New Horizons

Author: James Wensits


For much of its history, Notre Dame’s relationship with the city of South Bend and the surrounding community might have best been illustrated by the pugnacious stance of the famed logo of the Fighting Irish leprechaun, its fists raised against any possible encroachment.

The South Bend metropolitan area, on the other hand, has sometimes viewed the University as an inconvenient golden goose, a creature that, though a financial blessing, still has to be cleaned up after from time to time thanks to game-day traffic jams and students who have been known to disrupt quiet neighborhoods with loud parties, litter and bad behavior.

The relationship has almost always been mutually beneficial though, at times, complicated. South Bend has reveled in the spotlight thrown upon it by a world-famous university. The University has often all but denied the existence of its home community by declaring itself to be an inhabitant of “Notre Dame, Indiana,” as if it can base its identity on a post office. During the time the two entities have existed side by side, there has always been an awareness of each other’s powers and needs that has made them simultaneously glad and uncomfortable.

Until now.

In a remarkable turnaround that began in 1987 under Father Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, CSC, then Notre Dame president, and which has continued under the current president, Father John I. Jenkins, CSC, the University has begun embracing South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County in an economic and educational hug that is intended and designed to help both school and community reach new heights of success.

The community has returned the love by helping the University reshape its campus and by doing whatever it can to set the table for the bounteous educational and economic benefits that are part of their mutual futures.

Getting to this point has been anything but easy. Staying there is critical to both of their successes, says Jackie Rucker ’83, the University’s director of community relations.

One of Notre Dame’s goals, for example, is to be known as a premier research institution. Part of that scenario requires the community to provide a good educational system so that businesses contemplating relocation will know where employees can send their children to school, and also be assured that the community is capable of providing an educated workforce. A good educational system is equally crucial to Notre Dame’s ability to attract top academics to its classrooms and research labs.

In the past, the University’s involvement in local education has been largely limited to volunteering, mentoring and tutoring, notes Jay Caponigro ’91, Notre Dame director of community engagement. Now the goal is to measure the impact that students, faculty and staff can have in the educational realm. “Is there a way that our students, faculty and staff, in the course of learning and researching on campus, can also serve the interests of the community in tangible ways, in measurable ways?” he asks.

Caponigro estimates that the University measured almost 420,000 hours of community service last year alone. He speculates that having the Notre Dame leprechaun show up at a city school rally probably didn’t affect statewide testing scores but that hours spent tutoring probably did. The University also has participated in a program aimed at providing on-campus training for local middle school and high school math and science teachers. By creating what Caponigro calls an extended research community, local teachers can spend summer hours working alongside ND faculty, staying current on the latest teaching methods and experiments, then translating what they learn back to their own classrooms.

Thus far, Caponigro says, this effort has measured teachers, not students. “At some point we want to be able to shift and be able to try and capture the impact we’re having with the schools because we want to be supportive of South Bend schools.”


Notre Dame is definitely an economic boon to the surrounding community. A recent survey prepared for Notre Dame by Appleseed Economic Consultants showed that the University employs more than 5,000 full- and part-time employees, making it by far the largest employer not only in South Bend but in St. Joseph County.

When all of the University’s direct and indirect spending on payroll, construction projects and goods and services, all of the student spending and all of the spending by visitors is taken into account, the report found, the University’s economic impact is nearly $875 million a year.

At the time of its founding by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, in late 1842 on “524 snow-covered acres,” and on through the presidency of Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, from 1952 to 1987, Notre Dame was engaged first in its own survival and then on its growth into a great university. During that time, its relationship with neighboring South Bend was often more on a practical level — the city could provide such things as police protection, hospitals, transportation, housing for ND employees and schools for their children.

As it grew and grew up, Notre Dame offered South Bend the prestige associated with being the home of a world-renowned educational institution. That Notre Dame also possessed a sports identity which began more or less with Knute Rockne’s gridiron successes, not to mention his wily ability to garner national press coverage for his teams’ achievements, only added to the luster. South Bend may have been “world-famed,” as its own press clippings used to say, thanks to being home to such industrial giants as the Bendix Corporation, Studebaker and the Singer sewing machine company, but it undeniably got its panache by being the home of the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame students have long had a record of community involvement. The students’ clash with the forces of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s is the stuff of legend. The willingness of students to help senior citizens with their tax returns, to tutor local students and to participate in the University’s involvement in South Bend’s Center for the Homeless may not be legendary, but it has been very much appreciated.

