Forty-one years of service in the Division of Student Affairs at a major metropolitan university will certainly create a unique perspective. As such, few folks know the modern history of UofL quite like Dale Ramsay.
The director of Intramural and Recreational Sports recently announced his retirement and will hang up his whistle on Nov. 1. He takes with him a treasure chest of memories, most of which he still remembers with vivid detail, and leaves behind a legacy rarely duplicated by today’s job-hop-happy workforce.
The beginnings of that legacy could be considered a bit serendipitous. Ramsay grew up in a small town in New Hampshire over 900 miles away, and attended Keene State College, which had about 2,000 students at the time. He received his physical education degree and thought he was going to teach PE and coach basketball for a living after graduation.
“Then my senior year, one of my professors called me and said there was an opportunity in Louisville working in the intramural department. I didn’t really know what intramurals was because we didn’t have much at Keene,” he said.
He interviewed over the phone anyway with Dr. Ellis Mendelsohn, who had been UofL’s intramurals director for 41 years, and then agreed to visit campus.
“I came for an interview during Derby week and, as a 22-year-old, I’m like ‘sign me up,’” he joked.
Upon his arrival at UofL, Ramsay became a graduate assistant for two years, then received his graduate degree and became assistant director of intramural sports. The next year, Harold Adams, whom Ramsay calls the “patriarch of student affairs,” made him director. He was 26.
“Mendy [Mendelsohn] was sick and [Adams] knew I’d take care of Mendy,” he said.
Ramsay also earned a faculty appointment, which he held for 34 years teaching sports administration and sports officiating. Over time, he took on additional duties, like managing spirit groups – cheerleaders, mascots and Lady Birds – and student activities. At some point within the past 41 years, he also took on the facilitation of UofL’s free speech policy.
“UofL Had no policy and we had [author/activist] Sister Souljah speak on campus. The local head of the KKK took offense to her speaking and thought he should also be able to speak. They came to me to enforce a free speech policy because they knew I’d make sure people would follow the rules. Also, with my refereeing experience, conflict management was in my wheelhouse,” Ramsay said. “I definitely learned a lot. My point of pride is that we’ve never been sued. We’ve been threatened to be sued a lot, but we’ve never been sued.”
All of these roles have embedded some interesting stories in his memory – about the day Brother Jeb and Brother Rick and “what seemed like a spaceship full of street preachers” descended on campus. Stories about students starting a dumpster fire at 3 a.m. while camping out for football tickets. Stories about a beer keg falling out of the back of a truck while heading to work at the Ball of the Belle. [Ramsay and his fellow Cardinals were able to recover the keg].
He has also created deep relationships throughout his time here. He calls George Howe, who retired last year after 50 years on campus, his best friend, for example.
“I met my wife because of George,” Ramsay said.
Howe also used to be Ramsay’s boss until Ramsay was named director and then became Howe’s boss.
“I learned humility from George. He told me – I’ll always remember this – if you’re in a place long enough, one of your students is probably going to come back and be your boss,” Ramsay said.
As it so happens, Ramsay met Michael Mardis, now dean of Students and VP of Student Affairs, when he was just 17. At the time, Mardis worked for Ramsay as an intramural coordinator. Ramsay now works for Mardis.
In total, Ramsay has worked for six presidents at UofL, six vice presidents and 11 associate vice presidents. But he doesn’t just remember stories about his bosses or his experiences. He’s had hundreds of students work for him, including 14 employees whose parents also worked for him, and he especially remembers those stories.
“I had one kid who worked in a factory and wanted to be a teacher and he just needed someone to give him a break. I believe education is the great equalizer, so I hired him. Now he’s a principal,” Ramsay said. “I had a law student who graduated near the top of his class. He was at UofL for seven years and he wanted to win a t-shirt from intramurals, but he was athletically challenged. That kid had everything going for him and is now an FBI agent, but I’ll never forget how excited he was when he finally got his t-shirt. That’s what all of this is about for me – those connections. The student connections are what has kept me here so long.”
UofL gave Dr. Mendelsohn a chair to mark his four decades of service and Ramsay still has “Mendy’s” chair in his office to remember the lessons he learned from his former mentor. He plans on keeping it there for whomever moves into his office next – a striking reminder of the legacies built by both of them.
In the meantime, he doesn’t plan on being a stranger to UofL and just may visit every now and then. First, however, he plans to enjoy his retirement after recently overcoming a battle with colon cancer. He’s been cancer-free now for 18 months.
“Everybody has a last day. I’m lucky enough to pick mine,” Ramsay said. “And I’ve got a great story to tell.”