CSU family loses a legend in philanthropy and advocacy

Joe Blake, Tony Frank, Brett Anderson and Joyce Berry

Former CSU Chancellor Joe Blake, former President Tony Frank and former vice presidents for University Advancement Brett Anderson and Joyce Berry at the 1870 Dinner in 2012. Photo by CSU Photography

Joe Blake, a stalwart advocate for excellence in higher education who passed away this week at the age of 86, is remembered by friends, former colleagues and alumni as an eloquent and committed champion for CSU whose legacy will endure through the transformative philanthropy he helped cultivate.

“Colorado State University is creating phenomenal citizens for a world that’s in desperate need of phenomenal citizens,” Blake once said, holding himself accountable to that standard throughout his life. The Denver native who once worked as an FBI agent was part of the leadership team that developed Highlands Ranch, served as president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and helped bring Major League Baseball to Colorado.

Blake’s connections in the Denver business community made him an ideal member of the CSU System Board of Governors, where he served from 2006 to 2009. During that time, he launched a strategic effort to elevate CSU’s profile in Denver and increase engagement with metro-area alumni.

Joe Blake and Mahalia Henschel

Blake and Presidential Ambassador Mahalia Henschel chat at the President’s Gala in 2019. Photo by PhoCo Photography

Opening doors

“Joe Blake was one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met, and he was a true believer in the value of higher education and the exceptional power of Colorado State University,” said Brett Anderson, a CSU alumnus who was brought in to lead the Denver Initiative and later became vice president for University Advancement. “His energy, passion and true love for CSU was contagious. Joe sincerely loved CSU and the impact it makes in the world and the opportunities it provides our students. That authenticity changed the dynamic and opened doors in Denver.”

In 2009, Blake became chancellor of the CSU System and helped launch CSU’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. Danny Kellogg (B.S., ’12) remembers meeting Blake at several campaign-related events while serving as a member of the Presidential Ambassadors, a group of student leaders representing the Office of the President at University functions to highlight the impact of philanthropy.

“Joe always had time for PAs and was encouraging and supportive of our role,” recalls Kellogg. “It blew my mind that he remembered me and took the time to chat for a few minutes. He had a big smile and was always easy to talk to, kind, and authentic.”

Joe Blake and Pete Coors at commencement

Blake with Pete Coors at the Fall 2011 Commencement ceremony. Photo by CSU Photography

A ‘critical catalyst’

That authenticity helped Blake forge enduring relationships between CSU and its supporters during his tenure as chancellor and after he stepped down in 2011.

Joe Blake and Tony Frank
Frank and Blake share a laugh at the Oval in 2009. Photo by CSU Photography

“Joe was a tireless advocate for student-veterans at CSU,” says Maggie Walsh, executive director of institutional initiatives. “He was a critical catalyst who connected The Anschutz Foundation and CSU to create and provide substantial funding to the Anschutz Veteran Learning Community, veteran spousal scholarships, the New Start for Student-Veterans program, homeless veteran initiative, peer tutoring program, and an extremely successful veteran employment-related certificate program.”

Blake was instrumental in other partnerships with The Anschutz Foundation to support scholarships for students in need, animal cancer research, and a recent $2 million grant to prevent and minimize infectious disease transmission among animals and people.

Blake matched his professional commitment to CSU with personal giving. In 2018, he established the Blake Leadership Scholars program for outstanding students who have demonstrated leadership and civic engagement – qualities he still found essential to creating phenomenal citizens. A year later, he gave $5 million to the College of Liberal Arts in recognition of its faculty, students, and leadership. It was the largest gift in the college’s history.

“Our CSU family has lost a legend,” said Kim Tobin, vice president for University Advancement. “Joe will forever hold a special place in the heart of University Advancement for the many ways he encouraged, supported, and propelled the culture of philanthropy among alumni and friends of CSU.”

“What I will miss most is Joe’s infectious and unwavering enthusiasm,” Tobin said. “He filled every room he entered with inspiration, and you couldn’t help but catch the energy and carry it forward. He was the consummate ambassador for the Green and Gold, and it’s up to all of us to keep that spirit alive.”