Nevertheless, the campus-community relationship has at times been an uneasy one, perhaps never more so than when South Bend sought to annex nearly 2,000 acres of land that included not only the Notre Dame campus but the Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross campuses as well.

The idea, recalls Roger O. Parent ’66M.A., a former South Bend mayor, was that if Notre Dame and the other schools were part of South Bend, the city could count the students as part of its population and benefit financially under rules for the distribution of state and federal funds.

The annexation effort was begun in 1969 by then-mayor Lloyd M. Allen, whose ambition to acquire Notre Dame was initially thwarted by council members opposed to the annexation ordinance. The pressure to annex grew even stronger by 1970 when census figures showed that the city’s population had dwindled by more than 7 percent. This meant the city might lose around $150,000 in state funding unless it could find a way to increase its population.

The situation boiled to a head at a January 1971 public hearing, where the council voted 6-3 against the proposal. During that tumultuous session, Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, CSC, then the university’s executive vice president, made it plain that a vote in favor of annexation would be legally contested by Notre Dame. Gracious in victory, the priest told the council: “We are gratified. We hope our mutual friendly relationships with the city will continue.” He didn’t say, “And you better never try that again,” but he was probably thinking it.

After that, the city gave up trying to annex Notre Dame.

The thaw

It’s hard to say how long the annexation attempt may have made University officials a bit standoffish regarding its neighbor, but it is increasingly clear, as Parent says, that “the whole climate has changed” in terms of campus-community involvement.

For example, prior to the development of the Eddy Street Commons project located just south of campus, there had never been much in the way of a university “village,” unless you count the small shopping area east of campus that includes a barber shop and the unique haven provided by Lula’s Cafe. Sure, the students could and did take buses or drive to downtown theaters and restaurants or to University Park Mall, but Notre Dame has tried its best over the years to discourage students from partaking in the sometimes less-than-savory attractions offered by the city, particularly those that involved alcoholic beverages.

Students of legal age could drink at the old Senior Bar on campus, of course, but students of both legal and illegal age, the latter often armed with phony IDs, used to be attracted like thirsty desert dwellers to the alcoholic oasis created by the cluster of bars at the Five Points intersection south of campus. Too often, trouble ensued, police got called in and students got their names published in the paper until, one-by-one, the bars were closed down, relocated or razed.

No one was happier than University officials to see the bars go. Ironically, the bars’ departures led to increased tension in some of the neighborhoods around the campus. Residents of those neighborhoods probably thought that closing the bars would mean an end to the late-night parade of drunken students urinating and vomiting in their front yards and bushes as they staggered back to campus. What residents didn’t expect was that the letting-off-steam process would simply relocate from the absent barrooms to the off-campus houses and apartments where many students lived and others visited.

Residents might not have heard the jukeboxes blaring away in the taverns, but they soon became sleep deprived thanks to the cranked-up music that helps fuel many a booze-soaked party in their neighborhoods.

While residents turned to calling police to tamp down the parties, ND officials were even more concerned about the rise in crime in neighborhoods adjacent to campus where students, staff and faculty lived. It was time to do something.

Malloy had served nearly five years as the University’s vice president and associate provost, giving him a long look at the situation and time to conjure a solution before he took the helm from Hesburgh in 1987. “Monk had five years to prepare for the presidency,” says Rucker. “He wanted it to be about community. That was one of the big changes when he became president.”

Under Malloy, Notre Dame began to look for ways to improve not just the relationship but the community itself, believing a healthy community to be of vital importance to the health of the University. “We’re in this together,” says Malloy, explaining his decision to get involved in the town-gown relationship in a more aggressive way.


Notre Dame received national publicity when it helped launch South Bend’s Center for the Homeless in 1988 under Malloy’s guidance. Instead of just providing food and a bed to those who have neither, the center offers programs that help the homeless get back on their feet, get jobs and then get a place to live on their own. Although ND purchased the center’s original building and has maintained support, it has also made certain that the center has remained independent of University control.

