Roland Dille, 89, of Moorhead, formerly of Dassel, passed away Monday, May 26, 2014, surrounded by his loving family.
Dille was born Sept. 16, 1924, on a farm near Dassel, where he attended public schools. He often referenced his childhood in Dassel in speeches and writings.
After a year at the University of Minnesota, he was inducted into the US infantry in 1943. During World War II, he served in England, France, and Germany, and, after the war, in Salzburg, Austria during the Occupation.
After the war, Dille returned to the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature, graduating summa cum laude.
He married Beth Hopeman of Moorhead in 1948.
Dille’s career in education began in 1949, when he returned to teach at his native Dassel High School. In 1950, he returned to the University of Minnesota, earning his doctorate in 20th-century British literature.
From 1956 to 1961, Dr. Dille taught English at St. Olaf College in Northfield. From 1961 to 1963, he taught English at California Lutheran College, from which he was let go after opposing college administration actions that he believed to be unjust. Dille was hired by Moorhead State College’s then-president John Neumaier, joining the English department in 1963. In 1966, he was named Dean of Academic Affairs; and in 1968, became its president, retiring in 1994.
Dille was MSUM’s longest running president, serving from 1968-1994. While he was a dean and continuing after he assumed the presidency, Dille and others resolved to work to address national racial issues locally, by recruiting black students and faculty, a decision opposed by a vociferous few. At the same time, student opposition to the war in Vietnam led to widespread unrest that reached Moorhead. Dille, himself, had come to oppose the war, and testified in support of conscientious objectors, including some of the most strident campus radicals, future Minneapolis City Council Member Brian Coyle among them.
From this tumultuous beginning, Dille remained a friend of the student. He co-founded Tri-College University to expand course options for students throughout the area, and created the New Center to meet the needs of students with unrealized potential. During his tenure, MSUM’s enrollment more than doubled, five new buildings were built, the library was expanded, and land was acquired for future expansion.
Dille’s dedication to the humanities and education took him far from Moorhead and around the globe on educational missions that included a newly-opening China. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Council for the Humanities, and was elected president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. He served as acting chancellor of the Minnesota State University System, declining the invitation to apply for the permanent job. In 1989, he was named one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the United States.
While at Moorhead State, Dille was active in the local community as well, as a member of the Moorhead Rotary Club, board chair of the Moorhead Area Chamber of Commerce, and member of the boards of several historical societies, including the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. His numerous publications also showed an abiding interest in serving both campus and community, comprising reviews and essays on literature, education, and local history.
After his retirement, Dille was named President Emeritus of Moorhead State University, and to the Honorary Council of the Minnesota Historical Society. The Minnesota Humanities Commission established the Roland Dille Award for distinguished service; and MSUM named the Roland Dille Center for the Arts after him. Dille has received many honors in his name for his contributions to MSUM, such as the Roland and Beth Dille Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award and the Dille Fund for Excellence. He remained active, in demand as a public speaker, and continuing to write on a variety of topics, including on the history of his hometown. A temporary exhibit, “Roland Dille and the Dassel Story,” has just opened at the Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum.
Roland was preceded in death by his parents, Oliver and Eleanor Dille; and his brother, Donald.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Beth (Hopeman); his sister, Elaine Nygren (Paul) of Edina; his children, Deborah (Vincent Casalaina) of Berkeley, CA, Martha of Prior Lake, Sarah (Daniel Stauffer) of Moorhead, and Benjamin (Anna) of Astana, Kazakhstan; grandchildren Amy, Annie (Neil Holmgren), and Stewart Jollymore, Aidan Lynch, Angela Plitkow (Matt), Deborah Schmidt, Nicolas Dille-Umber, Alexander Dibrov, and Daniel and Elizabeth Dille; and by one great-grandchild, Gabriel.
Funeral services took place Saturday, May 31 at 2 p.m. at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Moorhead. Interment was in the Prairie Home Cemetery in Moorhead.
Visitation was Friday, May 30 from 5 to 7 p.m., with a time of sharing at 7 p.m., at the church, and continued Saturday one hour prior to the service.
Memorial contributions may be made in Dille’s name to the Dille Fund for Excellence (https://donate.mnstate.edu/dille), or to the Dassel History Center.