Colleagues fondly remember late housing director

Like a flyer hanging on his office door that reads, in part, “It’s not how well we perform individually, but how well we perform together,” colleagues say John A. “Jack” Niven’s team-oriented administrative approach made

Like a flyer hanging on his office door that reads, in part, “It’s not how well we perform individually, but how well we perform together,” colleagues say John A. “Jack” Niven’s team-oriented administrative approach made Mr. Niven, Temple’s housing director since 2002, an effective force in managing one of the university’s most far-reaching offices during a time of increased expansion, contention and success.

“I dare you to go anywhere on this campus – to any department, to any corner of this university – and find an area that wasn’t really impacted from his leadership and his involvement,” Associate Dean of Students Kathryn D’Angelo said of Mr. Niven, 57, who died unexpectedly Monday, Dec. 5, at his home.

Mr. Niven came to Temple after a 29-year tenure at Boston’s Northeastern University – his alma mater – where he worked for the Residential Living department. A Boston native, Mr. Niven brought a thick New England accent and a penchant for sports to Temple, where he managed a staff of approximately 100 full-time employees.

“He had so many employees, but he got to know each and every one us individually,” said Jennifer Herbold, an associate director for University Housing and residential life. “He really cared about our lives.”

For nearly four years, Mr. Niven directed the placement of thousands of students into six Main Campus residence halls, dormitories at Temple’s Ambler and Tyler campuses, university-sponsored off-campus housing and graduate residences. He also helped the university this semester absorb students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Niven was responsible for continuing to transform residence halls into at-home learning environments by supporting living/learning communities, where students choose to live with peers who are interested in similar subjects or lifestyles. Mr. Niven also was an integral part in converting a lounge in the 1300 residence hall into a classroom, which opened earlier this semester. It was the first of its kind at Temple.

“Creating a living situation for students where they can be successful, that was really his modus operandi,” Patrick Day, associate vice president of Student Affairs, said of Mr. Niven.

After President David Adamany made a controversial move in fall 2004 to limit on-campus housing to underclassmen, an announcement that was met with student protests, Lisa Prestileo, off-campus housing coordinator and director of summer programs, said Mr. Niven swiftly began pushing for additional resources for students who needed housing alternatives.

A Web site upgrade, off-campus living fairs, a strict application process for landlords and property managers, and regular site inspections were just a few of the adjustments the housing office made to react to the policy shift, Prestileo said.

After contacting Mr. Niven’s colleagues about his death, Theresa Powell, vice president of Student Affairs, highlighted Mr. Niven’s involvement both inside and outside of the housing office to students and staff via e-mail on Tuesday.

Powell said Thursday the university is working on plans to organize support groups over the next few days and said a memorial service has been planned, though a date has not yet been finalized.

“In addition to his leadership of University Housing, Jack contributed to Temple and the Division of Student Affairs in many ways. Most recently, he served on the committee that planned the Student Leadership Challenge, a comprehensive program meant to nurture responsible student leaders at Temple,” Powell wrote in the e-mail. “Jack also took an active role in the implementation of the Student Leadership Challenge, directing a workshop for students through the Exploring Leadership Series.”

Said Day, who worked with Mr. Niven during the past year: “Jack was the kind of person who had an attitude, persona and demeanor we should all try to have. Jack was on another level. I know that sounds kind of hokey, but he was. The place will not be the same without him.”

Mr. Niven held a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in public administration from Northeastern University. He was a varsity boys’ basketball coach at Chelsea High School, in Chelsea, Mass., for nearly 30 years.

In addition to his wife, Cynthia (Rhoades) Niven, Mr. Niven leaves one daughter, Tessa Niven, of Reading, Pa.; one step-son, Chad Maguire, and his wife Kathryn, of South Boston; one brother, Neil Niven, of Tewksbury, Mass.; two sisters, Catherine Witkos, of Cambridge, Mass. and Margaret Woolfrey, of Woburn, Mass. Mr. Niven was the son of the late Neil and Anne (Costello) Niven.

A funeral will be held at the Bisbee-Porcella Funeral Home, 549 Lincoln Ave., Saugus, Mass., on Monday, Dec.12, at 8 a.m. The service will be followed by a funeral mass in St. Mary of the Annunciation Church, Herbert Street, Melrose, Mass., at 9 a.m.

Donations in Mr. Niven’s memory may be made to the Coach Niven Scholarship Fund, Chelsea High School, c/o Athletic Department, 299 Everett Ave., Chelsea, MA 02150.

Brandon Lausch can be reached at

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