The Center for the Homeless was the University’s original outreach program, says Jay Caponigro, but the next big step, the one that really cemented ties between the University and the community, was the creation in 2001 of the Robinson Community Learning Center. Located at 921 North Eddy Street, in the heart of the northeast neighborhood, the Robinson Center supports a variety of neighborhood programs and serves as a place where University volunteers can provide one-on-one tutoring lessons for area children.

The building acquired by the University for the Robinson Center formerly housed a grocery store and a Goodwill center. Now it provides space for meetings, classes for children and adults, and even offers a cozy spot for residents to drop in for coffee while they read the morning newspapers.

Next, Notre Dame joined forces with Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, Madison Center and the city of South Bend to form the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization. All of the entities contributed (and continue to contribute) money to the NNRO, and all were given representation on the new board of directors. Even more important to the organization’s success was that the neighborhood was given as many representatives on the board as those of the other entities combined.

“Father Malloy wanted to move from engagement to investment” in the community, says Timothy D. Sexton ’90, ’94MSA, associate vice president for public affairs.

Following Malloy’s concentrated effort to connect with the community, says Sexton, the current administration has “committed to continue forward and be supportive. Between Father Jenkins and [executive vice president] John Affleck-Graves we’ve probably heard at least a dozen times now . . . the importance of the city of South Bend and the University of Notre Dame. One can’t be successful without the other.”

Area in crisis

One of the ways the University started following Malloy’s lead, Sexton says, was in the late 1980s when it started purchasing property along Notre Dame Avenue and Eddy Street. The neighborhood was clearly in crisis: In 1980, 60 percent of the homes in the neighborhoods near the campus were owner-occupied and 40 percent were rental units; 10 years later, the percentages had shifted to 40 percent owner-occupied and 60 percent rentals.

To counter that trend, the University acquired four properties on Notre Dame Avenue, razed the existing homes and resold the land to ND employees who in turn built new homes designed to fit into the existing architectural style of the neighborhood. According to Jim Lyphout, vice president for business operations, Notre Dame required that the homes be owner-occupied and that the University would have first right of refusal should the new owners decide to sell.

To get the project started, the University provided guarantees so that the prospective buyers could get mortgage loans for homes that were worth far more than surrounding properties. Once the first four homes were built, however, those guarantees were no longer needed. More than 15 such homes have since been built in an area that’s basically west of Eddy Street while, to the east, in the area known as the Triangle, a mixture of affordable and market-rate homes are being developed by the city of South Bend, a project supported by the NNRO.

Another outgrowth of the revitalization effort was the development of Eddy Street Commons, which not only provides an economic boost for the northeast neighborhood but gives students and others a place to go off campus that is within walking distance.

Located just south of the campus, Eddy Street Commons offers restaurants and shops, a fitness center, a parking garage and, soon, the first of two hotels. The city plans to enhance accessibility to the development by initiating a trolley service that will connect the development with downtown South Bend.

Lyphout says the prime role played by the University in the Eddy Street Commons project was to assemble the land and then to seek proposals from companies such as Kite Realty, the Indianapolis firm that was eventually selected to be the developer. Notre Dame retains control of much of the property along Edison Road, the street that hugs the southern border of campus, including the first row of townhouses there because, says Greg Hakanen, ND director of asset management and real estate, “The trustees and officers felt it was important for us to control forever such strategically located property."

As big as the Eddy Street Commons project is, the Notre Dame economic investment that may have the most potential for the future well-being of the community is a chain that links research on campus, including the nanotechnology center, with Innovation Park, a business incubator located just south of the main campus.

So far, Innovation Park consists of one building, opened in 2009, where start-up businesses are nurtured before relocating to a permanent site. Three more buildings are planned for Innovation Park, and the city of South Bend is betting that businesses created there will eventually find a home in the final link in the chain, the new Ignition Park, located on Sample Street in an industrial area just south of the downtown. Ignition Park was created by clearing land formerly occupied by buildings that had been used long ago by the Studebaker Corporation.

