One look at Al DeSimone and it is clear he understands how to dress for success: the dark or pinstriped Hart Schaffner Marx suits, the pastel Nordstrom dress shirts, the snazzy (yet sophisticated) neckties, and the perfectly polished shoes.
DeSimone arrived on our fair Arcadian hill in 2011 and in January of this year announced he will retire on July 1, 2020. When most people think of DeSimone, they think of the person who led the conclusion to the most successful campaign in the College’s history and is now guiding efforts to fund key elements of the College’s new strategic plan; the leader who broadened the campus community’s thinking about external communication and encouraged new avenues of engaging alumni; the Hornets athletic fan with a special fondness for tennis.
To a certain extent, with Al, what you see is what you get. The consummate professional, his office on the third floor of Mandelle Hall is tastefully decorated with Kalamazoo College memorabilia and publications. The few files present on his otherwise clear desk are neatly stacked with uniformly typed labels. There are two framed photos of his sons, David ’15 and Adam, playing tennis, prominently displayed on the mantle of the ornamental fireplace. The photo of David is properly branded with the Kalamazoo College logo on his t-shirt.
An astute visitor to DeSimone’s office, however, will catch the more complex person behind the suit. For example, when he is sitting at his computer engaging in his infamous two-fingered speed typing, you might see the 4ocean beads and rope friendship bracelets made from recycled plastic, a nod to his personal philanthropy. His sense of humor is subtly evident, with his beloved label maker (properly labeled “Property of Al DeSimone”) and the red rubber devil’s head stress ball (to hold when playing devil’s advocate).
Catch him in a more casual environment, such as a picnic or athletic contest, and he might surprise you in chinos or shorts worn with Birkenstock sandals. He will occasionally reveal his music preferences to his staff by playing rock songs from his phone to emphasize a point. Engage him in a personal conversation and you might hear stories about his granddogs, and, more importantly, the much-anticipated grandchild expected this spring.
DeSimone frequently travels with President Jorge G. Gonzalez to visit alumni and friends. A meticulous and careful planner, DeSimone is always completely prepared. “Early on he taught me that you never want to surprise a donor. If you’re going to ask someone for money, you let them know ahead of time,” Gonzalez says.
“He is also incredibly clever with a quick wit. He’s very funny and comes up with the most offbeat puns,” Gonzalez chuckles. “And he’s obsessive about being on time—a kindred spirit!”
In addition to timeliness and caring deeply about access to higher education, the two men also share a competitive nature, which became evident early in Gonzalez’s presidency. A social media savvy president, Gonzalez’s Twitter account (@kprez18) was established and ready for him to use on Day One. Gonzalez and DeSimone, who had already established an account (@DeSimoneAl), started a friendly rivalry to see who had more followers. Gonzalez smiles broadly as he proudly reports he is still winning, though he concedes DeSimone’s retirement may place him in a position to overtake the president’s popularity!
The Consummate Professional
“Mr. DeSimone” is well known to Hornet student athletes who recognize him as one of their biggest fans in the stands and on Twitter. Athletic Director Becky Hall met DeSimone when he participated in the search process that ultimately brought Hall to Kalamazoo College in 2018.
Hall recalls her first video interview with the athletic director search committee. “I thought, boy, that guy doesn’t seem to relax. He never cracked a smile. He had a poker face and was all business. He was definitely the toughest one around the table, a consummate professional—nothing like the warm and caring person I know today.”
DeSimone mentored Hall through her first six months on the job and she is forever grateful. “He spent a lot of time with me and has been a good resource and friend.”
Hall recalls the first time she saw the vice president casually dressed. “He came to a basketball game, and I always expect to see him in a suit.” This time, he was wearing a black leather bomber jacket.
“I didn’t know he had it in him,” Hall laughs. “Al is a cool dude.”
The Kindest Heart
A Kalamazoo College Trustee since 2000, advocate Amy Upjohn has partnered with DeSimone on fundraising efforts for nine years. “He takes good care of volunteers by setting them up for success…Professionally, Al is hands down the best development officer I’ve worked with,” she says, adding, “He has changed the face of development at K!”
Upjohn describes DeSimone as incredibly respectful of people’s time and very understanding. “Al probably knows more about my family than anyone I’ve ever worked with. He’s become a very dear friend,” she says, adding that DeSimone takes time to know people personally, he pays attention and he follows through. “It’s lovely and it’s who he is. Al has the kindest heart.
“He will call my mom and invite her to lunch. He’s not asking her for money—he just enjoys my mom and my mother loves having lunch with Al. They have great conversations. It’s a genuine friendship.”
Upjohn says she’s committed to K no matter what, but a large part of her enjoyment at Kalamazoo College has been her time working with Al. “I will really miss him. He’s made my work in development a real joy.”
She wishes him all the best in retirement and hopes “that he never has to ask anyone for money again.” Knowing DeSimone’s commitment to his wife Lynne and his children, she adds, “I hope at 5 a.m. he’s sleeping, or changing diapers, but definitely not sending emails. I hope he gets to travel and spend time with his family. Al will be an amazing grandfather.”