Making It Better:
New alumni president wants to see you at a campus event

By Leslie Linthicum

 

His Twitter handle is @BigHLavender and when Harold Lavender enters a room, he seems to fill the doorway. He’s not stout—in fact he just dropped 40 pounds to prepare for a knee-replacement surgery—but he seems really . . . big.

“I get that all the time,” Lavender says, clarifying for the record that he stands just 6 feet 1. “Maybe it’s the loud personality.” That optical illusion served the New Mexico native well during the 33 years he spent on the famously chaotic floor of the Chicago Board of Trade as a trader and a broker.

And it might come in handy in Lavender’s newest volunteer role as the incoming president of the UNM Alumni Association.

Acknowledging that universities across the nation are fighting through trying times, and that UNM is in especially challenging circumstances, Lavender is ready to put the full force of his personality to work on behalf of his beloved alma mater.

“It’s tough right now. There’s a lot of distress,” Lavender says. “One of my main drivers is, this is where I went to school and I’m going to do what I can to make it better.”

 

Lavender and his wife, Judith, are regulars in attendance at a variety of alumni and campus events. You’ll see them at baseball games, receptions, golf tournaments and nearly every Lobo Living Room.

Although they lived in the Chicago area for decades and raised their two children there, the Lavenders have deep roots in New Mexico. Judith Kennedy Lavender (BUS ’74) grew up in Gallup, where her parents owned the Gallup Indian Trading Co.

Lavender’s family arrived in New Mexico after one of his aunts answered an ad seeking reservation teachers in Crownpoint, married a rancher there and stayed. His father followed suit when he got out of the service and Lavender grew up in Aztec and Raton.

Harold Lavender Sr. served as mayor of Aztec, but he was an educator by profession. He taught and was the high school principal in Aztec before he moved the family to Raton where he served as superintendent of schools.

Harold Jr. was in high school when his father was recruited by then UNM President Tom Popejoy to come south to serve as dean of students and then vice president of student affairs.

After high school, he enrolled at UNM without much of an idea of what he wanted to do. He studied English and American studies and, sick of living at home, applied to West Point and the Naval Academy. He spent one and a half years in Annapolis before deciding that home, UNM and Albuquerque looked pretty good after all. Lavender graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969 and, after a brief stint in the Air Force, enrolled in the UNM School of Law, earning his degree in 1975.

“I had a lot more fun in law school than I did practicing law,” Lavender says, laughing, today.

 

He had been practicing at a small firm in Albuquerque for only a few months when a friend of his, a trader on the Board of Trade, suggested a possible new career.

“He said, ‘You’re loud, you’re big, you’re aggressive and you’re competitive. You’ve got what it takes to do well there.’”

So Lavender hit the trading floor, a place where he immediately felt at home. A competitive athlete, Lavender found the hours in the trading pit to be exhilarating.

“It’s mano a mano, dog eat dog,” Lavender says. “It was really fun.”

When it was time to “retire,” the Lavenders decided to come home.

“We both decided we were going to give back to ‘from whence we cometh,’” Lavender says. And they have. Judith facilitated the reopening of the Early Childhood and Family Center at UNMGallup, is the interim director of the Baby Fund at the Santa Fe Community Foundation and launched Tic Tac Grow PlayWear.

Harold has been active as a trustee of the Sandia Foundation, he serves on the State Investment Council, he is director of business and financial development at ABQid and he is an adjunct professor at the Anderson School of Management.

When Lavender talks to students in his Anderson class, Application of Futures and Options, he often tells them that he has been successful at a lot of what he has tried in life. “And I say that not one day have I been limited by the fact that I went to UNM.”

 

Last year, as the president-elect of the Alumni Association, Lavender supported the initiatives of President James B. Lewis.

“James set out to communicate, collaborate and cooperate—those were his words,” Lavender says. “I intend to continue that.”

Communicating the University’s strengths and successes and rallying pride and spirit around UNM is one of his top priorities.

“Let’s celebrate our successes,” Lavender says.

To that end, he is looking at ways to involve members of the Alumni Association board in more campus events, so the UNM community and alumni can better understand the organization and so that board members, who are all alumni, can better understand their alma mater today.

Lavender would also like to involve past-presidents of the Alumni Association in some leadership role. When a board member is elected president and serves the one-year term, he or she becomes past-president the following year and then no longer serves on the board. “They’ve got significant knowledge that they can bring and I want them to feel more a part of it,” Lavender says.

And, with a new University president coming aboard sometime during his tenure as Alumni Association president, Lavender hopes to build a relationship quickly with the new hire.

“I think it’s critically important for a president to have a very close relationship with alumni,” Lavender says, “and so that will be a priority.”

Lavender, who seems to be at just about every UNM event—hovering ever so slightly above the crowd—also wants to encourage school spirit among students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Tailgates, ball games—show up,” he says. “They’re fun!”

 
  • Lavender played golf for UNM, although he did not letter. And he worked as a night watchman at the South Championship Course while he was in law school.
  • On the Chicago Board of Trade, where traders’ firms are identified by the jackets they wear on the floor, Lavender chose lavender jackets for his firm.
  • The two Lavender children, Jay and Meredith, both have made careers in show biz. Jay, a writer/ director/producer, wrote and co-produced the blockbuster “The Break-Up” starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston and co-wrote and co-produced “The Wedding Ringer” with Kevin Hart. Meredith was a writer and an executive producer of the country music soap “Nashville” for four seasons.