As Fred Albrecht prepares to receive the UNLV President's Medal from President Neal Smatresk during halftime ceremonies at Saturday's football game, he looks back on his 38-year UNLV career with pride.
"I had so many different opportunities at the university," says the man who began his UNLV career as assistant basketball coach and retired in 2007 as vice president for university and community relations. "It was a very exciting career -- a lot of challenges and a lot of rewards. I couldn't have asked for a better career."
Now, he says, he is "very honored" to join the "list of prestigious people who have received the President's Medal. "I was surprised when Neal called to give me the news," he said. "He told me I was selected because of all my service to the university."
Albrecht said he also is looking forward to his induction into the UNLV Athletic Hall of Fame next month, another honor he had not anticipated.
In the summer of 1970 when Albrecht packed all his belongings in his black-and-white 1966 Thunderbird and began the long drive from Youngstown, Ohio, to Southern Nevada, he had no premonition that Las Vegas would become his permanent home.
He definitely remembers the drive, though. "I had to change three flat tires before I reached Las Vegas."
Once he began work at UNLV, his career took him in directions he never would have imagined. He worked for seven UNLV presidents, beginning with Roman Zorn and ending with David Ashley. Among the many positions he held at the university were tennis coach, director of alumni relations, interim athletic director (twice), and executive director of athletic fundraising. He also became a UNLV alumnus when he added a master's degree in education to his undergraduate degree from Ohio's Kent State University.
Along the way, he created the university's first alumni relations program. Starting the program wasn't easy. There were no up-to-date records for alumni. A helpful idea came from then-Las Vegas Municipal Judge Seymore Brown, who specialized in traffic court. He suggested checking City Hall records for alums who might have had traffic tickets in recent years. "We picked up 400 to 500 addresses that way," Albrecht recalled laughingly in a 2004 interview.
He also shepherded the construction of Tam Alumni Center, a building intended to help alumni develop an identity. A consulting company predicted it would be about five years before the university was positioned for that level of fundraising (and then it offered to help -- at the cost of 40 percent of the money collected).
Albrecht rejected the assessment and the offer. "I told (UNLV President) Bob Maxson that if (the consulting firm) can raise a million dollars, I can raise a million dollars. He said, 'Go do it.'"
With the aid of a number of supporters, Albrecht and the alumni board raised $1.8 million in cash. He personally oversaw the construction, tapping supporters for in-kind donations of materials and labor to the tune of $1.2 million and spending nearly every day at the construction site.
"Today, I am very proud every time I walk into that building," he said. "It looks very up to date."
More Accomplishments, More Challenges
Even after retiring, Albrecht continued to serve UNLV, accepting appointments to committees and spreading the word about the university's achievements.
He remembers his early days at UNLV with particular fondness. Those years, he said in the 2004 interview, "were something like being a settler on the frontier. There were lots of unknowns, but the challenges were accepted by everybody."
Among the projects Albrecht remembers with pride are the construction of Rebel Park at the football stadium and the building of the Alumni Amphitheater near the Student Union.
A personal challenge that cropped up during Albrecht's tenure at UNLV was cancer. In 2001 he was diagnosed with advanced neck cancer. Despite an initial bleak prognosis, he prevailed. Recently, the disease resurfaced as bone cancer.
Despite this latest challenge, Albrecht remains upbeat. Family continues to be a bright spot in his life. He and wife Connie travel often to Southern California to spend as much time possible with daughter Michelle and grandson Andrew.
"Without my wife's support of my commitment to UNLV and all the hours I put in, I could not have been as successful as I was," he said.
At 17, Andrew is a senior in high school and goalie on the school soccer team. He also is trying out for the school's surf team. Unfortunately it doesn't look as if landlocked UNLV is in the avid surfer's future.
So the Albrechts will continue to travel frequently to their vacation home in San Clemente, Calif., while still attending UNLV games whenever possible to cheer on their beloved Rebels.
Some habits are hard to break.