Leslie Winick, 'charmingly indefatigable,' wins Amy J. Blue Award
As the director of alumni and student class outreach for the Stanford Alumni Association, Winick is the "wind and the sails" of Reunion Homecoming, colleagues say, and every year brings fresh drive, commitment and enthusiasm to the annual event.
As an events planner for the White House, Leslie Winick shepherded artists – Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire – to the Kennedy Center Honors gala.
As the director of events and on-air fundraising for Hawaii Public Radio, she convinced the Irish-American mayor of Honolulu to sing Oh Danny Boy for certain pledge amounts, one of many local "celebrities" she invited to join the on-air drive.
In Hawaii, she also produced a weekly radio show on Broadway musicals, fulfilling a longtime dream. Each week, she chose a theme – love songs, great opening acts, duets, big finales – and every few months took requests from listeners.
Each of the jobs was memorable: working on nationally televised events, boosting fundraising for public radio, and sharing the music she loved.
Still, it was Stanford University that would capture Winick's heart and imagination.
After moving to San Francisco with her three daughters in 1996, Winick found out that there was an opening for a regional manager in the Stanford Alumni Association (SAA).
"I remember that moment so vividly," she said. "I felt – wow. I had some shining image of Stanford. I had never been on campus before, but I had this sense of it being a special place. I had that same feeling when I drove down Palm Drive and saw that view of Memorial Church. I felt so at home, right away. It was an amazing feeling."
Winick said Stanford was "immediately invigorating and exciting." It is a feeling that persists to this day.
"I am so utterly grateful for the staff at the SAA and throughout Stanford – as well as the students and alumni who I have had the delight of working with over the years," she said. "They are all such kind and inspiring people. I just feel lucky that I'm here."
Winick, director of alumni and student class outreach at the Stanford Alumni Association, is one of this year's winners of the Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.
President John Hennessy will present the Amy J. Blue awards at a May 13 ceremony and reception, which will take place at 4 p.m. in the Koret-Taube Conference Center at the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Building, located at 366 Galvez Street.
Some favorite moments
Winick, who has led Stanford's Reunion Homecoming for nearly 20 years, said one of her favorite moments during the four-day event is seeing the spark of recognition – followed by looks of pure joy – when classmates who haven't seen each other in years, or even decades, unexpectedly cross paths on campus.
"There were two women who parked too close together and bumped each other's doors while getting out of their cars," she said. "At first, they gave each other dirty looks. Then one said, 'Mary?' And the other said, 'Jane?' They had not seen each other since their days on campus and they were back for their 50th reunion! They walked arm in arm for the rest of the reunion."
Winick heard their story because she strikes up conversations with people as she walks from one event to another during Reunion Homecoming. The fall event attracted more than 9,500 attendees last year, compared with 5,800 attendees in 1998 – the year the SAA asked her to take charge of the program.
Another one of Winick's favorite moments during Reunion Homecoming is coming upon contemplative alumni walking through the Main Quad, sitting on a bench or gazing at a corner of the Quad.
"I sense what they're thinking about is getting in touch with all those memories of Stanford and what their lives have become since then," she said. "It's big stuff."
Her team also creates undergraduate student programs tailored to each class.
"Freshmen want to know, 'how do I fit into Stanford?'" Winick said. "Sophomores who feel a bit lost after their exciting freshman year wonder, 'what do I do now?' For juniors, the question is 'what do I want to be?' For seniors, it's 'where am I going?'"
So the SAA has created "Go Cards" for freshmen, a deck of cards with 52 traditions of student life; Faculty Club get-togethers that introduce sophomores to some of the 215,000 members of the Stanford alumni family; "Dinner Off the Farm" for small groups of juniors who are invited to the homes of local alumni; and "Senior Dinner on the Quad" for the graduating class, an event that recent graduates voted as one of their favorite Stanford traditions.
"Many university alumni associations wait until students are seniors to say, 'we'll be there for you,'" Winick said. "We want to make sure Stanford students understand that from the get-go. They are students for four years at this amazing institution, but will be Stanford alumni forever."
At Stanford, Winick has returned to the microphone by producing voice-overs for university productions. It is Winick who says, "Stanford University" as a camera soars over the Main Quad – from Memorial Church through Memorial Court – at the beginning of videos produced by the university.
"It's a tiny voice-over, but it just makes me feel so honored to be the voice of Stanford for those few seconds," she said.
Boundless energy and caring
Cindy Pearson, director of alumni communities and alumni education at the SAA, said she has watched Winick with respect and awe from the first day she arrived on campus bearing a chocolate chip cake for her new colleagues. Every day since then, Winick's positive energy and commitment to her colleagues have been evident in all she does, Pearson wrote in a letter nominating Winick for the Amy J. Blue Award.
"People are naturally drawn to Leslie's fun and funny style, and she welcomes all into her circle," Pearson wrote. "In addition to leading her team to year after year of unparalleled success, she is also the first to arrive at staff welcome parties, to notice and seek you out on days when you are a little down, to drop off a silly, motivating gift – a magic wand or rally beads or doughnuts – when your team is at its busiest. Leslie pays attention and she knows what others need. She boosts us all up, day after day."
Hilary Katz Hausman, director of marketing and creative services at the SAA, described Winick as "charmingly indefatigable."
"That only touches on one small part of why she is such an invaluable staff member of SAA," Hausman wrote in a nominating letter. "Other adjectives would include authentic, gracious, committed, thorough, smart and fun. I picked the 'charmingly indefatigable' descriptor because I have observed, in my tenure at SAA, that her drive and commitment have never diminished regardless of how many times she has done the task or event. I also believe that she treats each of the 7,000-plus alumni who return for Reunion Homecoming as individuals to whom she is wholly committed to providing the best experience possible."
One colleague praised Winick for her empathy, a "distinguishing feature that resonates with staff colleagues, alumni and students." Another described her as "the wind and the sails" of Reunion Homecoming, and the "top dog and inspirational leader" of the 75 staff members from across campus who contribute to the event.
Alyssa Morrison, director of Stanford+Connects, said Winick's passion for her work is contagious.
"Even after years of running the reunion program, Leslie still manages to meet each new year with a new enthusiasm," Morrison wrote in a nominating letter. "Whether she's motivating you in person or via email, Leslie has a special way of touching every person, getting them engaged and helping them shine. I often say that when Leslie talks to you, she makes you feel like a superhero – as if you're the only person in the room – and you can accomplish anything because she believes in you."
Barbara Stallins, senior director of alumni relations at the SAA, said the word "positive" isn't strong enough to describe Winick.
"Leslie has an enthusiasm for Stanford and a passion for her work that is unmatched by most mere mortals," Stallins wrote in a nominating letter.
"Whether Leslie is galvanizing a team, inspiring alumni or motivating her colleagues, she brings a contagious energy to everything she does through humor, hard work and commitment. The success of Stanford's Reunion Homecoming program over the past many years is in large part due to Leslie's extraordinarily positive leadership and her ability to build strong campus partnerships. When Leslie leads, people want to follow."
Michael Tate, associate director of digital and data services for the SAA, said that what is most enchanting about Winick is her "Stanford-first mantra."
"She eats, drinks and breathes Cardinal," Tate wrote in a nominating letter. "As a Stanford parent, staffer and volunteer, she respects and loves Stanford and always strives to do what is best, not only for the institution but, and perhaps more importantly, for the literally thousands of often unsung staffers who make this place from the Foothills to the bay so special."