A Legacy of Excellence: Dr. Jim Griesemer, '66, M.A. '71, Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of NIU's Master of Public Administration

By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Jim Griesemer is an early graduate of what is now NIU's M.P.A.

As NIU’s Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) program celebrates its 60th anniversary during the 2023-2024 academic year, notable alumni like Dr. Jim Griesemer bring pride, history and philanthropy to its legacy of excellence. 

Griesemer, ’66, M.A. ’71, was an early graduate of what is now the M.P.A. program at NIU and credits his education as not only a pathway to a rewarding career but as a valuable opportunity to explore thoughtful reflection of new perspectives and develop his commitment to civil discourse—what he believes is the foundation of a successful society.

“NIU turned out to be a better choice than I could have imagined,” said Griesemer. “I was most interested in management and finance but also attracted to government and public policy. John F. Kennedy was president then, and I found his commitment to public service to be compelling.”

With NIU’s outstanding national reputation for its Local Government Management Program, Griesemer was able to blend his business interests with his passion for public service. There, he met Clyde Wingfield, who was responsible for starting the M.P.A. program and later served as NIU’s ninth president. Wingfield recruited James (Jim) Banovetz, an up-and-coming young professor who became a long-term director of the program. 

“Jim Banovetz put the M.P.A. program on the national map and helped create the sterling reputation which it enjoys today,” said Griesemer. “Jim was my mentor and friend—and he still is to this day. I, along with many others, have had the honor of supporting his extraordinary contributions to Northern Illinois University through the James M. and Audrey M. Banovetz Fellowship. The opportunity to support the fellowship still exists today.”

After graduating from NIU, Griesemer was named town manager of Lake Park, Florida, at the age of 23. After serving in the role for a few years, he ran a small, successful development company. Still, he missed the complexities of public service and returned to city management. In the years following, he managed a suburban city in New Jersey, served as village manager of Downers Grove, Illinois, and then served as city manager in Aurora, Colorado, one of the largest cities in Colorado. Because of this excellence, Griesemer received several national and regional awards.

Griesemer is the author of two books; one about budgeting and finance and the other about using computers in government management. He earned a doctorate in public administration from the University of Colorado, focusing on financial strategies for public and nonprofit organizations.

Griesemer's unwavering connection to NIU is rooted not only in the quality education he received, but also in the invaluable perspective he gained from his professional experiences and exposure to various universities across the nation. He was as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado’s School of Public Affairs in Denver and an adjunct professor or lecturer at several universities while living in New Jersey and Illinois. 

After serving as the chief financial officer for the University of Denver (DU) and eventually ten years as dean of the Daniels College of Business at DU, Griesemer encouraged new leadership at the college and went on to create a public policy program at DU known as the Strategic Issues Program, which over the years has produced detailed written studies on several critical public issues. From immigration to legislative accountability to changes in higher education, the reports were widely circulated and well-received.

Griesemer said all his time working with or at universities deepened his recognition of universities’ pivotal roles.

“Throughout some 20 years as a city manager and another thirty at the University of Denver, I have remained in contact with the leadership of the public administration program at Northern,” he said. “I am a proud Huskie and celebrate the program’s 60th anniversary. NIU significantly impacted my professional and personal development. It was an experience that shaped my life and for which I am grateful.”