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A Champion of Private Education

Note: This is the 46th profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.

By Christian Taske ’07

Every day students walk through the doors of Notre Dame College’s Dwyer Learning Center to take advantage of its free tutoring services. The center’s adjunct professors, graduate assistants and peer tutors help students who struggle with a math concept, have problems organizing a paper or feel unprepared for a looming exam.

Most of the students who utilize these comprehensive services probably have never heard about the man who helped build the center and gave it its name.

The late John J. Dwyer, a board member of over 30 years, was an instrumental figure in Notre Dame’s history. A well-known Cleveland businessman, politician and civic leader, Dwyer was particularly successful at raising money, allowing the College to expand its facilities and academic programs.

“It is necessary in a democracy to have the viewpoint of private education,” Dwyer said in 1982, the year he was elected president of NDC’s advisory board. “At Notre Dame the emphasis is on quality education at a cost that is competitive with the cost of public education.”

In the 1980s, Notre Dame, as a small liberal arts college for women, was able to deliver a quality education at low cost thanks in part to Dwyer’s fundraising successes. One of his proudest accomplishments, Dwyer said, was raising $3.5 million to build the Joseph H. Keller Center. The athletic building, which was named after Dwyer’s good friend, was completed in 1987.

Ten years later the Dwyer Learning Center opened after its namesake was able to raise $1 million, including $450,000 from the Mellen Foundation and substantial contributions from the Codrington Foundation and Dwyer himself. The center quadrupled in size and introduced an electronic classroom and a computer lab with Internet access.

Raising money for Notre Dame College seemed easy compared to Dwyer’s earlier fundraising work. A Cleveland Heights councilman for 13 years, Dwyer was elected finance chairman by the Cuyahoga County Republican Party during Watergate.

“It was tough to raise money. The sources of funds dried up,” Dwyer told Ohio Business Magazine in 1989.

But raising money was not the hardest part of community leadership, Dwyer said.

John DwyerAs the president and trustee of many civic groups and charities, Dwyer knew what he was talking about. He led Oglebay Norton, the mining and lake transportation company, from 1970 to 1982. In the early 1980s, as Cleveland emerged from default, he brought government and corporate officials together as the chairman of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association.

Dwyer volunteered for almost every major civic group in Cleveland. He was the founding chairman of the Cleveland Education Fund and headed the distribution committee of the Cleveland Foundation as it expanded into new areas of giving. He was chairman, president or trustee of organizations that included the Red Cross, United Way, the Federation for Community Planning and the Musical Arts Association.

In addition, Dwyer was on the boards of University Hospitals, St. Vincent Charity Hospital Development Fund, John Carroll University, DePauw University, and Laurel and Glen Oak schools.

“My father felt very strongly about Cleveland,” his daughter Catherine D. LoPresti told The Plain Dealer in 2005. “He was not from here, but, in his words, Cleveland had been very good to him.”

Dwyer was born in Gary, Ind. He graduated from DePauw in 1939 and Harvard Law School in 1944. After he married Frances Wilson he moved to Cleveland to work for the Thompson, Hine and Flory law firm. Two years later he joined Oglebay Norton and rose through the ranks, becoming president and CEO in 1970. His greatest challenge was steering the company during the loss of the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior in 1975. Twenty-nine people died in the tragedy.

After he left Oglebay Norton, Dwyer rejoined his old law firm as a partner. He was also the director of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the American Iron Ore Association, the American Mining Congress and the National Coal Association.

Dwyer served on Notre Dame’s board of advisors from 1972 to 1988, when he retired as president. He became a member of the College’s new board of trustees in 1989 and was named a life member in 1992. A year later, NDC awarded him a Doctor of Humane Letters, only the third honorary degree presented by the College.

Dwyer was a champion of higher education who believed in the mission of Notre Dame and brought his rich experiences and philanthropy to campus. In recognition of his preeminent services, the College recognized him with the Fidelia Award in 1986. 

Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame College.