Jerome and Joanne Dempsey

The Children of Jerome & Joanne Dempsey

“Our parents were both advocates for education, learning and service to others. It is our hope their legacy and the impact they had on so many will be carried forth.”


Katie Dempsey ’89 describes her father, Jerome Dempsey ’76, as a lifelong champion of education who preferred to serve behind the scenes.

But Jerome’s former students and colleagues will always think of him as a front-and-center figure. Jerome passed away in January 2015, and months later his family is still hearing from people who wanted to share memories or tell stories.

“Dad had such an impact on so many lives,” says Katie. “People have been reaching out to us from all over the country, sharing stories and recounting to us the positive influence he had on so many. It’s amazing to learn of all those individuals who were encouraged and guided by our father, no matter what the capacity.”

Patrick, who is the youngest of Jerome and Joanne’s children, chose to remember his father in this way: "If there's a single word to describe or define my dad's life, it would be the word 'service.’” Jerry and Joanne invested in their family, friends and their community and appreciated making a positive impact on the lives of those around them.

Katie, along with her brothers Nicholas, Mark, and Patrick, have established the Jerome R. and Joanne T. Dempsey Memorial Scholarship, a $1,000 award to students who have graduated from Hastings (Minn.) High School and have enrolled at Winona State University. The scholarship’s long-term goal is to establish an endowment and award two scholarships per year.

While Jerome devoted his career to teaching and academic administration, Joanne, who passed away in 1993, instilled in her children a passion and appreciation for not only music, but the importance of serving others.

“All the kids were to be involved in music of some form; band or choir or both, throughout school,” Katie says. “Mom was a remarkable, talented piano player and had a deep regard for music.”

Jerome earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Saint Thomas (Minn.) College in 1955 before serving two years in the Army. He taught in the Goodhue (Minn.) School District, and in 1960 he and Joanne moved to Hastings, where he taught social studies to Hastings High School Seniors until 1973. He then served as the assistant principal at Hastings Junior High from 1974 to 1993.

“Everybody in the school district knew him,” Katie says. “In 1973 the school administration allowed the graduating seniors to select their own commencement speaker, and they chose my dad.”

Jerome never stopped teaching — or learning. He earned a Master’s Degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a Specialist Degree in Education Administration from WSU in 1976.

That Winona connection remained strong throughout his life. Jerome was elected to the Minnesota State House of Representatives for seven consecutive terms from 1992-2006 and was one of WSU’s strongest allies in St. Paul while working on the finance and higher education committees.

While attending WSU, Katie was part of the Warrior gymnastics teams, who won national championships in 1985 and 1987, the first for WSU athletics in any sport. She won two individual national titles in the floor exercise and 11 All-American honors. Katie was inducted into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.

Now, the children of Jerome and Joanne want to help new generations of WSU students achieve their academic dreams and pursuits.

“Our parents were both advocates for education, learning and service to others,” Katie says. “It is our hope their legacy and the impact they had on so many will be carried forth.”