While studying for the Catholic priesthood in Rome, Jamie Rounds embraced more than his courses — he embraced the Holy Father himself.
“I was in Rome during the time of John Paul II, and the pope gave me a hug,” Rounds said with a laugh. “I met the pope four times, twice up close, and I served Mass with him. He was a wonderful man. Wherever he went, it was like being with a rock star to see the reception that he received from the people.”
After careful thought and prayer, Rounds decided against entering the priesthood. But the experience continues to play a major role in his life. His wide-ranging background includes law, government, university teaching, international relations and business mergers and acquisitions.
In the political arena, Jamie worked on brother Mike Rounds’ successful first campaign for governor. Jamie then served in the Rounds administration in seeking innovative methods of economic development for South Dakota. Jamie has since built a business career featuring entrepreneurship, while his brother, Mike, now serves in the U.S. Senate.
Now, Jamie is bringing his wealth of experiences to Mount Marty College as the new chairman of the business department. In addition, he will teach courses as part of the faculty.
During Friday’s interview with the Press & Dakotan, Jamie had just attended Mass for All Saints Day. He pointed to the beautiful stained glass windows that adorned the Bishop Marty Chapel balcony and sanctuary.
“Each of these windows tells a story about the Benedictine Sisters,” he said. “It shows them living the Rule of St. Benedict and what is called ‘ora et labora,’ or ‘work and prayer.’ They study and pray, but you also see them working in the garden, making meals or doing whatever else is needed. They follow the rhythm of life each day, each year.”
Rounds wants to incorporate those Benedictine values into the department’s offerings. The combination, he believes, will benefit not only his students but the greater Yankton area.
“We’re talking about things like community, which means reaching out to others. You have hospitality, which is customer service and treating employees well,” he said. “We’re also talking stability, which isn’t merely resting (on your laurels) but also showing perseverance and grit. And you also have values such as loving and caring for others.”
Rounds has achieved excellence in all facets of his life.
While attending Pierre High School, Rounds received a Century III Leadership Award in 1989, and he was also selected one of the nation’s top Merit Scholars. The financial assistance paved the way for Rounds to make his dream of visiting Germany a reality.
“I was excited to go to Germany. My dad said, ‘You’re receiving a full ride through college, so you can use the money you saved on college and use it for the trip to Germany,’” Jamie said. “I lived with a family, learned a language and was able to study international business up front. When I returned to Pierre, I was a jock who became an academic geek, and my German guest brother went from academic geek to jock.”
Rounds’ academic prowess caught the attention of Dr. William O. “Doc” Farber, head of the University of South Dakota political science department. Farber lured Rounds to USD with opportunities to make important connections, including a mentor who was one of the lead international attorneys for a major corporation.
At USD, Rounds studied economics, German and political science. He won a Truman Scholarship, which allowed him to spend a year in Germany for graduate studies. Rounds received a degree in international relations, returning to USD to complete his law degree and to work as a law clerk.
However, he found himself also considering a higher calling.
“At that time, I was discerning a call to the priesthood and attended the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul for pre-theology studies,” he said.
Then-Bishop Robert Carlson asked Rounds to give two years for discernment — the process of determining whether he wanted to enter the priesthood. Carlson figured Rounds needed one year for the adjustment to seminary and a second year for focusing on his decision about the priesthood. Upon further reflection, the bishop believed a third year was necessary because Rounds needed additional time for adjusting to Rome.
Rounds learned the bishop’s call was the right one, as the time in Rome required a great deal of study, activities and soul searching. He reached a point where he needed to decide whether to answer the call to the priesthood.
A dramatic moment in the process came during a 30-day silent retreat. “I just realized I wasn’t at peace with the idea of not getting married and (not) having children,’ he said.
Rounds retained his strong Catholic faith but decided his calling came elsewhere. He found it back in his hometown of Pierre, where Mike Rounds was discerning his own future. After serving in the Legislature, the lawmaker weighed whether to enter the 2002 gubernatorial race.
If he threw his hat in the ring, Mike would enter a heated Republican primary against two political heavyweights, Jamie said. Mike considered one a good friend and the other a good acquaintance, each with a major war chest heading into the campaign, he added.
Mike’s wife, Jean, offered her support on one condition, Jamie said. “Jean said to Mike, ‘You’re running, but you’re not attacking another candidate.’ She wanted the campaign run with dignity, because that’s the kind of person Jean is,” he added.
