Max-imum impact: Spirit of Philanthropy Award goes to Doug Max

Forty-four years of service to Colorado State University provides some great stories, and, if you’re Doug Max, also makes a big difference.

Max (B.S., ’75), who retired in January 2021, had a long and distinguished career in the CSU Department of Athletics. His passion and commitment were honored with the Spirit of Philanthropy Award as part of this year’s Celebrate! Colorado State awards announced on April 26.

“It’s wonderful,” Max said of the nomination. “I am extremely humbled by it. I’m a pretty simple guy. I’m not some big-time donor; I just donated a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and a little bit of money along the way. I’m glad I was able to help make a difference.”

Those who worked with Max knew him best and had a front-row seat to the dedication and drive toward excellence that are hallmarks of his career. He was relentlessly focused on the larger mission, his colleagues, and students, so talking with him reveals a fascinating abundance of stories and details that many don’t know.

Doug Max portrait
Doug Max

How it all started

Max’s role and contributions to the University during the past decades have been documented, but his early years in Northern Colorado cultivated his Ram pride.

He was born in Sioux City, Iowa. When he was 3 years old, his parents moved to Denver. Several years later, the family relocated to Greeley, where they started a wholesale electronics company. Max attended Greeley West High School and ran track all four years. He had opportunities to attend other universities but chose CSU, where he received a track scholarship and was coached by Del Hessel (B.S., ’64; CERT, ’64; M.Ed., ’65).

Following graduation from CSU, Max took a nine-month coaching and teaching position with the Estes Park School District. From June through August, he served as a summer police officer with the Estes Park Police. He was on duty July 31, 1976, when a severe thunderstorm flooded the Big Thompson Canyon, causing the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history.

“The Big Thompson flood was a life changer,” Max said. “There was so much destruction and loss of life in the canyon. I was involved with evacuations and security. Seeing all the human tragedy was very difficult.”

In 1978, Max was recruited by Hessel as an assistant track coach at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and while there completed a master’s degree in education. WKU’s track program produced four athletes who went to the Olympic games during Max’s tenure (an accomplishment he jokingly describes with the expression “successful athletes make successful coaches.”)

Doug Max and Mary Ontiveros

As assistant athletic director of facilities and operations, Doug Max played a major part in opening Canvas Stadium in 2017, including communicating what game days would look like on campus. Photo by CSU Photography

Coaching and construction

In 1980, Max was brought back to CSU by then-athletic director Thurman “Fum” McGraw (B.S., ’50) to become the head coach of the track team. He held that position for 19 years before becoming the assistant athletic director of facilities and operations.

In his new role, Max helped move projects from concept to reality and worked both independently and in collaboration with University Advancement to fundraise and maximize the participation of loyal donors.

“I was fortunate to be able to build strong relationships with a lot of our donors and fans, some of whom knew me when I was a student athlete or from my days coaching,” he said. “And as our teams prospered, people saw what we needed to do to maintain that success.”

Max played key roles in the renovation and construction of numerous athletic facilities, including the Glen Morris Field House, the Jack Christiansen Track, the Fum McGraw Athletic Center, Moby Arena, the Indoor Practice Facility, the Anderson Academic Training Center, Hughes Stadium, the Tennis Complex, and most recently, was part of the management team that built the $220 million on-campus Canvas Stadium, which opened in 2017.

“We were fortunate to be able to do so many big projects, but we were also able to do a bunch of smaller things our various teams needed,” he said.

Living by example

Max was nominated for the Spirit of Philanthropy Award by Terry Hemme (B.A., ’97), assistant director of development for athletics. The two men worked together for the past seven years, and Hemme still remembers meeting Max for the first time.

Hemme traveled to campus in April 2013 for a job interview, and later in the day, Max was scheduled to give him a tour of the department’s facilities. A snowstorm had dropped more than a foot of snow and it was still coming down. Max wanted to show his guest the Indoor Practice Facility but doing so required walking through the deep snow. Hemme was wearing a suit and dress shoes.

“Doug said to me, ‘Do me a favor, walk behind me a step or two. You have those nice-looking shoes on, so just step in my footprints.’ I’ll never forget that. He took these big, dramatic steps to push down the snow, so I could walk behind him. We saw the facility and then he did the same thing for me coming back,” recounted Hemme.

Whether serving as a coach or in administration, Max has been a leader and a mentor. He developed young people and showed others how to walk in his footsteps.

“Doug has always been someone who epitomizes Ram culture,” Hemme said. “He was a student athlete and a longtime employee. He and Cindy and their family have been a big part of this community and they have given back time, talent and treasure. He is beloved by so many. I nominated him because of who is as a man and a Ram.”

Doug Max and Christine Susemihl

Two ‘lifers’: Doug Max and Christine Susemihl in 2018

Setting the standard

In 2003, Max was inducted into the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame for his coaching and leadership within the department. In 2017, Athletics launched the Susemihl-Max Athletic Employee Donor Honor Roll. The award, co-named with Christine Susemihl – who retired in 2018 after a remarkable 45-year career in Athletics – recognizes employees who provide annual financial support and exemplify service excellence within the department and its programs.

“Christine’s and Doug’s stories have a lot of parallels. They are both lifers,” said Hemme. That commitment runs deep and manifests itself in every facet of the job and the people whose lives are touched.

“When you work at a university, one of the things I’ve always felt strongly about is you’re making an impact on young people’s lives every day,” Max said. “I was one of seven kids and I was the only one who went to college and finished, and I did it on a scholarship. I always consider it an honor to offer a man or woman a scholarship because I know how important it is. When you give a student a scholarship, you impact future generations.”

In 2019, the CSU track and field coaching staff chose to honor Max by naming a track meet for him. The Doug Max Invitational was first held on April 14, 2019, at the Jack Christiansen Track.

“Doug has been a coach and mentor to me over a 38-year period,” said Brian Bedard, head track and field coach. “His influence on me personally has been significant, and that has influenced how I coach the current Colorado State track team. We wouldn’t be winning championships without Doug’s help.”

Although he’s now retired, Max wants to stay involved with CSU but is happy to give up some of his former duties, one of which was overseeing game management for all sports. He’s looking forward to actually watching a full game from the stands with other Ram fans.

“I haven’t sat and watched a game for 40 years,” he laughed. “I’m going to have to figure out how to tailgate.”

Celebrate! CSU

Each year, Colorado State University celebrates the teaching, research and service achievements of CSU students, alumni and friends, academic faculty, administrative professionals and classified staff as part of the Celebrate! Colorado State awards. No in-person event was held this year; see all honorees and award recipients on SOURCE.

The Spirit of Philanthropy Award is presented by the Division of University Advancement “in recognition of a faculty or staff member whose commitment and passion to Colorado State University has made a significant impact to the fundraising effort of Colorado State University.”