Quintessential Lumberjack Joseph Rolle dies at 93

Joseph Rolle

Editor’s note: Tributes to Dean Rolle have been steadily streaming in as students, alumni, friends, colleagues and other members of the Lumberjack family reflect on the life of the NAU legend. Read some of these reflections online.

As the 1941 student body president and a member of Chain Gang, Joseph Rolle didn’t see his time on Northern Arizona University’s mountain campus as limited to a four-year experience. He saw it as his real home.

The dedicated Lumberjack would continue in that role long after he earned his bachelor’s degree. He became a mentor, leader and supporter, and was recognizable on campus and beyond as a caring and enthusiastic face of Northern Arizona University for more than 60 years.

In a recent interview, Rolle, the former dean of University Services, spoke of his decades-long experience with NAU. “I have enjoyed every moment that I’ve been here, and that’s a long, long time,” he said.

Today, the university community is mourning the loss of Joseph Rolle, who died Sunday. He was 93.

“Joe Rolle has been a mainstay at this institution since the 1940s,” said NAU President John Haeger. “Few people have had the impact on Northern Arizona University as Joe and Marie Rolle. Joe remained active on campus throughout his life, and while he is no longer with us, his legacy will last as long as there is a Northern Arizona University.”

Dean Rolle earned his bachelor’s degree in 1941 from NAU—then called Arizona State College—before serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II where he was stationed in the South Pacific. After military service, Dean Rolle returned to the university to work, completing his master’s degree in 1950. He held several roles during his 35 years of employment and retired in 1982.


A rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, at the Church of the Nativity, 16 W. Cherry Ave., Flagstaff. Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 18, at the Church of the Nativity, with a reception to follow at 1:30 p.m. at the NAU Rolle Activity Center on Flagstaff’s south campus. Campus signage will direct guests to parking for the reception. View a campus map here.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations are made to the Joseph C.
and Marie M. Rolle Award for Excellence scholarship
 through the NAU Foundation or to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff.

Dean Rolle’s work on behalf of the university didn’t end with retirement. He volunteered as a leader for the Alumni Association and worked to deepen the connection that students, employees, community leaders and alums felt for NAU.

President Emeritus Eugene Hughes, who conferred an honorary doctorate of humane letters on Dean Rolle in 1980, said the dean was recognized as “Mr. Lumberjack,” along with administrator and alumnus Lewis McDonald, for his many contributions over the years.

“Joe was the quintessential dean of students,” Hughes said.” Both by the example of his own life and through his actions as dean and, like a dad, ‘saving’ many students rather than to see them dismissed from the university. Joe truly exhibited the power that one individual can have on the lives of others.”

Dean Rolle is survived by his wife, Marie, a graduate of the University of Arizona, who also retired from NAU as director of the Career Planning and Placement Center after more than 15 years of service.

The Rolles’ efforts on behalf of the university over the years have left an indelible mark on those around them. The couple established the Joseph and Marie Rolle Award for Excellence scholarship, awarded since 1989 to students who demonstrate high achievement.

The Rolles were regular attendees of ceremonies, alumni and donor recognition events and often represented the university in the community.

In recognition of their tireless work on behalf of NAU, the Rolles received the Arizona Board of Regents Award for Outstanding Service to Higher Education in 2009. 

Ernest Calderón, ABOR president emeritus and NAU alumnus, bestowed the honor upon the Rolles at the ceremony and had known Dean Rolle for many years.

“We were all so fortunate to have him with us this long,” Calderón said. “To many he was a caring uncle or father figure who gave us comfort…and sometimes redirection…when we lived so far away from home. He never forgot his Bisbee roots, his mother’s love or his work ethic that Mother Hanley instilled as she refined his busing skills. Our hearts go out to Marie and the family but Dean Rolle’s legacy will live on for generations.”

Dean Rolle was a two-time student body president who earned the prestigious Gold Axe Award and President’s Award upon graduating in 1941. He also excelled at basketball over his four years at NAU, which led to the university naming the men’s and women’s basketball teams’ most valuable player awards in his honor in 1950 and his inclusion in the inaugural NAU Athletic Hall of Fame induction in 1981.

The south activity center, which houses physical education classrooms and a recreation facility, was renamed the Joseph C. Rolle Activity Center in 1989. NAU’s basketball teams currently use the facility for games.

“Joe Rolle was one of the most distinguished gentlemen I have ever met in my lifetime,” said Mike Adras, NAU men’s basketball coach. “Whenever I speak of alums, the conversation never goes far without mentioning Dean Rolle. The impact he had on this university is tremendous.”

When the Rolles were named homecoming dedicatees in 1956, Dean Rolle’s longtime friend and fellow NAU alum, Sam Borozan, drove their car in the homecoming parade.

“What I remember most about Joe was that he taught us the value of discipline,” said Borozan, retired faculty and staff member and NAU supporter. “He was like a beacon that came into our lives and we are better with his guidance. I love the man, he changed our lives.”

The Alumni Association created the Joe and Marie Rolle Spirit of NAU award to recognize a graduate who radiates the spirit of and devotion to the university as inspired by the Rolles.

“Northern Arizona University has lost one of its greatest assets,” said Kimberly Ott, NAU Alumni Association board president. “Joe played a significant part in the history of NAU and our Alumni Association. He and Marie helped create and maintain that special feeling of family that NAU is to so many of us. We will miss Joe’s leadership, compassion and love of NAU, and especially that smile and the twinkle in his eyes when he would say, ‘It’s great to be a Lumberjack.’”

Joseph Rolle was born Sept. 5, 1917 in Bisbee, Ariz., and attended Central Grade School and Bisbee High School. He is survived by his wife Marie; son Charles (Julie) Rolle; daughters Jo Anne (Steve) Rolle Harper and Randi (Doug Ulmah) Rolle. He was preceded in death by his son, Lawrence “Murph” Rolle.