WASHINGTON SPIRIT • Winter 2000  

Richard A. Roloff, Executive Vice Chancellor

Transforming the University

By Candace O'Connor

From the South 40 dormitories on the Hilltop Campus to the new clinical buildings at the Medical Center, exciting construction projects are changing the face of Washington University. At the epicenter of this building boom is Richard Roloff, executive vice chancellor since 1991. His strong background in commercial development and finance, combined with his dedication to the University, have made him the ideal person to spearhead this campus-wide transformation.

On the Hilltop Campus alone, he has already been involved with the construction of McDonnell Hall, Goldfarb Hall, the Psychology Building, Anheuser-Busch Hall, and the new residential colleges. The Arts & Sciences Laboratory Science Building, Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center, small-group housing, and major parking improvements are under way. At the same time, Roloff has also participated in the complete renovation of existing buildings—especially Brookings, Duncker, and Eads—along with the successful restoration of Holmes Lounge in Ridgley Hall.

And more changes are in the offing. In his North Brookings office, Roloff keeps a 10-year plan with all the projects being built, designed, or contemplated over the next decade. This plan is not a static blueprint; it is updated monthly, carefully balancing the University's needs with its ability to pay for change. Some items on this list are new buildings for earth and planetary sciences and biomedical engineering, the Visual Arts and Design Center, and the University Center.

All of this makes for a daunting workload—but Roloff's responsibilities extend still further. He also oversees the entire administrative function of the University, from lawn maintenance and trash collection to financial investment.

He even finds time to initiate new programs. One is the Supplier Diversity Initiative, which has increased the participation of women and minorities in construction projects and in supplying material and services to the University. Another is a program, which he instituted seven years ago, to address more than $100 million of deferred-maintenance projects through a depreciation fund to which each school annually contributes. In this coming year alone, the fund will provide more than $12.5 million to upgrade campus buildings and grounds.

"Dick Roloff is a kind of magician," says James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. "He starts quietly—that is one of his hallmarks; I've never yet heard him raise his voice. Then he burrows deeply into a project, almost miraculously gets it going, then finally pulls it out of a hat—and it is a beautiful outcome."


Roloff, a modest man, downplays his role in the success of the University's operation. Instead, he prefers to give credit to others … .


But Roloff, a modest man, downplays his role in the success of the University's operation. Instead, he prefers to give credit to others, especially the young staff members who are the leaders of the future. The belief they all feel in the University's extraordinary academic endeavors—and their desire for the University's future success—give meaning to their efforts, he says.

"We have a wonderful faculty and they need good spaces in which to work," Roloff says. "We also exist in a world in which prospective freshmen and their parents look at the academic buildings, dormitories, even places to eat, in deciding whether their children should go to school here. So we are maintaining a competitive edge with the quality of our buildings."

Roloff has a personal, as well as professional, loyalty to Washington University. In 1951, he graduated from the School of Engineering with a degree in industrial engineering. His father, Robert Roloff, had also earned his business degree in 1920. And during his student days, Richard Roloff met his future wife, Peggy M. Rodgers, A.B. '52.

After graduation, Roloff served in the Coast Guard, then settled in south Texas, where he engaged in the home construction business, had a large farming operation, and served as president of the Merchants Marine State Bank. In 1969, he moved to St. Louis to become executive vice president of the Alfred H. Mayer Company, a residential development firm. Later, he served for 18 years as president of Capitol Land Co. and was instrumental in developing Plaza Frontenac, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and other major shopping center, office, and apartment developments.

He was elected a trustee of Washington University in 1985, serving until 1991. As a major volunteer commitment, he worked successfully to build up the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, with a particular focus on stabilizing the residential area north of the Medical Center.

By 1991, Roloff thought he had retired from professional life—until Chancellor William Danforth stopped by one day and talked him into joining a transition team for a couple of years that would smooth the way for Danforth's successor. Roloff liked the work so much that he stayed on in a role that he calls "a very satisfying capstone to my career."

"I'd like to express my appreciation for the time I have spent at Washington University," says Roloff, who this year received the Dean's Medal from Arts & Sciences. "I am deeply grateful that Bill Danforth offered me the opportunity to work here, and that Mark Wrighton, whom I admire greatly, has given me a chance to continue—there is nothing I would rather do."

Candace O'Connor is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis.

 

PEER REVIEW

"Dick Roloff combines brilliance in business, engineering, and finance with a refreshing amount of common sense. We are fortunate to have such a depth of corporate talent being devoted to improving Washington University."

—Christopher I. Byrnes, Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Science


"No one has worked more selflessly or effectively for Washington University than Dick Roloff. He has built the infrastructure that makes progress possible. He has modernized the financial systems, improved maintenance on the Hilltop, and added beauty to the grounds. He has overseen the immense construction on the Hilltop and Medical campuses, preserving both architectural and financial integrity. Without him we would not have the Washington University of today."

—William H. Danforth, Chancellor Emeritus


"Both as executive vice chancellor and as dean of Arts & Sciences, I work closely with Dick, and I can tell you that he is an inspiration to all of us at the University. In addition to his work in the financial and administrative areas, he is responsible for the renovation, construction, and maintenance of our classrooms, laboratories, dormitories, and offices. His vision and hard work—and the resulting improvements to the campus—have helped us attract great students and faculty, and enhance our research and teaching programs."

—Edward S. Macias, Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean, Arts & Sciences


"Dick Roloff has been an extraordinarily effective leader of the Washington University administration. He has overseen an era of unprecedented growth in facilities and improvement in their quality. He has led these developments with uncommon sensitivity to the people served, with great creativity, and with the proper balance of consultation and action. Students, faculty, and staff owe Dick an enormous debt for his tireless work on their behalf."

—Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor


 

 

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