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What colleagues, community activists and state leaders had to say about R. Dean Wright

August 15, 2008
"I thought the world of Dean Wright. He was a person who didn't teach just information, but how to apply the information," said former Iowa Gov. Robert D. Ray, a Drake graduate who appointed Wright to the Iowa Criminal and Juvenile Justice Advisory Council in 1982. "He was a remarkable man who made life better for individuals, whether it be those who had stepped out of bounds or those who had come to school to get an education to improve their lives and those of their families. He touched a lot of lives, and it made a difference."

"He was extremely knowledgeable about juvenile justice issues, and he had a strong passion for dealing with them in a thoughtful and fair way," said former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Drake alumnus who is now president of Des Moines University. "He was a renowned scholar. You had to respect his objectivity and thoughtfulness. He also had a practical side and wanted to do whatever he could that would make a difference in people's lives."

"Dean Wright was the model for what it means to be a faculty member at Drake University," said Drake President David Maxwell. "He was a superb teacher and mentor for our students, an internationally recognized scholar and a highly respected faculty leader. Not content to confine his activities to the campus, Dean was a leader in regional and national professional organizations, and he took his knowledge and his students into the greater Des Moines community, providing much-valued care to the city’s less fortunate. Dean’s passing leaves a huge hole in the fabric of Drake University, in central Iowa and in our hearts."

"Dean Wright was an outstanding faculty member," said Drake Provost Ron Troyer. "He will be remembered as a professor who deeply cared for students, a person who applied his discipline in the community, a mentor who provided helpful advice to many young faculty members, someone who contributed significantly to faculty governance, and a person who freely gave of his time to serve the University whenever he was needed. His most important legacy is the remarkable impact he had on the thousands of students who took his classes. He will be greatly missed."

"Our community has lost a giant mind and heart with Dean's passing," said Martha Willits, president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and former  president and chief professional officer of United Way of Central Iowa. "Dean led our understanding of the value of creating a community of opportunity for all people.  He devoted his life's work of research, teaching and action to improve people's lives.  His work will live on, even as he is missed."

"Dean was the icon for Drake involvement in the community and the state," said Don Adams, Drake professor emeritus of education and retired senior counsel. "He brought into the classroom every aspect of his learning in his discipline, for which he was highly respected in his field across this region and nation. Our students had a phenomenal opportunity with Dean -- they got an idea of what a sociologist was all about and what a human being was all about."

"He was a real hands-on board member, and nothing was too good for him," said Salvation Army Major Beth Petrie. "He rolled up his sleeves to do whatever had to be done to further our work to stay connected to the community. He helped direct our Advisory Board for a number of years and he encouraged us to reinstitute our day camp program and was involved -- chaperoning on day trips with campers. He would take on the one kid that had behavior issue -- the hardest nut to crack. That was the one Dean would want to be assigned to, and he tracked those kids' progress in camp and after camp."

"After I graduated from Drake, usually you never see or hear your professors again, but I always ran into Dean -- at meetings for the homeless and in shelters -- the guy was everywhere," said Iowa Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. "He always had the same message -- that we have a systemic problem of homelessness -- and he was the one who was most responsible for putting a face on the homeless in Iowa."

"Dean Wright taught me a lot," said Iowa Rep. Wayne Ford, D-Des Moines, a Drake graduate and founder of Urban Dreams. "Before I met Dean, I didn't think that homelessness was a big issue. He taught me -- and the whole state -- about the importance of homelessness. He was a national expert on the subject and a strong advocate of programs to help people who are homeless reintegrate into society. When I started Urban Dreams 23 years ago," Ford added, "Dean Wright was the first person I approached to become a board member. He joined the board and helped me build Urban Dreams into a strong, regional organization. It wouldn't be what it is today without Dean's help."

"He was a dedicated, conscientious and thoughtful leader," said Kent Sandstrom, head of the Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology Department at the University of Northern Iowa, who worked with Wright in the Midwest Sociological Society. "He always looked for ways to be of assistance to young students and scholars. He was very good at building networks and alliances between people -- systems of support for graduates and scholars -- and had a good way of bringing people together in common interests."

"I remember when Dean received the first Madelyn M. Levitt Distinguished Community Service Award at Drake," recalled Jon Torgerson, Drake professor emeritus of philosophy. "I sent a letter to then-Drake President Michael Ferrari afterwards saying that he had only read half of Dean's community service accomplishments, so they should give the award to Dean the next year so they could finish listing everything he had done. His service was so far above and beyond what anyone could expect."

"Whatever Dean was involved in, he always gave 100 percent," said LouAnn Simpson, Drake professor of business law. "He was always actively involved -- not someone who sat in the background and added to the list of things on his resume. He provided strong leadership and he was very thoughtful -- considering all of the possibilities. He made so many meaningful contributions."