The kids have done Big Jimmy good.
The James E. Roberts Sr. Memorial Scholarship Fund, an MIT scholarship fund that gives need-based aid in the name of the beloved night watchman, has just surpassed the $100,000 mark.
Four years after the sudden death of Roberts (everyone called him Big Jimmy), students and alumni continue to donate in his name. For two decades, Big Jimmy patrolled the hallways of East Campus and Senior House, where he became a surrogate father and a legend for generations of students.
Since the beginning of 2009 the fund has received over $18,000, bringing the fund’s total to $100,128.
Those who knew Big Jimmy remember him as kind and reliable, someone who put his students first and did whatever he could to keep them well.
Mark C. Feldmeier ’96 talks affectionately about Big Jimmy, who was one of the first people he met when he first came to MIT as an undergraduate student in 1992. He used to see Jimmy huffing and puffing through the corridors of East Campus, with a trash bag through his belt loop, collecting empty soda cans.
Jimmy would redeem the cans for cash and use the money to buy ingredients for his famous “Jimmy Chili.” Or he might buy the “Jimmy pizza” and “Jimmy ice cream” that he distributed among “his” kids.
Night watchmen don’t make a lot of money, but Jimmy did what he could to make the students’ lives better. “Where he could have thought of himself, Jimmy thought of others,” said Andrew E. “Zoz” Brooks PhD ’07, a former Senior House GRT who helped create the Big Jimmy Fund.
The fund’s money comes from individual gifts but also from fundraisers, some more spontaneous than others. Some students sold T-shirts at Steer Roast. Others sold sushi at a Senior House event. The enterprising Harvey C. Jones ’06 sold hot dogs in the East Courtyard.
Other students bared all for the risqué Women of the East Side Calendars, released in 2006 and 2008; a third issue is in the works. Proceeds from calendar sales went to the fund.
Amanda Wozniak ’04, who organized the first calendar, said she remembered how Jimmy tried to improve undergraduate life. In her freshman year, before she knew Big Jimmy well, he came up to her — to tell her that one of her friends was feeling under the weather. Go talk to her, he said.
Jimmy cared about “his kids,” and he would give them a little bit of leeway when checking out alleged infractions of minor rules. A Senior House mural made for Jimmy says “Thank you for 2 decades of protecting us from the Institute.”
The Big Jimmy Fund has attracted fierce loyalty from student and alumni who might not choose to give to MIT under other circumstances. For some donors, a donation to the Big Jimmy fund is a message to the Institute to remember the importance of personal relationships on campus.
The fund is partially endowed; it will perpetually pay part of the scholarship for a resident of Senior House of East Campus. If it reaches $500,000, it will become fully endowed, so that it will pay the entire scholarship amount for a recipient. So far, the fund has helped pay tuition for three students.
Mary Kathryn Thompson ’02, who has long championed the fund, said she is proud that the fund continues. Even people who have never known Roberts are now raising money for the scholarship, she said: Big Jimmy is a symbol they can believe in.