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President's Blog: From the Heart

Goodbye, Our Friend.

By Eric F. Spina

My mind keeps coming back to the three degrees he earned: bachelor’s in physics and religion, master’s in theological studies, and doctoral in marketing. That certainly doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about John Mittelstaedt, but it underscores the most wondrous part of knowing him and the saddest part of losing him: he was a unique treasure.

In the days since learning of John’s death, I see as clear as day that big, welcoming smile that John often sported. He had that smile when I first met him during his interview, he had it when I would see him walking across campus, and he had it even the last time I was in a meeting with him despite clearly not feeling well. I always read in that smile knowledge of a life lived in the cause of a higher purpose, joy derived from life with a family that he adored and who adored him, fulfillment from doing what he loved, and a deep affection and warmth for others, which were easily returned.

I wrote last week that Dean Mittlestaedt’s legacy will “reflect his humanity and people-centered approach to leading (the School of Business Administration).” Indeed, John was a gentle, kind person who clearly enjoyed people and saw goodness in everyone, something that is all too rare these days. John brought a genuine care and concern for others to the SBA and to his relationships across UD, and it made interacting with him — even around difficult topics, including his health battles — a joy. You always felt better about yourself and about the world after a meeting with John. As dean, John demonstrated that you can make a place better simply through the power of love.

Sure, John and his administrative team have a healthy record of accomplishments along with the SBA faculty and staff: great accreditation outcomes, development of high-demand new programs, terrific hiring decisions, strong student outcomes, and a wealth of academic, research, and engagement results. I think we all know of places that have achieved similar kinds of results, but John’s love for SBA’s people and his resonance with the charism and values that drive our University led to a deeper transformation, one that truly highlights what it means to learn, teach, research, and practice business at a Marianist university.

John told me, and I know he told others as well, that he felt a calling when he came to the University of Dayton. I know that he felt called by our values and Marianist charism, by the School of Business Administration’s qualities and potential, and by the connection he felt with UD’s people. We all surely planned on more than a three-and-a-half year tenure for John as dean, but let no one ever question his impact on the SBA, on UD, and on each of us. John’s grace, courage, indomitable optimism, and focus on others are John’s legacy to me. I carry it forward as the president of UD, as a husband, and as a father. It will make me better.

Thank you for sharing your precious gifts with us, John. We will carry forward your legacy.

(Click here for a video stream of the funeral Mass on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020).

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