Jamie Rounds signed on as the campaign’s lone staffer at the time, an experience that he believes will serve him well with his new MMC position. He learned how to start small, organize and get the best results by building one step at a time.
“It was a miracle campaign,” he said. “I went out and bought my own white board for $11.86. I laid out each thing we needed, starting with signatures and turning in petitions. The first miracle came when our dad gathered 400 signatures at the Pierre mall, and then he went to Rapid City and just kept building on it.”
Jamie learned an important lesson both during the campaigns and later working in the governor’s office.
“I had no authority with a lot of responsibility,” he said. “Other people would complain about (that type of situation), but I embraced it. It taught you how to work well with other people and how to get things done.”
After the election, Jamie joined his brother’s staff, serving as the director of the Governor’s Office of Strategic Initiative. In the role, he worked with the 2010 Initiative which included entrepreneurship.
“It was a massive change in the way the state looked at economic development,” Jamie said. “I had been overseas, so I had gained a lot of experience in seeing how they did business in other places.”
After leaving state government, Jamie entered a law practice and also worked as an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota. He later pursued a business career that included work with mergers and acquisitions. At one time, he filled that role with the Good Samaritan Society as the health care organization broadened its facilities and spectrum of care.
MEETING THE “MOUNT”
Ten years ago, Jamie received an offer he hadn’t anticipated which brought him in close contact with MMC.
“In 2009, Sister Martin Mergen talked to me about becoming provost at Mount Marty College,” he said. “Basically, the provost is the Number 2 administrator at the college, filling the role as vice president of academic affairs.”
Rounds met with the president at the time, and all was set for taking on the reins as provost — but things changed overnight. “I read the next day the president had resigned his position, and that was the end of the offer as provost,” Rounds said.
However, it wasn’t the end of Rounds’ ties to Mount Marty. He remained in contact through the years, interested in the progress at the Catholic college overlooking the Missouri River.
The contacts took on a new dimension during the past year. Joe Rutten, who had ties with Sioux Falls and the Catholic schools, became director of the Benedictine Learning Institute (BLI). In addition, MMC President Marc Long had also maintained discussions with Rounds.
In addition, Rounds held ties with Daktronics founder and Brookings businessman Al Kurtenbach, who served on the MMC board of trustees. The college’s officials were looking for ways to grow the school in exciting ways that were sustainable and would benefit the Yankton region.
And then came the opening for chair of the MMC business department.
Rounds accepted the college’s offer, and he will also teach courses. He started his role this semester, working three days a week on the Yankton campus as he transitions and moves his family. He will continue working with his private business on a scaled-down level that won’t interfere with his MMC duties.
Rounds hit the ground running with a number of definite goals in mind.
“I would love to see Mount Marty become Yankton’s college, that we become integrated into the community and provide services for it,” he said. “When I talked to people, I learned they saw Mount Marty as a school ‘on the hill.’ We want to reach out and embrace the community.”
He wants to offer a new type of business emphasis at the college. In many ways, MMC will continue offering traditional courses that students need after graduation. However, he also wants to promote an entrepreneurial aspect that links students to businesses in the region with opportunities for hands-on learning and experience.
“That brings us back to the Sisters in these stained glass windows,” he said. “They had both the learning and the work that needed to be done. It’s scholar who get their hands in the dirt.”
At the same time, businesses can use MMC to fill needs such as accounting, marketing, social media and other aspects where the owner may not necessarily hold the time or expertise.
In addition, MMC can provide outreach to businesses whose owners or staff may want to attain their own coursework or additional training. In the future, Rounds envisions the possibility for offering certificate programs, sales courses or even a stepping stone to an associate or bachelor’s degree.
“We want to add to the community, and we want to help businesses become more financially flexible,” he said. “Then, they can make decisions about the direction they want to go.”
Entrepreneurs may want to devote time, energy and resources into expanding, or they may want to maintain a certain size so they have more time for family and outside interests, he said.
“Right now, it all comes down to listening and learning from each other,” Rounds said. “We want to help with training the workforce and helping all people in getting the education they need.”
He wants to form an advisory board, drawing together many perspectives. He is also working with ways to expand the entrepreneurship offerings as early as next spring and in full gear by fall 2020.
“We have a chance to create a new type of business school,” Rounds said. “There are many wonderful things in Yankton. It’s a tight-knit college and community. Here, you’re part of a family.”
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