At her retirement party, Sharon Thompson is never alone. Dressed in a bright pink top that’s as cheery as her disposition, she can’t leave her corner as people keep approaching her, eager to chat, reminisce, and express their gratitude. Her popularity is a testimony to her character and her 16 years of service as a proposal writer for Hillsdale College.
“She’s been a really valuable person for our institutional advancement team and for the college,” said John Cervini, vice president of Institutional Advancement. “And she can become a friend to anybody.”
Thompson said she is retiring to spend more time with her husband and delve into volunteer activities, after working for the institutional advancement department since March 2001. She’s on vacation now until her official retirement on March 31, she said, so she’ll have spent a full 16 years at the college. During that time, Cervini estimated, Thompson has helped raise more than $100 million for the college and has written more than 1,000 proposals — as well as thank-you letters, brochures, and reports to donors.
“I like to write, and fundraising doesn’t bother me, because I’m never asking for myself,” she said. “I’m asking for a college that makes a huge difference. It’s a privilege to ask people to support the school when you want to promote its mission.”
Although most students don’t interact with Thompson, whose office is tucked away in Moss Hall, they’ve benefited from her work; her proposals have requested funding for programs, buildings, equipment, and scholarships. These include proposals for Imprimis, Hillsdale Academy, the Barney Charter School Initiative, and the Dow Journalism Program scholarships. Thompson was also the head proposal writer for the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., and as part of that job, she said, she wrote reports to donors about students involved in the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program and the George Washington Fellowship Program.
Thompson said her first successful proposal brought in money for the football scoreboard: “I thought that was kind of fun, because I like football.”
Noting that she is especially passionate about education for children, Thompson said one of her favorite causes for which to write proposals and reports is Hillsdale’s charter school initiative. Phillip Kilgore, the program’s director, said Thompson’s work has been invaluable to the program, adding that she was the second person he would talk to — after President Larry Arnn — if anything newsworthy happened with the initiative.
“The thing that’s so impressive about her is how attentive she is to the details,” Kilgore said. “She makes sure the message to the donors is accurate and represents the project to them as well as possible. That care for the message is really important.”
Kilgore recalled that when he first met Thompson, she was on crutches because of a leg injury, and he noticed how persistent she was about getting around.
“She was not going to let it get her down,” he said. “That’s reflective of her whole attitude about things.”
She’s a good writer, too, Kilgore added.
“That’s an accomplishment,” he said. “Everyone on this campus appreciates good writing. That’s something she scores high on in a category that everyone on campus thinks matters a lot.”
Thompson, who studied communications at Spring Arbor University, said she takes pleasure in writing.
“I love words,” she said. “And I like to craft a compelling proposal that people will take seriously — foundations as well as individuals.”
Her favorite part of working at Hillsdale, she said, is “feeling as though I’ve contributed in a small way to the success Hillsdale College has experienced under Dr. Arnn.”
Craig Kreinbihl, director of institutional advancement on the East Coast, said he became friends with Thompson, while he worked as director of operations at the Kirby Center from 2013 – 2015. Thompson brought knowledge and skill to her work writing proposals and reports for the center, Kreinbihl said.
“Sharon brings a cheerful spirit, a love for the college and its mission, and attention to detail,” he said. “The combination of those and other traits really made her a joy to work with and someone who was able to excel in her job.”
Kreinbihl added that Thompson has volunteered faithfully at her church, Litchfield United Methodist, “helping the less fortunate in the community.”
Thompson said she coordinates children’s ministries, teaches an adult Sunday school class, and sings and plays piano for the worship team. When her church had an organ, she played it, as well.
Thompson said she plans to stay involved in her church and delve into other volunteer projects, once she retires. Her husband is also retiring, and she said she wants to spend more time with him, as well.
Cervini said Hillsdale will miss Thompson.
“She’s a good representative of the quality of the people that work at Hillsdale College,” he said. “She’s dedicated to the mission and a real team player. A very fine person. We’ll miss her.”