influence of alumni at colleges and universities.

“Donna used to say, ‘When the alumni sneeze, the chancellor gets a cold,’ ” Bonner said.

Nobody understands that better than Bonner, the longtime president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) and chief alumni officer for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA). She said Monday that she plans to step down from both roles at the end of June and then retire from the WFAA at the end of October.

 “I have loved being the advocate for and with the alumni and their place as a stakeholder in the life of this university,” said Bonner, who has worked in a leadership role at the school for 41 years and earned her master’s degree in education there. She has served on many UW, Big Ten Conference and national committees and councils and is a member of the UW athletic department Hall of Fame.

Since 2000, Bonner has led the WAA, which connects more than 400,000 graduates with the university and each other and has chapters and contacts in 100 cities around the world. In 2014, WAA merged with the UW Foundation to form the WFAA. She is leaving as the Alumni Park and One Alumni Place projects are planning to open near Memorial Union later this year. The multimillion-dollar projects were funded entirely by alumni.

  The South Carolina native was a graduate student when she started working at UW’s athletic department in 1976. She became an associate athletic director one year later and oversaw 11 women’s sports for the next 12 years.

She joined the WAA in 1989 as its associate executive director, just as Shalala, who is now the president of the Clinton Foundation, was directing the school to become more focused on sharing its accomplishments on a national and world stage.

“We were building on the pride that the alumni have always had,” Bonner said.

Biddy Martin, a former UW-Madison chancellor and current Amherst College chancellor, was among the many former and current UW officials who lauded Bonner in statements. Martin said Bonner’s contributions “are already legendary. In her creativity, her dedication to the UW, her humor, her vision and her warmth, she is the very essence of Badger spirit.”

The WFAA has not begun the process of choosing her successor, Bonner said.

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