As I passed by a milestone I once thought was as distant as the stars — my 25th anniversary of graduating from Notre Dame — I am reminded of my own Notre Dame heritage. While it is important to “Play Like A Champion Today,” which I have on a plaque in my office, the banner I always see before I leave my home is “Tradition Never Graduates.”
On this banner is the famous photograph of the Four Horsemen — with Harry Stuhldreher as the quarterback. My father was a friend of Harry’s nephew, William Stuhldreher, while both were at ND in the early 1950s, and I became good friends with William’s son, David, while attending Indiana University Medical School.
While it is certainly true that the ND experience changed my life forever, I literally owe my existence to ND.
Tradition does not graduate — it continues to grow.
Setting the stage for generations to come, one of my great-great grandfathers, George Wolf, settled in the South Bend area in the early 1860s. As the newly formed University of Notre Dame was expanding, local farmers and workers were needed to help clear the land and ultimately rebuild the administration building destroyed by fire in 1879. In appreciation for their help, Father Sorin, the founder, accepted some of the workers’ children into the newly formed university — including one of my great uncles, Charles Wolf.
Some 40 years later, my grandfather, Paul V. Paden of DePue, Illinois, began attending the University of Illinois. He shared a dorm with Red Grange. Apparently Paul’s uncle had heard so much about this Rockne fellow in South Bend that he literally pulled Paul out of Illinois and into Notre Dame. Once there, Paul managed to graduate with two degrees — pre-law and law — in four years while the Gipper was tearing up the gridiron. During his stay at ND, Paul began courting a local South Bend girl named Mabel Scheibelhut, one of George Wolf‘s grandchildren.
My grandparents told some eye-opening stories — including the ones about Paul’s ability to shimmy up and down the large poles supporting the Sorin Hall porch so he could sneak out at night to see Mabel. Apparently the rector priest had the posts painted and greased, but he could never catch Paul in the act — which would have meant instant expulsion. And Mabel once told me that any woman who walked within two blocks of the campus in the 1920s was considered “loose.” She always loved the tradition of Notre Dame being an all-male school and never really forgave the University for becoming co-ed in 1972.
My father, Robert, entered ND as a skinny Nebraskan out of Creighton Prep in 1949. His many interests, besides sports and annoying fellow classmate Regis Philbin, included musicals and writing lyrics. He wrote lyrics and helped produce the annual campus musical Brute Farce in 1953, which was held at Washington Hall.
My mother, Mary Jane Paden, had graduated from Purdue in 1951 and at that time was working at her father’s (Paul Paden) law practice in South Bend. Answering a local flier requesting female dancers and singers for the musical, Mary Jane was immediately targeted by Robert. His persistence paid off, and since the dormitory rules were less strict at the time, he didn’t have to sneak out to visit her at her home two blocks from campus. Robert graduated in 1953 and, after a stint in the Marines, graduated from ND Law School in 1959.
There was never any question of where I wanted to attend college. My father was doubly proud when my younger brother, Bill, was accepted at ND three years after I entered. I was excited about continuing the family tradition and also eager to start my own. Still, I was determined not to follow my father‘s and grandfather’s footsteps as Double Domers entering the treacherous field of law, and to especially not marry a local girl during my stay at ND. Both Bill and I avoided law school, but he fell for a “local” SMC student, Sue Mulvihill.
One of my favorite ND moments was playing on a Bookstore Basketball team in 1983 with Bill. It was called “Fourth Generation Domer Brothers,” And although I avoided marriage while an ND student, I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to propose to my then-girlfriend, Kathy, than at the large tree next to the Grotto and overlooking St. Mary’s Lake on a beautiful October night in 1989 (following a victory over USC).
When I visit the campus, the Grotto is always my focal point. However, I always take time to see my family’s tradition — the Main Building, Sorin Hall and Washington Hall. As I pass on my own stories and these past traditions to my two sons when we stay during the summer at the Alumni Family Hall or attend football weekends, I can’t help thinking about the many other traditions sprouting like the branches of that special tree near the Grotto and anchored by the large roots of Notre Dame.
Dr. James Rossiter resides in the Milwaukee area and practices otolaryngology and facial plastic surgery. He and his wife, Kathleen, have two sons — Joey (age 15) and Nick (age 12). Both have a strong desire to attend Notre Dame and continue the tradition. Email Rossiter at email@example.com.