PRINCETON generations

Ideas and Strategies from the Office of Gift Planning at Princeton University

Power Forward

Victoria Baum Bjorklund ’73

During her first week at Princeton, Victoria Baum laced up her canvas Chuck Taylor high-tops — there were no women’s basketball sneakers back then — and headed to Dillon Gym. The first stop for this former captain of her high school’s undefeated women’s basketball team was naturally the equipment room. A burly man stood with arms crossed, as if he were guarding the four racks of balls behind him. She asked for a basketball.

“There are no basketballs for girls,” he said.

Victoria headed upstairs and found Meredith “Merrily” Dean, director of women’s athletics, who rolled her eyes and said, “Please go back down the stairs — slowly — and ask again.” Victoria took her time down the stairs. She looked around the equipment room; one ball rack had been rolled off to the side, and bore a hand-lettered sign that said, “For Girls.”

The first women’s basketball team was formed the following year. Victoria was on the squad.

Like any savvy basketball player, Victoria Baum Bjorklund ’73 knows when to pivot, when to rebound, when to charge forward. As one of the pioneers of Princeton coeducation, she used those skills when negotiating campus culture and throughout her professional career.

Her Princeton basketball career was short, but for a sweet reason. She fit her studies into three years rather than four after she met football star J. Henry “Hank” Bjorklund ’72. The two married in the University Chapel — among the first undergraduates after coeducation to do so — in February 1972.

Post Princeton, Bjorklund earned a doctorate in medieval studies from Yale University and a J.D. at Columbia University. Hired at the international law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, she founded and headed its group to assist nonprofits, among the first of its kind nationally. She has worked pro bono with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières and the Robin Hood Foundation, which fights poverty in New York City.

Over the course of her career, Bjorklund, now retired, counseled hundreds of organizations, boards, and donors, was a founding American member of Doctors Without Borders USA, and taught “The Law of Nonprofits” at Harvard Law School. In recognition of her plan that allowed charities to aid businesses in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, she received the Commissioner’s Award, the highest honor the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service can bestow, for her “timely, creative, and nimble response to 9/11’s unprecedented legal challenges.” That plan also has helped needy small businesses in the wake of hurricanes and other disasters.

The Benefits of Coeducation

Bjorklund, who returned for her 45th Reunion and festivities marking coeducation this year, as well as the Alumni Association’s She Roars conference, knew she was on the vanguard of change when she arrived at Princeton in 1970.

“Coeducation was beneficial for men because it made their daily experiences more realistic. Accommodations made for the women freed men from the stereotypes of the day,” Bjorklund says, citing dance classes as one innovation. “Women were a catalyst in raising consciousness in places where Princeton didn’t even know there was a need to raise consciousness. Once change began, there were many more changes.”

An Evolving Connection to Campus

After graduation — and after Hank’s tour as a professional football player with the New York Jets — the Bjorklunds maintained their ties to Princeton. Both are fervent supporters of the Princeton Varsity Club, and Victoria has served as a University trustee. She also serves on Princeton’s Planned Giving Advisory Committee.

“As one who has spent her career working with nonprofits, and as a donor, I look for charitable organizations that will spend my donation effectively. Princeton is one of my top ten,” she says.

Victoria Bjorklund has named Princeton as a beneficiary of her 401(k) plan. In her estimation, it’s one of the best ways to support organizations you believe in, neither complicated nor expensive — just a simple form you file with your plan administrator and that can be updated at any time. “So many of us have these retirement plans but haven’t thought through what will happen to them,” she says. “Naming a charitable beneficiary for any unused funds is a great way to make a meaningful difference.”

Now the Bjorklunds are enjoying for a new phase of their connection to Old Nassau — visiting with their niece Pauline Schnelzer, a member of the Class of 2021. Schnelzer chose Princeton because of the diversity and inclusion the young woman saw during campus visits, Victoria says, and considers this a testament to the University’s evolution.

“In one generation, Princeton went from a place where some people said, ‘You don’t belong here’ to ‘I want to attend Princeton because it’s so inclusive,’” Bjorklund says. “That’s the kind of positive change that can happen through the efforts of many people and their constructive approaches to challenges.”

3 comments on “Power Forward

  1. Tim Howard '72
    December 18, 2018

    Glad to see that my teammate Hank was so smart (and lucky) to marry Victoria. Thanks to both of you.

  2. Thomas Barnett
    November 15, 2018

    Great story! As a kid growing up in OysterBay I hit tennis balls st Roosevelt park with your husband on a few occasions- unplanned-we were both just there-I knew he played on the jets, but he was the first person who ever told me about Princeton- This was the mid 1970’s – I ended up going to Princeton and graduated in 1983!
    Thanks for your service!

  3. Douglas S. Grover
    November 15, 2018

    Proud to call her my classmate.

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2018 in FALL 2018.

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Photos by Andrea Kane and courtesy of Paul Sittenfeld '69, Ronald So *71, and Robert Johnstone III '56