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St. Bonaventure President Dies Of COVID-19 Complications

Dennis R. DePerro

St. Bonaventure University is mourning the loss of President Dennis R. DePerro, who died Monday due to complications with COVID-19. He was 62.

“Words simply can’t convey the level of devastation our campus community feels right now,” said Dr. Joseph Zimmer, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who was named acting president late last month while Dr. DePerro was in recovery. “I know when people die it’s become cliche to say things like, ‘He was a great leader, but an even better human being,’ and yet, that’s the absolute truth with Dennis. We are heartbroken.”

Dr. DePerro was admitted to a Syracuse hospital Dec. 29 after testing positive for the coronavirus on Christmas Eve. He had been placed on a ventilator in mid-January.

The university flag will fly at half-staff in his honor through the end of March.

“His humanity, his insight, his ability to listen to all sides, his sense of humor — all of that made him a great leader,” said Tom Missel, chief communications officer. “What I’ll miss more than anything was his uncanny ability to make you feel better even on your worst days. He had a unique gift. I loved that man with all my heart. I know there are thousands of people who would say the same thing.”

John Sheehan, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, was on the board when Dr. DePerro was selected as president in November 2016.

“I know we believed when we hired Dennis that we made the right choice, but there’s no question he exceeded our wildest expectations,” Sheehan said. “To see the position he’s put us in, through his collaborative nature with trustees, administrators, faculty and students, will forever be a testament to his remarkable leadership.

“The immense grief we all feel extends beyond the campus community,” Sheehan added. “Our alumni adored Dennis, and the relationships he forged at every college he’s worked run deep, especially at Le Moyne where I know his loss will be deeply felt. Please keep his wife, Sherry, their sons Andrew and Matthew, and the entire DePerro family in your prayers. The university will do everything it can to support them.”

Dr. DePerro assumed the presidency June 1, 2017, and in less than four years oversaw the university welcoming the three largest incoming freshman classes in the last 11 years.

He implemented new enrollment and marketing strategies and championed new academic program development. Under his watch, the university’s online graduate initiative saw significant growth, up 329% in enrollment since fall 2017.

He made great progress to tear down silos, encourage collaboration and open the lines of communication with faculty, students, staff and alumni.

He launched a comprehensive capital campaign to build “A Bolder Bonaventure,” stewarding transformative gifts to help the university’s new School of Health Professions become a reality.

In 2020, he reconstituted the Presidential Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is already making inroads to improve DEI efforts across campus.

Prior to his appointment at St. Bonaventure, Dr. DePerro served as vice president for enrollment management at Le Moyne College in Syracuse for 18 years before becoming the inaugural dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies in 2013. His experience developing health care programs at Le Moyne helped guide SBU’s efforts to bolster its new School of Health Professions.

He also served as a professor of management in the Madden School of Business at LeMoyne.

A Buffalo native and graduate of Bishop Timon High School, Dr. DePerro spent his entire 39-year career in college administration; for eight years (1982-1990) in admissions and alumni relations at his alma mater Canisius College, and for five years (1990-1995) as dean of admission and financial aid at Marietta College in Ohio before going to Le Moyne in 1995.

During his 18 years as vice president for enrollment, Le Moyne’s undergraduate enrollment grew from 1,680 to 2,400, while graduate enrollment rose from 390 to 650 over the same period.

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, a 1996 alumnus of St. Bonaventure and current secretary of the university’s Board of Trustees, released the following statement regarding the loss of Dennis DePerro:

“Dennis DePerro was my friend, my colleague and a beloved President of my alma mater. What he accomplished in less than four years was nothing short of remarkable, and his legacy will live on in all that he built and instilled into our hallowed Franciscan institution. His was the embodiment of the good journey. My heart goes out to Sherry and his sons, and I join not only the Bonaventure family but our regional community in mourning this tremendous loss.”

Added Bishop Michael W. Fisher: “On behalf of our clergy, diocesan leaders, parishes, and educators, I wish to express our deepest condolences to the St. Bonaventure University community and the family of Dr. Dennis DePerro, on the occasion of his untimely passing. Again, we experience how this dreaded virus has robbed us of so many dedicated, talented and cherished members of our community. We hold Dr. DePerro and his family in our hearts with abiding gratitude for all that he made possible in his long and distinguished career. May his enduring contributions and memory be a blessing and source of comfort, even as we offer gratitude to God for allowing him to share generously with this community his deep faith, abundant talents and loyal friendship.”

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