John Semanik, 78, of Wayne, athletic director at Drexel University for almost 30 years, died of Alzheimer's disease Christmas Day at Highgate, a nursing facility in Paoli.

Mr. Semanik majored in business at Drexel. After graduating in 1956, he worked for the Federal Reserve Bank for several years before returning to his alma mater as athletic director in 1962.

He was ahead of his time in recognizing the importance of sports economics, said Johnson Bowie, who was Mr. Semanik's assistant for 16 years. "Usually colleges hired former coaches or physical education teachers. John put his background to good use handling budgets and planning," Bowie said.

"He would come to work early, stayed late, and didn't miss a thing. He had a strong attention to detail and was very loyal to Drexel," said Bowie, associate athletic director at Drexel.

In 1973, Drexel dropped football. Years later, Mr. Semanik, a former Drexel football player, defended the decision, which had distressed many graduates. "A faculty committee recommended it would be better to give up one sport than do away with three or four," he said. "Drexel allowed us to keep the football money and put it toward getting full-time coaches."

Mr. Semanik's wife, Mary Fetter Semanik, worked with her husband as women's athletic director at Drexel. He was very supportive of the women's program, she said. "When I told him the women needed a training room, he divided the men's training room and put a door in the middle and told the male students they would have to wear shorts," she said. "He came to all the women's games, and I went to the men's games."

The couple's ideas and opinions were sought when Drexel built its Physical Education Athletic Center, now known as the Daskalakis Athletic Center. Before the center opened in 1975, basketball games were played in a nearby armory. There would be a draft when doors opened, and jeeps and armored personnel vehicles came rumbling through, Bowie said.

Mr. Semanik and his wife retired from Drexel in 1991. The next year, Drexel established the John and Mary Semanik Awards to honor one male and one female student athlete. The Semaniks were inducted into Drexel's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.

Mr. Semanik grew up in South Philadelphia and graduated from John Bartram High School. He played football at Drexel for three years before breaking an ankle. He and his future wife met when he was a co-op student in the athletic office and she was a physical education teacher at Drexel.

Mr. Semanik served on the board of the Dad Vail Regatta. He was an avid vegetable gardener and enjoyed birdwatching and travel with his wife. He was very close to his extended family, she said, and would host as many as 65 relatives for Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition to his wife of 38 years, Mr. Semanik is survived by a sister and many nieces and nephews.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. today at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, 2310 S. 24th St., Philadelphia. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.

Donations may be made to Drexel University Athletic Scholarship Fund, 3141 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, 19104.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.