Longtime University Center and Student Union Director Jim Dittrich passed away Thursday, October 26, after a courageous battle with cancer.
He served the university for 29 years before retiring in early 2017 due to declining health. He is remembered by many UT staff, faculty, and students for his dedication and his love for the university and its students.
Receiving of family and friends is set for 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, October 31, at All Saints Catholic Church, 620 North Cedar Bluff Road, with a memorial service immediately following. An online guest book is available.
A native of Alma, Wisconsin, Dittrich joined UT’s staff in 1987. He was an assistant director and then director of the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center and then the new Student Union. He served as a key administrator in the planning, design, and construction of the Student Union, a process that began 11 years before the opening of the first phase in 2015.
“Jim will be missed by many. He was a friendly face our campus community saw when they stepped foot into the University Center or Student Union,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vince Carilli. “Moreover, he was the eyes, ears, and conscience of the university with regard to the new Student Union project.”
Dittrich spent most of his career overseeing the University Center. He worked hard to preserve and chronicle its history and architectural artifacts before it was demolished to make way for the new facility.
“I will miss the University Center. During its 60-year history, the center strove to provide exceptional facilities and the highest possible level of service to the university community. However, I am eagerly anticipating the new Student Union and the significant impact it will have on generations of students,” Dittrich said in an interview about organizing the final weekend for bowling at UC’s Down Under Recreation in 2015.
Dittrich appreciated how much his work played a role in students’ lives.
“My favorite part is being associated with high-caliber students and being able to work with staff and faculty committed to assisting students with a positive and meaningful educational experience,” he said in a 2013 interview.
After retirement, Dittrich stayed in touch with many colleagues. He visited with Student Union staff this past August to see progress on the second phase of the building.
“I heard from Cindy that Jim came home and was so excited to see how much progress had been made and remarked how much this building would be a showpiece for the campus. She shared that he came home from the tour with an uplifted spirit and couldn’t wait to call his daughter to tell her all about the building,” said Frank Cuevas, associate vice chancellor for student life.
Dittrich was a mentor to many people, including Brian Rodgers, who worked beside him for 25 years and refers to him as his “work dad.”
“He taught me pretty much everything I know about managing a facility. Managing time wisely, coordinating staff to provide support to events, the importance of the University Center [Student Union] as the ‘living room’ of the campus and central point for the entire community,” said Rodgers, who serves as the Student Union building manager.
He said that Dittrich had high expectations for the facility and staff.
“I’ve often said you could have eaten off the floors . . . that was because of Jim and his influence on the staff. He once spotted a piece of clear scotch tape about 8 feet up on a wall from about 15 feet away. He was that focused on the details,” Rodgers noted.
Rodgers said Dittrich was a skilled motivator.
“He was also very supportive if you had an idea—even if he thought it wouldn’t work, he would let you try and fail and discuss what could be done differently, or he would applaud ideas that worked out well even when he may have doubted. There are many things I do today that were the results of him letting me try a new idea,” he said.
Dittrich is survived by his wife, Cindy, his son, Luke, and daughter, Erin. Cuevas said that Dittrich often coached his colleagues on managing the demands of work and family life.
“Jim was devoted to his family. He always talked about Erin, Luke, and Cindy. They were all very close and he was very proud of their accomplishments,” said Cuevas. “He used to pass along ‘nuggets—words of advice—to me about working and being there for the family. Jim was also committed to his work, but first and foremost he cared about people.”
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorials be sent to the Stephens Fund at UT Cancer Institute, c/o Teri Green, 1926 Alcoa Highway, Suite 300, Knoxville TN 37920, or to John XXIII Catholic Center (UT Campus Ministries), 1710 Melrose Place, Knoxville TN 37916.