The partnership between the University, city and state that has led to the development of Innovation and Ignition parks will continue. “We’ve had a shift from students and staff being not that engaged, to Father Malloy coming in and investing in our partnership, in our relationship with the community," says Caponigro. "Father John [Jenkins] is going to put an exclamation point on it, saying, ‘We’re committed for the long haul here. We really see the value of our work together, we see you [South Bend] as colleagues in this, in our success,’ and that’s new language.”

The vanishing road

Another of the ways Notre Dame has changed its relationship with the community started by taking something away, namely the portion of Juniper Road that used to pass through the campus, and then giving back something of even greater value.

Rucker says she learned of the University’s intent to close Juniper when she interviewed for her job and discovered that a big part of her new responsibility would be to sell the idea to a skeptical community which had been rejecting it for years. If Juniper were to close, local officials reasoned, Notre Dame would become a huge obstacle for drivers trying to get to points north or south of campus.

Many of those drivers, several thousand each day, were headed for campus destinations. The rest would either be forced onto Indiana 933 to the west or Ironwood Road to the east, both of which were already near vehicular capacity. An even worse alternative, from the local point of view, would be drivers looking for shortcuts through neighborhood streets near the campus.

The University’s long-stated reason for wanting to close Juniper had been to make it safer for students walking across campus, many of which, drivers observed, seemed oblivious to the dangers posed by vehicular traffic. To slow cars down, the University had installed many stop lights and timed them so as to make frequent stops the norm.

ND officials also knew that closing Juniper would allow them to acquire the property occupied by the road, substantial acreage which would help give the campus a “footprint” inside which orderly growth could take place.

The first perception needing to be dealt with was that the University had secret plans to expand by gobbling up properties around the existing campus. The other was that it wasn’t going to give anything back in exchange for closing Juniper and creating a traffic nightmare.

To that end, Rucker and University architect Douglas Marsh began meeting with residents, particularly in areas north and east of the campus, in their living rooms and over a series of lunches. Marsh shared ND’s 50-year growth plan and was able to demonstrate that all of it would take place inside the boundaries described by its new “footprint.” There was Douglas Road on the north, the proposed Twyckenham extension on the east, a newly routed Edison Road on the south and Indiana 933 on the west. And that was it.

“People hugged us,” Rucker recalls, describing the relief residents felt at being assured their homes were in no danger.

Because the new footprint included the property that had been Juniper Road as well as property to the south created by relocating Edison, the area available for campus growth would increase by 50 percent, thus allowing all the room needed for the next half-century.

Once they heard the explanation and saw the expansion plan, residential opposition to closing Juniper diminished considerably. When University officials went before the St. Joseph County Council to plead their case, “people who had remonstrated for years actually stood up with us,” Rucker says.

Notre Dame officials helped sell the notion of closing Juniper to the county council members by announcing the University’s plan to build and pay for a new road around the eastern edge of the campus, a $10 million project that promised to speed traffic around the campus faster than it did when it went through the campus. That promise was delivered.

Open to visitors

Rucker, who grew up in South Bend, remembers when she and her fourth-grade classmates toured the community on a school bus, stopping at such places as the historic log cabin in Leeper Park, where they got out to take a better look. When they got to the Notre Dame campus though, “We never got off the bus,” she says. “It just kind of bugged me.”

Although she doesn’t think the fact that she and her classmates had to stay on the bus was an intentional snub, the decades-old memory stuck with Rucker during her student days at Notre Dame and still surfaces when she is questioned about the University’s relationship with the community. It might also be a catalyst for the zeal she has displayed since taking the job as director of community relations in 2003.

One of the ways Rucker and her cohorts have sought to combat students’ lack of knowledge about the community is to partner with South Bend to provide a history lesson on wheels.

The freshman bus tour features speakers who tell the students about the city’s rich history as a manufacturing center and point out that the city pre-dated the existence of the University, a fact which sometimes comes as a surprise. The tour, which also includes stops at Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross colleges, generally ends downtown where the students are greeted by the mayor at the plaza in front of the Morris Performing Arts Center and then taken to the nearby South Bend Chocolate Cafe for treats.

The tour demonstrates the rich quality of life available in South Bend to students whose only other contact with the city might be helping people in need. If you only go to town to help disadvantaged people, “you begin to think that that’s all there is,” Rucker says.

