March 20, 2012

Campus Voices: Joe Nussbaum


Becky and Joe Nussbaum

Meet Joe Nussbaum: Nussbaum, one of the founders of Big Event, says all it took was telling Aggies they could serve the community and suddenly there were more volunteers than there were jobs to do. On the 30th anniversary of Big Event, he talks about those early days.

The Big Event got started because a nice guy came to a committee meeting by mistake and because the President of the United States told us to do something for others.

Those two unrelated events may seem like they have nothing to do with each other, but that’s really the beginning.

It was the fall of 1982. I was a vice president of the Student Government, and my committee was having the first brainstorming meeting of the year. Evan Secor, our committee member by mistake, confessed that he hoped the meeting was about a student service project. (It wasn’t supposed to be.)

About the same time, President Ronald Reagan began an initiative for increased volunteer community involvement. Those two events planted a seed in my mind, and within a few days the idea for the Big Event was born.

We began planning for the first Big Event on Feb. 20.

The first year was primarily spent educating students and community leaders about the idea. Everybody who heard about it thought it was a great idea, but none of us knew exactly how to get it done.

Evan remained on the committee. My girlfriend Becky (now my wife) was the first publicity chairperson, plus there were 10 or so others. We hustled up jobs and groups of people, and the first Big Event was a big success. Well, it was a big success for the first time. It totally pales in comparison to what it has become today.

One of the neatest things about the Big Event was that people liked the idea. It was easy to get student organizations to sign up and say yes. This caused a bit of a problem because we didn’t have enough jobs to do. I remember being interviewed on the radio and saying, “We’ve got thousands of Aggies who are going to be doing something on Saturday morning. Please, please, please help us figure out what that something is!”

At the last minute, the community organizations came through, and we had plenty of jobs and plenty of workers. The next year was much easier. We didn’t have to explain the concept nearly as much.

Mike Wolfe, Class of 1983, was one of our original organizers. Mike was in the Corps, and he convinced everyone in the Corps to participate. The Corps worked with the Keep Brazos Beautiful Committee, and I believe the Big Event still works with this organization.  Mike’s efforts, plus the efforts of all the early organizers ,were huge in making the first Big Event a success.

One thing I took for granted then, but I really appreciate now was that the administration was as supportive of the Big Event as they could possibly have been. Carolyn Adair, John Koldus and Frank Vandiver (and countless others) all encouraged and supported the program. A quality administration is a big part of what has made Texas A&M a great university.

The first year we had no budget, and we needed money. The football team autographed a ball, then we had a contest. For $1, students could guess the score of the upcoming game. Whoever was closest would win the autographed ball. We raised several hundred dollars. The only problem was the game was awful. We got killed! Everyone had predicted we would win. (I’m sure somebody thought we would lose, but they weren’t going to put it down on paper!) I don’t remember how we figured out who actually won the ball.

I returned to the tenth and the twentieth anniversary Big Events. It was remarkable to see how the program had matured and flourished. The biggest surprise was that people had to apply to be on the Big Event Committee, and not everyone made it. What a difference! When we first started, you didn’t even have to know how to read or write to serve on the committee. You only had to know how to say two letters: O and K.

The years keep going by, and the Big Event gets better every year. Thirty years is a tremendous milestone. It makes me very grateful to have been a small part of it. I’m proud that Texas A&M was the starting point for a project that continues to grow all over the nation. Everyone who has served on the Big Event Committee through each of these 30 years deserves a pat on the back for continuing to grow a great, proud tradition for Texas A&M and for college life everywhere.

For each individual participant, it is a small way to say “thanks” to the community that supports their school. Multiply these small “thanks” by hundreds and thousands of students, and you have truly created a world changing Big Event!

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