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Denise Drace-Brownell

Denise Drace-Brownell

CEO | DDB Technology

She’s gone by the titles of inventor and author, corporate attorney and dealmaker, advertising exec and tech CEO.

But maybe above all else, Denise Drace-Brownell is an Illini — and proud of it.

Her story:

“The year was 1996. The Department of Advertising was number 1 in the nation. Journalism was ranked third.

“I received a wonderful letter from the legendary Dennis Swanson, who was then president of WNBC New York, to me and my fellow members of the then-College of Communications Resource Development Board. Dennis praised my fellow media executives for our hard work in fundraising for the college.

“We had created a miracle turnaround. The College had never had a fund-raising operation. The college development staff consisted only of Nancy Casey, associate dean for development, and her administrative assistant. Nancy spearheaded the college’s first fundraising operation.

“With then-Dean Kim Rotzoll’s tireless dedication and Nancy’s inspired management, our tiny Resource Development Board exceeded all fundraising goals. Aside from the $40 million raised and our increase in the annual fund from $40,000 to $200,000, Ebertfest was launched, Campbell Hall was inaugurated, and Hugh Hefner hosted us at his mansion and included a significant donation, along with so many other accomplishments for the college, university and community.

“My husband and I took over bringing Illini together through our New York City annual reception. My husband deserves an honorary Illini award for making three personal calls to everyone on the New York City list. We had record crowds at each event. The money poured in, yet we never asked for a dime from attendees. Such was the infectious enthusiasm.

“Luminary media board members included Dennis Swanson, founder and chair, and  Irving Azoff, Hal Bruno, Roger Ebert, Bob Epstein, Steven Friedman, Bill Geist, Rick Kaplan, Charla Krupp, Robert Levin, Jim Murphy, Mary Jo Meisner and Gail Steinberg.

“The enduring memory I have of Illinois is this: The reputation of institutions may rise and fall, but there is no replacement for what a band of selfless, committed Illini can accomplish. It is this ‘can-do’ attitude of our alumni that can never be surpassed at any academic institution anywhere. We continue to change the world.”