36 Intriguing Delawareans • David P. Roselle

Director of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library


When David P. Roselle looks at his 27 years as president of the University of Delaware and director of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, he says, “I’d be happy to be remembered as a nice guy.”

Roselle, 78, has asked Winterthur’s board of trustees to search for a successor and feels the job will be attractive because the institution is in such good shape. “Nothing is on fire. My successor will be able to choose her/his undertakings,” he told a search firm when asked what was imperative to handle.

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Roselle was born near Pittsburgh and earned his bachelor’s degree from West Chester State. After earning his doctorate at Duke, he taught math in three states, with Virginia Tech promoting him into its administration. He led the University of Kentucky for three years before moving to UD in 1990.

In an interview, he wanted to emphasize several commonalities about leading UD and Winterthur, with support, communication and goals. “I try my best to have people succeed,” he says. “Everyone has a voice. We strive for high morale of employees.” One possible indication of high morale is that no senior staff member left in his nine years at Winterthur. How did such concepts play to the bottom line?

Winterthur’s attendance is “going up nicely,” up 20 percent from five years ago. A big boost was the 230,000 who saw its “Downton Abbey” costume exhibition in 2014-15.

It completed a $50 million capital campaign—its first major campaign in 20 years—that he sought as a “comprehensive approach to ensuring Winterthur’s future,” board chairman Rod Ward said in 2014, noting it’s “a paradigm shift in the institution’s funding approaches and general operations.”

Winterthur’s endowment is at $340 million, up from $265 million when he started in 2008, in “the dark days” of the economy. Even if the fiscal situation was bleak, he insisted continuing to make acquisitions and host exhibitions. The museum in 2010 did start closing for a few weeks each winter for two reasons: seasonal low attendance and construction projects that close portions of the property.

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Winterthur now has 11 endowed positions, up from four when he started, and there will be one more when leaves: his successor will be the first Charles F. Montgomery director, named for its first director.

The museum focuses on decorative arts made or used in America between about 1640 and 1860 but is fully in the 21st century. “Digitization has worked well for us,” Roselle says. “We believe that people seeing items online will come to Winterthur to see the real thing.” Most of its 46 grad students used its online collections before getting to handle selections from its 90,000 objects

In 2006, when he announced his retirement at UD, the university highlighted 14 accomplishments.

Numbers included the endowment ($1.2 billion, up from $326 million in 1990), student aid ($56 million, up from $19 million), athletic scholarships ($5.8 million, up from $1.3 million), participation in the nation’s oldest study abroad program (41 percent, up from 11.8 percent) and endowed faculty positions (106, up from 21 in 1997).

Bullet points included an award-winning effort to address alcohol abuse on campus, a huge tech infrastructure, renovations of almost all campus buildings, construction of a dozen buildings and acquisition of one of the world’s largest collections of 20th century African American art.

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