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UND Alumni Association head Tim O’Keefe retires

Tim O'Keefe's legacy likely will be the $324 million raised in the North Dakota Spirit Campaign by the UND Alumni Association and Foundation that he has led for more than 11 years.

Tim O’Keefe and his wife, Becky
Tim O’Keefe and his wife, Becky.

Tim O’Keefe’s legacy likely will be the $324 million raised in the North Dakota Spirit Campaign by the UND Alumni Association and Foundation that he has led for more than 11 years.

Exceeding its goal of $300 million, the six-year effort resulted in the biggest fundraising campaign in state history. Seventy percent of the money came from out of state, testimony of the organization’s reach.

But, for the people who have worked under his leadership, another legacy will be the job skills that he has left behind when he starts his retirement Tuesday.

“Tim does everything with passion, especially when it comes to UND,” said his successor Deanna Carlson Zink. “He believes you should love what you do and do what you love. It’s been easy for him to do his job because he truly loves UND.

“This is a man who never stops moving.”


    O’Keefe’s last trip as head of the organization was to Washington, D.C., during UND’s spring break earlier this month, accompanying UND College of Business masters students seeking jobs in the nation’s capital.

    Like his previous 11 spring-break visits there, it was not a pleasure trip.

   “We have 1,400 alums in a 40-mile radius there, so I had several appointments that are fund-raising or friend-raising,” he said. “And, I always get together with the (congressional) delegation to see what’s going on.

    “I love D.C. because there’s so much energy and history there.”

O’Keefe also is known for his gift of gab, the ability to conduct a relaxed, genuine conversation with people from all walks of life, whether they’re friends or strangers.

 “I think Tim could have a conversation with the wall,” said Steve Brekke, director of athletic development under O’Keefe.

Brekke, a member of UND’s Athletic Hall of Fame as a basketball player, has witnessed the competitiveness brought to the job by O’Keefe, a four-year UND hockey letterman.

“When he takes on a task, he expects to be successful,” Brekke said. “He put a team together here with the same passion and goal. He made it a team atmosphere.


“Being in athletics, he had self-discipline and goal-setting and definitely did not like to fail.”

His roots run deep

     O’Keefe, 64, grew up in Grand Forks and graduated from Central High School. After playing hockey and graduating from UND in 1971, he taught and coached hockey at Fargo North High School.

    After three years in education, he became involved in the family’s McDonald’s restaurants, spending 23 years in Bemidji before selling the stores. After four years with Alerus Financial in Fargo, he took the helm at the foundation in November 2002.

    “Every chapter has been a little better than the chapter prior to it,” O’Keefe said. “Each job provided its own learning, and it all came together as head of the alumni foundation.”

     In retirement, he and wife Becky don’t plan to stray far from their family. Daughter Erinn and husband Dave Hakstol, UND’s hockey coach and former player, live in Grand Forks with their two children and daughter Katie and husband Ryan Hale, also a former UND hockey player, live in Fargo with their two children.

    At a reception last week at the Gorecki Alumni Center to honor O’Keefe’s retirement, UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo used a hockey mixed metaphor to summarize his contributions:

“You led the alumni association through a recession while always thinking and moving the puck. I’m not sure if you were a coach or a player. But, through the largest campaign in history, you showed North Dakota spirit and Olympic gold. We’ll miss you on the ice.”

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