September 25, 2015 | By Chuck Carlson
These days, Jim Whitehouse, '69, is all about tying, and untying, knots.
“I could spend all day tying knots for people,” he said earlier this week as the guest speaker, and lover of all things nautical, at Albion College’s monthly Odd Topics Society Luncheon.
Speaking to an appreciative crowd of 50 people in Baldwin Hall's Mary Sykes Room, Whitehouse spoke of his years growing up in Morenci and learning to sail his dad’s sailboat on Devil’s Lake south of Jackson.
“The first thing I learned about sailing was tying knots,” he said.
He spoke of crown knots and figure eight knots and monkey fists and overhand knots and hangman knots. “That’s the ugliest knot, with ugly, ugly symbolism,” he told the group.
For Whitehouse, tying knots as part of his beloved sailing pursuits was an escape and an adventure, and, in ways he never could have imagined back then, it practically became a way of life.
And, not surprisingly, the analogy of knots is playing a prominent role once again.
“I’m going to try to retie some of those knots [at the College],” said Whitehouse, who this week began a part-time role as major gift relationship officer for Michigan. “That’s one of my jobs.”
It’s not so much a homecoming for Whitehouse since, in many respects, he never really left. One only need look around campus, and the family name is easy to spot—Whitehouse residence hall and the Whitehouse Nature Center, for example.
His return is a chance for him to reconnect with friends and faculty and provide an opportunity to show potential donors that Albion is connecting with its past as much as it’s looking to the future.
That was the plan for Bob Anderson, vice president for alumni relations and development, who sat with Whitehouse on the porch of his home two blocks from campus and asked him to return to the school that has meant so much to him.
“He will be a resource for our entire [Institutional Advancement] team as we build an organization second to none, offering meaningful engagement and personalized philanthropy,” Anderson said.
And for Whitehouse, it was the right time to return.
“I was ready,” Whitehouse said. “I never fell out of love with Albion College.”
Quite the opposite, in fact.
In all, 15 of his family members have attended Albion and his grandfather, William W. Whitehouse (known to most people as W.W.), was president of the College from 1945-60.
“He was a serious academician with a booming English voice,” Whitehouse said. “He was a beloved president, from what I heard.”
But the name didn’t stop there.
Jim’s father, Keith, ’41, met his wife, Lorene, ’40, at the school. Jim, who graduated with a degree in biology, met his wife, Marsha (Green) Whitehouse, ’70, at Albion, and their two kids, T.J., '99, and Jill, ‘01, are both graduates.
“From the time I was born, Albion College was a part of my life,” he said.
After earning a law degree at the University of Toledo, Jim practiced law in Hillsdale County for 20 years but remained an active member of the school’s alumni association, serving as its president in 1992.
That’s also when he was lured back to his alma mater, convinced to take over in the planned giving department and then promoted to associate vice president for major gifts.
The symmetry continued as Whitehouse’s office in that role ended up being his old bedroom in a building that, when he was kid, had been the president’s house (and is again) occupied by his grandfather.
But in 2008, Whitehouse stepped away from his position, moving on to become associate director of philanthropy for the Nature Conservancy of Michigan in Lansing. He retired in 2011, only to be lured out again four years later by the chance to work at the place that means so much to him.
“Jim is well regarded for his friendly, hard-working and caring approach to development work,” Anderson said. “His knowledge and sensitivity has contributed to his success in helping many donors complete their major and planned gifts for Albion College.”
As far as Whitehouse is concerned, he’s back where he belongs.
“I said to myself, ‘Self, if there was ever an opportunity to go back to Albion, you should do it,’” he said. “And I’m very happy to be back with a wonderful administration. I can’t think of a better word than ‘happy’ to describe it. Hopefully we can do some good things.”