SOUTH BEND — James A. Roemer, a South Bend native who held three top administrative posts at the University of Notre Dame, died Sunday in California.
He was 83.
Roemer is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, five adult children and 13 grandchildren. One son, Tim Roemer, served as a U.S. congressman representing Indiana’s 3rd congressional district from 1991 to 2003.
James Roemer spent almost his entire life on or near the Notre Dame campus, and his family connection to the university ran back several generations. His great-grandfather, Peter Kintz II, worked on construction of the Notre Dame Grotto in the 1890s, and Roemer’s father was a Notre Dame philosophy professor.
Roemer attended St. Joseph Grade School. As a high school student attending Holy Cross Seminary in the late 1940s, Roemer drove the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s future long-serving president, to the county poorhouse where Hesburgh said Mass for the residents, according to the 2007 book, “Thanking Father Ted.”
Roemer earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Notre Dame in 1951 and a law degree in 1955.
Following his graduation from Notre Dame, he worked as manager of the contracts division of Curtiss-Wright Aircraft in South Bend. In 1959, he left South Bend to take a similar job in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Roemer and his family returned to South Bend and he was appointed a deputy county prosecutor in 1969. He also practiced law in a firm with his brother, Charles Roemer, and Charles Sweeney. Another brother, Thomas J. Roemer, also was a South Bend attorney. Roemer also served as South Bend’s city attorney for a time in the 1970s, when the job was a part-time position.
Roemer returned to Notre Dame in 1972 to serve as general counsel. He served as dean of students from 1975 until 1984, known simply as “Dean Roemer” to nearly a decade of undergraduates.
Although a comic strip in the Observer, the campus newspaper, poked fun at him as a helmet-wearing authoritarian whose desk accessories included a miniature tank, Roemer always was genial in person. A “People Need People” sign hung on his office wall.
When hundreds of chanting undergraduates rushed into Notre Dame’s Main Building in 1984 to protest new rules governing campus alcohol use, Roemer was the administrator who came out of his office and spoke with the students, calming them down.
Later in 1984, he was appointed Notre Dame’s director of community relations, a position he held until he retired in 2002. Roemer initiated several programs at Notre Dame and in the community, including the SOLE Minority Law School program; a Legal Experience & Academic Development program for law students; the National Youth Sports Program; Christmas in April (now called ReBuilding Together); and the Coalition Against Drugs in St. Joseph County. He was a board member for the local Alzheimer’s Foundation, St. Margaret’s House and CURE (CommUnity Religious Effort). He helped found Dismas House of Michiana and later served on the organization’s national board.
Roemer received many honors, including in 2005 when the Notre Dame Alumni Association presented him with the Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara Award, which is conferred annually on a graduate and former employee who has rendered outstanding service to the university.
Memorial details were not available at press time.