‘UChicago is in her DNA’

Rosy Resch

Photo by Jason Smith

How Rosy Resch forged a community in 50 years at the University

By Nicole Watkins, Manager of Internal Communications & Content

Editor’s note: This story was originally published here. It is part of ‘Meet a UChicagoan,’ a regular series focusing on the people who make UChicago a distinct intellectual community. Read about the others here.

When Rosalie “Rosy” Resch stepped off the plane at Chicago Midway Airport the fall of 1969, she wasn’t quite sure where to go. No one else from her high school class of nearly 500 had left Minnesota for college. Her parents couldn’t afford to miss work to drive her to the University of Chicago, so they booked her a solo flight.

Naive and a little shy, she stood near the airport cab stand as a man yelled: “Rogers Park! Downtown! Hyde Park!”

“I had never been out of Minnesota or Wisconsin, been on an airplane, or taken a cab before, and I had no idea where I was going—I just had an address,” recalled Resch, AB’73. She had chosen to attend UChicago because everyone back home in Minneapolis was so excited about her admittance. She didn’t want to disappoint anyone. “I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.”

Resch eventually caught that cab to Hyde Park. Fifty-two years later, she hasn’t just found her place. A longtime UChicago administrator who has also been a student-athlete, coach, associate professor and interim athletic director, she has helped create an enduring community.  

“UChicago is in her DNA. She is such a core fabric of the University, I don’t even think it’s fully understood,” said Erin McDermott, UChicago’s former director of athletics and recreation. Now Harvard University’s first female athletics director, McDermott said Resch offers a “sense of home” that is especially welcome in a pressure-packed environment: “She is this comforting voice, and a person that students can be comfortable and real with.”

Everyone knows who Rosy is—even those who have broken through the glass ceiling of professional baseball.

“What can I say about Coach Resch? Her love for the school and the students runs deep,” said Kim Ng, AB’90, who was captain of the Maroon softball team and is now with the Miami Marlins, where she is Major League Baseball’s first female general manager. “She was unequivocally and consistently one of the most selfless, steadfastly principled, and proud ambassadors of the University of Chicago. She is definitely one of my favorite people that I encountered during my time there.”

Now in her 47th year as a University staff member, Resch isn’t done yet. After serving as interim athletics director for the 2020-21 academic year due to McDermott’s departure, Resch has resumed her role as senior associate athletic director for finance and internal operations, where she is aiding in the transition of the department’s new leader, Angie Torain.

Plus, she’s not quite ready for “legacy” talk. “I’m too short for a legacy,” Resch, who stands about 5-foot-3, said with a grin.

From a teacher emerges a leader

Looking through files one day during her seven-year tenure as athletic director, McDermott uncovered old student evaluations of Resch as an archery teacher. At the time, physical education was a College requirement at UChicago—which meant that students who had little to no interest in athletics often found themselves under Resch’s tutelage.

“They were just glowing about Rosy as a teacher and as an instructor, Rosy as a mentor for them at the University, how much she meant to them—it was really moving,” McDermott recalled.

“It helped me understand the student experience a lot more,” Resch said of her teaching.

UChicago eliminated its undergraduate physical education requirement in 2012, when Resch led the department on an interim basis. Although she was saddened by the change, Resch continued to shape UChicago athletics with the best interests of students in mind. This past year, she had to navigate her toughest challenge yet: the cancellation of intercollegiate athletics.

Resch had found herself in leadership shoes again with McDermott’s departure for Harvard, which coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. To protect the health and safety of UChicago’s student-athletes, she delivered the University’s tough decision to cancel competitions.

Still, Resch found light through it all. Varsity teams continued to practice without COVID-19 transmission, and intramurals and fitness programs adjusted to an online format. Finally, with careful planning, the spring sports teams were able to compete in 2021—highlighted by the women’s lacrosse team’s unprecedented run to the NCAA Elite Eight.

“This was probably the most challenging year in my professional life, but it was also the most rewarding,” Resch said. “We were able to accomplish things a lot of other institutions could not, and we did it safely. The amount of cooperation it took was just a remarkable departmental effort that I have a lot of gratitude for.”

Chris Hall, who is beginning his 21st season as head coach of UChicago’s track and field and cross country teams, said much of the credit belonged to Resch, who handled with grace what “could not have been a more miserable role.”

“I don’t know what we would do without her,” Hall said.

Humble beginnings

When Resch arrived in 1969 from Minneapolis, regular intercollegiate sports competition for women was just beginning to take shape across the country. At UChicago, it grew under the direction of two of Resch’s most beloved mentors: Mary Jean Mulvaney and Patricia Kirby.

Resch quickly joined Kirby’s badminton, volleyball and softball squads, and still holds UChicago’s career record in batting average at .481. Mulvaney, one of the nation’s first female athletic directors of a coeducational department, taught Resch to appreciate the importance of physical education, while also introducing her to the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA). Created in 1904, the women’s leadership organization for athletes created a counterpart for the Order of the C group for male athletes. Both organizations still thrive at UChicago today, and WAA might be the oldest chapter in still in existence.

“Even in those early days of sports, Mary Jean was the one who really legitimized to me the idea of working in physical education and athletics,” Resch said of Mulvaney, who died in 2019 at the age of 92.

Mulvaney’s impact also helped convince Resch—who majored in Russian and turned down a job offer from the National Security Agency—to pursue a career in athletics. In Resch’s third year as an undergraduate student, Mulvaney paid for her to attend a national physical education convention in Minneapolis, where Mulvaney was a speaker. “I still see myself as a physical educator because of her,” Resch said.

After earning her master’s degree in physical education from Smith College, she returned to UChicago in 1975, eventually taking on the role as head volleyball coach from 1977-97. She’s never left.

“Without athletics, I would not have made it,” said Resch, who credits sports for providing her an emotional and mental release. “I knew I was a part of something that had real value, because it had so much value for me.”

A place to come home

For the past two-plus decades, Resch has served in an administrative capacity at UChicago, managing the budget and NCAA compliance, and often directing postseason events. A “doer” to her core, she’s the one running from court to field, showing up with the necessary item that no one else has even realized was missing. Because of WAA, she probably knows every single woman in the student-athlete alumni database.

Perhaps more importantly, her impact on all those around her remains instrumental and inspirational—from her frequent check-ins, to her preservation of key traditions, to her singular focus on enhancing the student-athlete experience. “We know we can always count on Rosy,” Hall said.

“She sees the whole picture, and she genuinely cares about the whole picture—she’s the heart of the program,” said Kathleen Abbott, AB’95, a former WAA president who played volleyball under Resch and is now senior assistant chief counsel at the Illinois Department of Transportation. “I felt so at home at the U of C because of Rosy, her way of being genuinely interested in people, and the community of athletes and that feeling of belonging she helped create.”

The department itself has risen to new heights, too. Academically and athletically, the teams have vastly improved. National rankings are expected, and trips to the NCAA national tournament the norm. UChicago student-athletes are constantly in the mix for academic All-American honors—given annually to the very nation’s best in both their sport and the classroom.

The accolades are just icing on the cake for Resch, whose passion remains with enriching the lives of the students, in whom she still sees herself.

“I’m still pleased that I still love this so much and I wake up every day glad I get to go to work,” Resch said. “I don’t want to talk about being proud—it’s what other people have accomplished. I’m proud of them.”

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