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Mildred Otenasek 1914-2012

Message from President Conneely

November 19, 2012

This morning the University learned of the passing of Mildred Otenasek ’36 at the age of 98. Her death truly marks the end of an era here at Notre Dame. Over the course of more than 80 years, Millie has been a leader, teacher, benefactor and friend to us all.

Millie’s love for Notre Dame is legendary. As a professor of economics and political science in Notre Dame’s History/Political Science Department for 23 years, she mentored and inspired countless women with her wisdom and wit. She was political trailblazer, the first woman member of the Democratic National Committee for Maryland, and shared her passion for politics with her students. In Millie’s honor, the University established the Mildred Otenasek Award for leadership and civic engagement.

Millie remained devoted to Notre Dame throughout her life. She served on our Board of Trustees from 1973 to 1974 and has been a Trustee Associate since 1985. She served on the University’s historic Legacy of Leadership and Answering the Challenge capital campaigns and was member of the Montrose Society, Notre Dame’s premier circle of donors. In gratitude for Millie’s service to the University and to the community, in 1993 Notre Dame presented her with the Elizabeth Hoisington Distinguished Alumna Award and the President’s Medal. The new honors house, to be completed in 2013, will be dedicated as the Otenasek House of the Morrissy Honors Program – a tribute to Millie and her life of service, generosity and love to her alma mater.

In this week of Thanksgiving, please join me as we give thanks for the life and legacy of Dr. Mildred Otenasek. I ask that you remember her family in your prayers. Plans for a memorial service in December will be announced by the family shortly. It will be held in the Marikle Chapel of the Annunciation.

Tell us how you will remember Millie.


I am one of the many of Dr. Otenasek's students whom she infused with a love of politics and a sense that it is our duty as citizens to be civically engaged.  May she rest in peace.  

Sue Ford Patrick  '67.

I am saddened to learn of Dr. Otenasek's passing.  I think we all assume that legends continue here with us forever.
I was fortunate to take a Political Science class with Dr. Otenasek in 1972.  She made politics come alive in the classroom and it was always wonderful to listen to her stories of real life politicians and leaders she knew and interacted with on the political scene.  She wanted each student in her class to know and "feel" the history and politics of the past and our day. We did.

One event I remember fondly, was when she took our class on a field trip to Capital Hill.  We met with Maryland Rep, Paul Sarbanes,and a class photo  was taken on the steps of the Capital.  The photo I have lost over the years, but I still have the letter that Representative Sarbanes wrote to each student.  One of my many cherished memories of Notre Dame.  Dr. Otenasek cared so much for the educational experience of each student in her class.  She is fondly remembered.

Debra Brown -DeLone '75, M'05

Thank you for letting us know of Dr. Otenasek's passing. She was a professor when I was a student at the college. She was deeply respected by all of us. As the after college years passed, we also came to love her for her dedication to our beloved Alma Mater & for her passion about the need for civic service. She was an inspiration!

Mary Lou Peters '60

I fondly remember Dr. Otenasek's political science class and her sage words about politics: "every party gets its chance," "things change," etc.  I also remember her full-length mink coat that she would cavalierly toss onto a chair as she walked to the podium.  It would often drop to the floor and she went on with her lecture totally ignoring it while we college girls would look on incredulously (perhaps concentrating more on the coat than the lecture.)

 A woman with wisdom and style - what a combination!

Anna-Lisa Dopirak '63

Though a student at Notre Dame during the time of Dr. Otenesak's teaching tenure, I never was a "formal" student of hers.  However, as you so ably noted in your email announcing Dr. Otenesak's death, her strong values very much influenced students throughout the college!  She urged us to vote and very much wanted all of us to exercise that privilege.  In the sociology department (my undergraduate major) her social activism in the extended  community was admired and frequently placed before us as an example of what women should strive to achieve.  Her family needs to take comfort in this fact and of the marvelous gift Mildred Otenesak's life was to so many!

 Marita Barnes Mattei, MSW, '60