She credits former student body president Grant Schmidt ’10 with helping to popularize the bus tours. So many students came out for one tour that “we ran out of buses,” she recalls. Schmidt also was instrumental in getting Transpo, the local bus company, to provide extended bus service at night and on weekends, including the aptly named Midnight Express, which provides students with a safe ride home from the downtown area.

Schmidt, whose term as student body president ended in April, devoted much of his term to addressing city-student relations and even stayed on campus last summer to meet with as many city officials as he could. “We needed collaboration instead of opposition,” says Schmidt. “We as a student body have to be engaged in the community in which we live for four years or more.”

Another student government effort to connect to the community is CommUniversity Day, the second of which was held this past April. On that day, several hundred students volunteered to take part in such projects as painting a resident’s home, holding a canned food drive and conducting campus tours.

Denise Baron, a senior student government member who served as community relations chair this past year, is also encouraged by the relationship that has grown between campus and community. She not only believes Notre Dame is reaching out much more than it used to but has herself played a major role in the effort. Last fall, her committee held a student meeting at the Robinson Center to discuss neighborhood safety and even helped distribute a “good neighbor” guide for students living off campus.

Hello neighbor

While Notre Dame was acquiring land on Notre Dame Avenue and later in the area west of Eddy Street and reselling it to its employees, the city of South Bend and the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization have been acquiring properties in the triangle east of Eddy so as to make affordable housing available to current residents. For the first time in decades, people of limited income can either buy a revitalized house or have a new one built. The result has been the rebirth of what had been a deteriorating neighborhood.

It is unlikely that anyone knows more about the resurgence of the Northeast Neighborhood than Marguerite Taylor, adult program coordinator for the Robinson Center, which was named after her mother, Renalda Robinson. Taylor vividly remembers the bad old days, before Notre Dame took an interest in her neighborhood, when, “if you lived south of Angela [Boulevard] you could have been living in Afghanistan or somewhere.”

Her father, Nathaniel Robinson, who lived in the northeast neighborhood for years without ever having set foot on campus, once proposed taking visiting family members to see the Dome. “We can drive down Notre Dame Avenue, and they can look up,” she remembers him saying.

All that societal distance changed with the birth of the NNRO, whose expanded 16-member board now includes eight neighborhood residents, two representatives each for Notre Dame and South Bend and one each from four local medical facilities. South Bend Heritage Foundation, a private community development organization, was brought in to provide administrative leadership and guidance.

“It’s a good model, I think, for the nation,” Taylor says. While the body initially displaced resident owners, they eventually came back to better homes than they previously had. “It’s our job as residents to make sure that every person who leaves out of there is better off," Taylor says. "And they are.”

Residents of the transformed neighborhood have come to rely on the Robinson Center for such things as computer classes, literary and tutoring programs, and even routine medical needs such as getting their blood pressure checked or having breast and prostate exams. A violence prevention initiative called “Take Ten” is intended to change youthful feelings regarding violence and conflict among their peers.

The biggest change may be the attitude neighborhood residents now have toward the University. In the old days, Taylor recalls, before St. Joseph Medical Center announced plans to relocate from its site east of downtown South Bend to Mishawaka, residents felt that the hospital would move north and Notre Dame would move south until “we weren’t going to have a neighborhood anymore.” Even when Notre Dame officials professed interest in the neighborhood by holding meetings, its sincerity was questioned.

“My analogy,” Taylor says, “was that Notre Dame would invite you to dinner, then they wouldn’t let you eat.”

She credits Jeff Gibney, formerly of South Bend Heritage, and ND’s Hakanen with changing the relationship for the better. Taylor refers to Gibney as a “visionary” and says Hakanen “comes to all our meetings and he talks to us.” As a consequence, she says, residents “no longer feel the University is out to get us.”

Continuing messages from Notre Dame about the future of the Robinson Center also soothe some neighborhood fears. “[What] Father Jenkins . . . said to us is that he’s committed to this place because we make a difference,” Taylor says. “The relationship between the University and the residents is certainly better than it’s ever been, and it’s on the rise.”

James Wensits is the host of Politically Speaking on WNIT-TV and a former political writer for the South Bend Tribune.