The news breaking early Monday morning was a shock and eye opener. Dr. Dennis DePerro, the St. Bonaventure University president, had passed away during the night due to Covid.
Dr. DePerro had a long distinguished career in higher education before coming to Bonaventure in June of 2017.
He was an outstanding leader and most important, a friend to all,
“Words simply cannot convey the level of devastation our campus community feels right now,” said Dr. Joseph Zimmer, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “He was a great leader and an even better human being….we are heartbroken.”
Dr. DePerro saw the three largest incoming freshman classes in the last eleven years over the course of his Bonaventure tenure. He was able to implement enrollment and marketing strategies. Dr. DePerro was also behind new academic development on the undergraduate and graduate level.
Immersed in the Bonaventure culture and community DePerro supported the athletic programs at the school. He was an avid fan of Bona basketball.
Early in Dr. DePerro’s tenure, Bona coach Mark Schmidt met with him to discuss the direction of the basketball program. Schmidt came away satisfied and, in the process, developed a close friendship. “I could walk into his office at any time and talk to him,’ Schmidt said Monday following the Dayton game. “He was a friend and a terrific man.”
At the 2019 A10 final between Bona and Saint Louis, yours truly was introduced to Dr. DePerro by fellow alum Chris Allan. Dr. DePerro, as his predecessor Sister Margaret Carney, who was also present,that afternoon, never took the route of many school presidents. The corporate box high above the arena was not to their taste. Sister Margaret and Dr. DePerro chose to sit among fans and mingle right in the Bonaventure section.
Meeting Dr. DePerro I jokingly said, “you graduated from Canisius (a rival from “little Three’ days) but now you are one of us.” He loved it and let out a good laugh. Normally you meet the school president and get a few cordial minutes and that is it. Dr. DePerro had me meet his wife Sherry and discussed basketball and Bonaventure in general. We talked about the win over Rhode Island the day before and one could see he had a keen insight to the game in general.
That afternoon against Saint Louis, the Bonnies saw a nine point halftime lead dwindle to a poor second half n the offensive end. The game came down to the final possession when a last second three point attempt from the corner missed. Following the two point loss our paths crossed. Told Dr. DePerro the sting of the loss hurts but in future weeks the team and community will realize the accomplishment of going from a pre-season ninth pick to getting to the championship game. Dr. DePerro agreed. We left and I never believed we would not cross paths again. We stayed in touch on Facebook (yes, a president of a university reaching out on Facebook). He would send a greeting to myself and wife Karen whenever our wedding anniversary was mentioned on that site. Covid negated a chance to return to Barclays in 2020 and possibly meet up with Dr. DePerro.
The dreaded disease took Dr. DePerro’s life in the cruelest of irony. Dr. DePerro worked tirelessly to put in place a plan for students to attend Bonaventure in the safest environment possible, yet Covid would claim his life.
Days that followed saw an outpouring of love and sadness expressed by members of the Bonaventure community on social media.
There were a number of pictures from recent commencement days. Interestingly, in so many Dr. DePerro would pose with the graduate and their family. The idea of family was a priority. He loved his family, wife Sherry and two boys, and the extended Bonaventure family.
One of the notable stories on social media came from Kevin Maguire, a Bona alum. Maguire, recognizing the past Brown Indian days, would wear an Indian headdress to games or pre-game Bona social events. Many, recognizing the bygone Brown Indian mascot, loved it. Some, in the name of political correctness, were less than enthralled.
At an alumni event, sharing a ‘beverage’ with Dr. DePerro, Kevin explained the history and significance of what he was doing. He wanted his opinion. “Kevin, you should never have to ask,” Dr. DePerro said. “Your support to our university and team can’t be challenged, keep being Kevin!”
As Maguire also noted, “he (Dr. DePerro) was a class act and not a phony..he was genuine, approachable and loved his alumni.” So many of those alums told stories of social media about meeting him once or twice and with his passing they felt they lost a close friend. They did, we did as he was a close friend to all who were fortunate to know him.
On Monday the Bonnies wore a ‘DD’ patch on their jerseys when they played Dayton. Bonnies lost a tough one 55-52. Overall, it was a tough day and it transcended a 40 minute basketball game.
The days progress. On the basketball side, the Bonnies are in Richmond readying for their Atlantic Ten Tournament as conference champions and top seed. Life marches on.
The tributes still come on social media. The memories, reflections and remembrances are priceless. There is sadness in the Dr. DePerro’s passing at 62-a time where very productive years were still ahead. As coach Schmidt noted we lost a great leader and a great friend.
The pain persists. There is consolation in having known Dr. DePerro and all that he did for Bonaventure in particular and people in general.
And in the name of faith is the realization he is still looking down and watching over us.