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Dickinson native named Minn. St. Catherine University president

Forty-four years ago, Becky Roloff and a friend left Dickinson, N.D., for a college tour of St. Catherine University. "I walked through the gates and I loved it. I came home and told my mother that's where I'm going," she said. Except for two yea...

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Becky Roloff

Forty-four years ago, Becky Roloff and a friend left Dickinson, N.D., for a college tour of St. Catherine University.

“I walked through the gates and I loved it. I came home and told my mother that’s where I’m going,” she said.

Except for two years working in Texas and two more in Boston at Harvard Business School, Roloff has stuck around the Twin Cities ever since. She was a senior leader with American Express Financial Advisors and spent the past 10 years as CEO of YWCA Minneapolis.

In July, the 62-year-old Roloff will become the 11th president in St. Kate’s 110-year history.

“I feel like my professional life really began there and it came back there,” she said.

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Roloff chaired the university’s board of trustees from 1991 to 1995, but she never saw herself in the president’s chair until she was shown a job description late last year. She had planned to stay several more years in downtown Minneapolis but couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I thought I was in my dream job. I’ve absolutely loved my last 10 years at the YWCA but I also loved St. Catherine’s,” she said.

Sister Andrea Lee announced Sept. 30 that she would step down this summer after 18 years as president of the St. Paul women’s college. In July, she’ll become president of Alverno College in Milwaukee.

St. Kate’s trustees have taken their time finding Lee’s successor. Roloff said she was the fourth finalist brought to campus.

Karen Rauenhorst, who chairs the board of trustees, called Roloff an “inspirational leader (who) understands the Catholic intellectual tradition and understands the liberal arts.”

Roloff didn’t check all the boxes, however.

“Yes, we did try to find a religious woman to lead the organization, but there were no candidates available,” Rauenhorst said. Not even one. “And we went knocking on a lot of doors.”

As for the other finalists brought to campus, Rauenhorst said none were the right fit. She said Roloff, besides being an alum, has stayed close to the university. She’s also an “exceptional fundraiser,” Rauenhorst said.

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Irene Quarshie, who chairs the YWCA board of directors, said Roloff will leave that organization stronger than when she started. She’s significantly grown program revenues and led a capital campaign that brought in $22.5 million in one year.

Quarshie called Roloff a great listener who empowers her team.

“We are extremely happy for Becky. I think she is an amazing fit for what St. Kate’s needs,” she said.

Roloff said her decade with the YWCA has prepared her for a different type of nonprofit leadership role. She now understands barriers to a quality education, she said, and sees how the nonprofit world works.

“I learned how to raise money, I learned how to manage on not very many margins … and then really got to know the community, the community players and how the various things work together,” she said.

Roloff said she has several years of work ahead of her before retirement. She’s training for her eighth triathlon, the all-women YWCA-sponsored race in August, and recently took up downhill skiing.

“I really do have another mountain to climb,” she said.

Related Topics: DICKINSON
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