Steven G. Rothmeier—a successful businessman who rose to CEO at Northwest Airlines and later founded Great Northern Capital, a private investment management firm in St. Paul, MN—died May 14th, 2014 after suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease. He was 67.
Born in Mankato, Minnesota in 1946, Rothmeier received a BA in Business Administration from the University of Notre, where he also played varsity football.
Following his undergraduate studies, he put aside his professional aspirations to serve his country and was decorated for his service as an infantry officer in Vietnam.
Upon his return to civilian life, Rothmeier earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 1973. After working briefly at General Mills, he joined Northwest Airlines. Twelve years later—at the age of 38—he became CEO. His discipline and strong work ethic helped streamline the company and make it more competitive. Under his watch, Northwest added new routes and expanded hubs to cities such as Detroit and Memphis.
Through all his accomplishments, Rothmeier was devoted to the Catholic Church. He participated actively in St. Agnes Parish in St. Paul, MN—acclaimed for the beauty of its liturgy and sacred music. He erected a private chapel in his Bavarian-style home outside St. Paul, in Eagan, MN. Patterned after chapels in Europe, it featured traditional Bavarian leaded-glass windows, as well as a little bell tower.
Fr. George Rutler—who first met him about twenty years ago through visits to St. Agnes—was touched by his friend’s humble and profound faith: “He was a man of so many varied talents which he exercised as effortlessly as he was modest about them. Since Our Lord knows what is in the heart of man, and far better than we do, He knows the number of the numberless good things Steven did for the good of the Church.”
He was also deeply committed to his alma mater, the University of Chicago. He served as Trustee of the College and was a member of the Council on the Graduate School of Business.
It was while he was a U of C Trustee that came to know of the work of the Lumen Christi Institute. Thrilled about a place that could unite his love for the Church as well as the U of C, he joined the board in December of 1998, only a year after the Institute was founded. He was elected as Chairman of the Board of Directors soon after and served faithfully from 1999-2009.
Under his guidance, Lumen Christi experienced tremendous growth. Noel Moore, who succeeded Rothmeier as Chairman of the Board, underscored his vital contribution to the Institute’s development: “Steve’s faith, leadership, and generosity nurtured Lumen Christi’s growth and stature when we needed it most; at the Institute’s founding and early days.”
Moore further added: “All that Lumen Christi has accomplished over the past 17 years, would not have been possible but for Steve’s early and sustained commitment.”
Thomas Levergood, Executive Director of the Lumen Christi Institute, remarked: “As a University of Chicago alumnus and trustee, Steve Rothmeier understood the culture of excellence of the University and the need for an articulate Catholic presence within its culture. He was especially pleased as the Institute developed its national Program in Economics and Catholic Social Thought.”
Rothmeier’s deep faith made a lasting impression on all who met him: “I am better for having known him, and take consolation in the fervent belief that we can be closer now in the prayers of the Mass than ever we were privileged to be in this passing world,” said Rutler.