September 26, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mike Dempsey shies away from attention. In his mind, he is doing his job—helping teenagers through the often sticky years of high school as the assistant principal and athletic director of Gross High School.

Mike Ashton, Ed.D,  Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Omaha, sees things differently. “When you look at Mike’s record,” Ashton explains, “you are immediately impressed by a man of Christ, a prayerful person, and someone who has displayed patience, intelligence, and kindness.” Ashton went on to say of Dempsey, “Those who work with him say his dedication to kids, and his skill with working on the athletics programs and teaching are strong, but all through, there’s this sense that what really makes him special is that he goes the extra mile.”

This idea is echoed in a statement about Dempsey from the president of Gross High School, Dorothy A. Ostrowski, Ed.D.: “Mike is very much a man of faith, and a model of that faith for others. He lives his life guided by prayer, and is an example of sacrifice and service.”

Dempsey has been an educator in the Catholic school system for 29 years. He began his career in 1980 as a math teacher, assistant football and basketball coach, and counselor at Gross High. He has been in his current role as the assistant principal and athletic director at Gross since 2009.

So what does a life of sacrifice and service look like? When it comes to Dempsey, it means working hard at things an administrator might not normally do. Dempsey is often seen cooking in the concessions trailer during games, or collecting tickets at the gate. Visiting teams know Dempsey as the A.D. who often greets visiting student athletes as they arrive. Once, when Gross Catholic lost an administrator, Dempsey fulfilled those duties until a replacement could be hired.

But that isn’t the important part, according to Dempsey, who says in every phase of his career, his appreciation for students has only deepened with time.

“It’s enjoyable to see kids grow and perform,” Dempsey says. “There’s always things that amaze me. When you walk into a play and you see a kid involved in fine arts, you say to yourself, ‘Whoa, he or she is talented.’ To see people in a different light, in something they excel in, is wonderful.”

Dempsey considers himself blessed to work in education, and his enthusiasm rarely wanes. “I’ve always enjoyed what I’m doing, and mostly the people I’ve been around,” he explains.

He reminds other educators that, “there’s a lot of rewards, and the rewards don’t come necessarily that day, [they] may come years later. There are also a lot of challenges to be aware of. When a kid doesn’t want to perform at his/her best, you have to be thoughtful enough to deal with other issues [in their life] you may not even know about.”

On Sept. 12, Dempsey was honored with the Archdiocese Educator of the Year Award for his outstanding service to Catholic education. Nominations for the award come from teachers, pastors, students, and administrators, who sent letters saying things such as Dempsey is a leader who isn’t afraid to “get his hands dirty.”

Dempsey was chosen by peers and administrators for his outstanding dedication to the Gross School District, as well as his personal virtues.

While Dempsey’s humility has served him well working with staff and students, receiving this award might be the hardest thing he’s had to do in awhile. “This isn’t why I got into education, and it’s very humbling. Our principal and president, they giggle because they know the type of person I am. I didn’t get into this profession to receive rewards. I got into it because I love what I do.”


Visit grosscatholic.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.