Helen R. ‘Rose’ Dawson, whose leadership helped transform Villa Julie College into a university, dies

Helen R. "Rose" Dawson was a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Helen R. “Rose” Dawson, former academic dean and vice president of Villa Julie College, now known as Stevenson University, and member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, died of complications from a stroke July 14 at her home in Madison, Connecticut. The former Guilford resident was 94.

“Rose was a strong, wise, pragmatic, compassionate, and humble leader who brought out the best in people,” Susan T. Gorman, Stevenson University’s executive vice president and provost, said in a statement announcing Dr. Dawson’s death.


“She was a charming and wonderful woman,” said Dr. Esther D. Horrocks, who has been a faculty member at Stevenson University for 39 years, and is a professor of social sciences. “She brought a great appreciation for the faculty, the academic process, and had a genuine concern for the students and their personal situations.”

Helen Rose Dawson, who was born one of five girls, was the daughter of Lawrence Dawson and Helen Jenkins Dawson. She was born in Washington and raised on the family farm in Rockville.


“According to Rose, she grew up in a vibrant household that welcomed and hosted Native Americans who traveled from Pine Ridge in South Dakota, where her grandmother once taught, to Washington; respected education, history and friendship; and valued service and uplifting others, something that she believed was a good model for education,” said a biographical profile that was submitted by Stevenson University. “Similar to St. Billiart, founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Rose believed that learning best took place in an atmosphere of warmth, respect and community.”

After graduating in 1945 from Notre Dame High School in Media, Pennsylvania, Dr. Dawson entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and remained in the order until resigning in 1980.

It was Dr. Dawson’s desire to teach and help and “that’s what the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur did,” she once explained.

Dr. Dawson earned a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Washington, now Trinity Washington University, a master’s degree from Fordham University, and her doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Helen R. "Rose" Dawson held various leadership roles during her 34 years with Stevenson University, formerly known as Villa Julie College.

She began her teaching at a diocesan school near Washington and then moved to Baltimore, where she taught second grade and later middle school at St. Ursula parochial school in Parkville. She later was promoted to principal of Trinity School in Ilchester.

In 1955, she helped establish and served as principal of Holy Rosary School in Staten Island, New York, and from 1960 to 1965, she was a faculty member and department chair at Trinity College in Washington.

During her student years at Trinity, Dr. Dawson met Carolyn Manuszak, a fellow sister and an academic colleague who became a close friend. After Ms. Manuszak was appointed president of Villa Julie College in 1965, she asked Dr. Dawson to serve as the college’s academic dean, and when she arrived at its Greenspring Valley campus, there were fewer than 100 students.

The two women successfully worked to transform the two-year junior college, which was founded in 1947 as primarily a medical-secretarial training school and once the 80-acre ancestral home of George Carrell Jenkins, into an accredited four-year institution. In 2008, the school became Stevenson University.


In addition to her role as academic vice president, Ms. Dawson was given the title of college vice president in 1978. During her 34-year tenure, she oversaw the development of an expanding curriculum and established relationships with state government, professional associations and businesses that earned the college “The Name that Opens Doors” for students.

In 1967, the university separated its ties with the Catholic Church and five years later, went coed.

“When we began recruiting males she knew the dynamics would change in a very positive way. She didn’t take it as a threat and was actually looking forward to it,” Dr. Horrocks said.

In the 1990s, the college underwent a growth spurt, adding not only a larger student body but also new buildings, an academic center, theater, a student union and an athletic center.

“We wanted to create the kind of spaces that would bring people together — students and faculty, young and old,” Dr. Dawson told The Sun in a 1998 interview. “We wanted to give the students a home away from home.”

Dr. Horrocks said Dr. Dawson was a familiar early morning presence on campus.


“She’d walk the campus, which was much smaller in those days, and if she saw a piece of paper on the ground, not that we ever had a trash problem, she’d pick it up. She didn’t wait for facilities to come and do it,” Dr. Horrocks said. “The nuns who lived next door in a house also walked the campus and she cared so much about their sensitivity and welfare.”

She added: “Rose was thoughtful and interesting and reflective of the Catholic tradition.”

By the time of Dr. Dawson’s 1999 retirement, the college was an accredited four-year college with 2,000 students, and was able to confer associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and had grown into the fifth-largest private college in Maryland.

In 1977, Dr. Dawson was appointed to a three-year term on the Maryland State Advisory Council for Vocational-Technical Education, and then again from 1982 to 1984. From 1965 to 1977, she was a member of the Maryland Association of Community and Junior Colleges and served as the organization’s vice president from 1966 to 1969. She also was a board member of the Middle Atlantic States Evaluation Committee.

From 2001 to 2012, Dr. Dawson was a member of the board of GEDCO, developers of Village Center at Stadium Place, which was built on the site of the old Memorial Stadium on East 33rd Street in Waverly.

She also was a board member of Villa Julie College and Maryvale Preparatory School. In 1991, she joined the Union Memorial Hospital Nursing School Advisory Committee and played a leading role in establishing the nursing education program at Villa Julie.


When Villa Julie’s board marked Dr. Dawson’s 15th anniversary, they noted, “Under her leadership, and with her unremitting toil, this College’s academic stature has grown from relative obscurity to widely acknowledged excellence.”

In 1995, she received the college’s President’s Medal. At her retirement, Dr. Dawson was awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the college.

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In 2016, Dr. Dawson moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, and two years later, to the Long Island Sound town of Madison, to be near her sister, Catherine Dawson Crowley, who maintains a summer home there.

“Rose was totally dedicated to other people. She cared for a blind person, took the elderly shopping and to doctor’s appointments,” Mrs. Crowley said. “She did an enormous amount of work for other people. She filled her days doing that.”

Funeral services are private and plans for a memorial service to be held at Stevenson are incomplete.

In addition to her sister, Dr. Dawson is survived by 10 nieces and nephews.