Dr. Rodney J. Grambeau passed away peacefully with family by his side on Wednesday, August 22, 2018, just ten days shy of what would have been his 98th birthday.

Dr. Grambeau was a professor emeritus of Sport Management and Communication at the University of Michigan, recognized by NIRSA as a Legacy Member, and former chair and editor of the National Touch and Flag Football Rules. The first edition of the NIRSA Flag & Touch Football Rules Book & Officials’ Manual—published 35 years ago and a staple of campus recreation directors’ bookshelves ever since—was dedicated to him.

And while his legacy in the field of intramural sports and campus recreation is among his hallmarks, it certainly isn’t where it ends. Rod was a consultant to the National Olympic Committee 1972, an observer/evaluator of BIG TEN Football and Basketball officials for more than a decade, not to mention a life member of Phi Epsilon Kappa and Sigma Delta Psi fraternities. He was also a lifelong athlete, winning six Paddleball National Championships in Master Doubles alongside his longtime playing partner Steve Galetti. The annual Michigan Female and Male Outstanding Intramural Official Award is named in his honor.

The end of an era

Rod was there at the very beginning of collegiate recreation. In the mid-1940s—before there was a national organization or even any true dedicated profession of intramural administrators—Rod was part of the first cohort of graduate students for Elmer Mitchell and Earl Riskey at the University of Michigan. Rod would go on to become the director at Michigan, and his fellow students would go on to lead pioneering programs of their own: Dave Matthews at the University of Illinois, Frank Beaman at Michigan State University, Edsel Buchanan at Texas Tech, and NIRSA founder William Wasson at Dillard.

At decades of NIRSA conferences and workshops and outside of them, Rod mentored, encouraged, supervised, and befriended hundreds of our colleagues. A few remembrances about Rod from NIRSA giants:

“Rod Grambeau was my mentor. He was the person who convinced me to pursue collegiate intramurals instead of being a high school teacher/coach. He was my unofficial advisor with whom I had discussions regularly. I began by officiating IM sports for him. He always challenged me to be better and I surely managed to achieve more as a result.”
-Tom Jones, Central Michigan University and Past President of NIRSA

“As a young man freshly back from Vietnam, I was a first-year professional at Purdue when I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Rod. He took me under his wing (long distance) and mentored me. I will always be in his debt.  He was a father figure and a wonderful role model for me. I will miss him greatly. He was my guy.”
-Larry Preo, Purdue University and Past President of NIRSA

“I met Rod when I was in the Army in Alaska in 1969 while he was conducting an official’s clinic. I contacted Rod about a job when I left the service. His hiring of me in 1970 gave me the start of my recreational sports career. For that I will be forever grateful.”
-Norm Parsons, University of Miami

“Rod was in a group of founding leaders of the recreational sports profession. He worked with and was mentored by ‘the Father of Intramurals’ Dr. Elmer Mitchell. Rod taught hundreds of graduate students pursuing careers in recreational sports administration. He was my mentor and friend for over 50 years and is greatly missed.”
-Mike Stevenson, University of Michigan

Across the country during the ’40s and ’50s, Rod and other foundational leaders of our profession were laying the groundwork for what’s become an amazingly powerful body of work. We owe a great deal of thanks to these brick layers of our profession, including:

  • Fred Beeckman – Ohio State University
  • Embra Bowie – Morgan State University
  • Kooman Boycheff – University of California, Berkeley
  • Paul Gunsten – Virginia Tech
  • George Haniford – Purdue University
  • David O. Matthews – University Of Illinois
  • Ellis Mendelson – University of Louisville
  • Horace Moody, Sr. – Southern University
  • C.E. “Pat” Mueller – University of Minnesota
  • Lynn Redding – Iowa State University
  • A.A. “Sonny” Rooker – University of Texas
  • Len Stevens – University of Washington
  • Bill Thompson – Long Beach City College
  • Ross Townes – North Carolina Central University
  • Hazel Varner – Keene State College
  • William Wasson – Dillard University

While they are now all gone, they are certainly not forgotten.

Be at peace, Rod.

Memorial services

Befittingly, Rod’s memorial and celebration of his life will be at a tailgate before a Michigan football game this coming fall. Rod’s family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be directed to the University of Michigan Rec Sports fund or to Arbor Hospice, 440 West Russell Street, Saline, Michigan 48176.

Bill Canning is Director-Emeriti at University of Michigan Recreational Sports and Co-Founder of CENTERS, LLC.