Robert Baltheiser

Robert Baltheiser ’91 saves an American treasure

BaltheiserWhen Robert Balthaser ’91 jogs on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., he sees much more than grassy esplanades and spectacular monuments. He sees a healthier, smarter vision of America’s most popular, pivotal park.

Balthaser is vice president of development for the Trust for the National Mall, a non-profit partner of the National Park Service, the Mall’s monitor. He’s leading a $350 million drive to improve the distressed, antiquated commons all the way from the U.S. Capitol building to the Jefferson Memorial.

He says that for 30 years “America’s Front Yard” has been overrun by tens of millions of visitors and hundreds of thousands of dollars in budget cuts. Unfortunately, it has resulted in a troubling state of affairs for the storied site of presidential inaugurations and family reunions, civil-rights marches and marriage proposals. But that is all about to change thanks in part to his work for the Trust.

In February, he helped secure the Trust’s first major gift when David Rubenstein, the billionaire financier, philanthropist and history buff, announced he would donate $7.5 million toward repairing the Washington Monument, which was closed to the public after being cracked by last summer’s earthquake.

In addition, Balthaser has been working with the country’s largest landscaping company on a plan to install an underground irrigation system to prevent the Mall’s lawns from becoming dirt brownfields during the dog days of summer.

A native of the Reading suburb of Laureldale, Balthaser polished his people skills while working in his family’s fourth-generation meat business. Behind the beef counter he discovered that good salesmanship often depends on good listening and humble confidence, valuable tools for a future fundraiser.

“You have to remember it’s less about you and more about your mission,” he says. “One of the basic principles of fundraising is: Do not argue with donors. That’s just common sense.”

It was at Alvernia that Balthaser cut his teeth as a fundraiser. An English major who wrote a thesis about playwright Oscar Wilde, he received a $500 donation from Sister Dolorey, then the university’s president, to produce a program of one-act works with a community theater company. The successful campaign boosted his belief that “if you really believe in something, it’s not fundraising — it’s a mission with passion.”

Balthaser insists the National Mall job fits him like flesh. He gets to draft major gift strategies; match visions to visionary donors; make a magnetic, historic hub even more so. He convinced the Dr. Scholl Foundation, for example, to help underwrite a Mall Wi-Fi system. And so now one day millions of middle-schoolers may be able to tap apps about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as they stroll by his memorial.

“We are defining the voice and the future of a place that truly represents who we are, for better or worse,” says Balthaser. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

There are once-in-a-lifetime perks, too. This winter Balthaser couldn’t wait to telephone his mother to tell her that he had just been photographed with his arm around former First Lady Laura Bush, the Trust’s honorary chairwoman. The memorable moment fulfilled his creed “to mix with people from all walks of life and do good deeds too.”

Did you know?

A National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study found that participating employers and recent college graduates agreed on the necessity of out of the classroom experiences. The study emphasizes the importance of providing students with important knowledge and skills but also experience putting that knowledge and skills to practical use in "real-world" settings.

Did you know?

Seventy-six percent of participating employers put "teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings" at the top of their list of desired capabilities in new employees, according to a National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study. These are among the skills fostered by real-world learning experiences.

Did you know?

Service learning is a method of providing personal and academic development through work with established nonprofit organizations in the community. It is an avenue to introduce students to a professional environment without the extensive commitments of an internship.

Did you know?

Service learning provides ideal real world learning opportunities. According to SmartBlog on Leadership, doing volunteer and service work for a non-profit organization that is connected to your major or academic program of study helps develop leadership skills, expands your perspective of the world, allows you to discover new skills in a safe environment, and develops a larger network of real world contacts to draw upon once you graduate.

Did you know?

Service learning can take you outside of your comfort zone, giving you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics and interpersonal dynamics. It also offers new perspective on priorities. Hanging out with people who have had different life experiences encourages you to tackle challenges from different angles. Julie Zolfo, founder of Make Success Matter said that she volunteered for six weeks at the schools in New Delhi, India.

Did you know?

"Alvernia's Career Development Center works with students to find avenues for employment, internships, co-ops, career exploration, resume development, and graduate school options. Center staff help students assess their options and identify their own "brand" to complement their life after Alvernia.

Did you know?

A recent career fair at Alvernia attracted more than 55 employers who were seeking to hire employees, co-ops and interns for their organizations. Career fairs like this one are fertile ground for students seeking real world learning opportunities and to reap the benefits of such as employers look to to hire staff members who have honed their skills and abilities via practical experiences in real situations.

Did you know?

Since its inception, Alvernia has offered real world opportunities with an emphasis on service and careers that help those in need. Field experiences in areas like criminal justice, social work, nursing, occupational therapy, health care science and teacher training among others provide our students with rich learning opportunities to test drive what it's like to work in that profession.

Did you know?

In a recent American Association of Colleges and Universities survey of 302 employers, 79 percent said institutions of higher learning should emphasize helping students apply what they learn in real-world settings, and 66 percent said that completing an internship or community field project would help prepare students for success.