Ann Thurston ’80, ’00MBA, ’07CAGS is “All about the students”

“A common goal of service and support for students is what defines our community,” says Director of Planned Giving Ann Thurston ’80, ’00MBA, ’07CAGS. “We provide public access to higher education for individuals who want a better life, and, at Plymouth State, we do a particularly good job of that.”

Thurston was recently honored with the Campus Compact for New Hampshire Good Steward Award, recognizing her contributions of professional expertise in service to the wider community and her role in significantly advancing public service at PSU. She is retiring this summer and the well-earned accolade caps a distinguished, 40-year Plymouth State career that has been, in her words, “all about the students.”

“Students’ energy and enthusiasm breathe life into Plymouth and to all of us who work here,” she says. “I think we all felt the lack when we had to move to remote learning last spring, and I remember how joyous I felt when I saw students return.”

Commencement is always the high point of Thurston’s year. “Some of the graduates are the first in their families to graduate from college, but everyone knows how hard the graduates have worked to reach this day, and we all join together in joy.”

“As a community we all share the same goals of supporting and educating.”

Ann Thurston ’80, ’00MBA, ’07CAGS

Students have always been at the forefront of Thurston’s efforts, even when her responsibilities centered more on dollars and cents. As bursar, she saw firsthand how many students and their families struggled. “I viewed it as a student service office, which was slightly different than others who saw it strictly in finance,” she recalls. She would routinely reach out to other student department heads to try and find ways to keep students on the path to graduation.

“My philosophy was and still is, how can I get to ‘yes,’ how can I help that student and family, and how can I work collaboratively on campus,” she explains. “As a community we all share the same goals of supporting and educating.”

Her goal of “finding a way” has kept her forward-thinking right up to her present position. As PSU’s first director of planned giving, she transformed the operation while cultivating key relationships. “I get to work with really fantastic people,” she says. “I am delighted when I speak with so many alumni who credit Plymouth State with their successes in life. There is tremendous value in continuing to raise awareness that planned giving is an option that helps support our students and faculty.”

Thurston does not consider raising funds for Plymouth State a job, but a calling. She has secured over $1 million in planned giving to benefit generations to come, and she and her late partner, Betsy Cheney ’89, ’99MEd, set up their own planned gift more than 10 years ago.

Thurston’s unmatched perspective on the University’s operations stems from a wide range of assignments—all successfully completed. Her many business-related postings included stints as assistant provost and associate vice president, and she also served in the language program, library, and the Campus Services, Sponsored Programs, and Registrar’s offices.

Thurston is a recipient of the Patricia Storer Award, given to members of the Professional, Technical, and Technical (PAT) staff who demonstrate achievement and contributions to the core values of Plymouth State University, the James J. Hogan Memorial Award for support of Athletics, and the Distinguished PAT award for contributions to the University above and beyond the scope of his or her job responsibilities, and was nominated for the Theo Kalikow Award for her efforts in working toward the advancement of women at PSU.

“She makes everyone she interacts with feel quite special and that certainly is among her many charms.”

Rodney Ekstrom ’09MEd, Director of Alumni Relations

A multitude of mentors helped her along the way and she in turn guided so many others, including Director of Alumni Relations Rodney Ekstrom ’09MEd, to provide just one example.

“I become PAT speaker-elect during her tenure as speaker,” says Ekstrom. “Ann had a wonderful way of being helpful and pointing me in the right direction without being directive, and with such humility. She makes everyone she interacts with feel quite special and that certainly is among her many charms.”

As an undergraduate Thurston spent her junior year in Spain, and plans to travel again when COVID subsides. Her PSU affiliation will take a new form when she retires, but she’ll remain connected to campus as a volunteer and through her son, Director of Interdisciplinary Studies Matt Cheney.

Notwithstanding her many roles and accomplishments, Thurston remains clear on her biggest impact. “The highlight for me is that I helped students and sometimes their families,” she says. “I helped students get a college education and better themselves, and I was just a piece of that,” she says modestly. “That’s what I’m most proud of.”