photo: Jeremy Castro
By Anthony Goss
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — As the St. Bonaventure University community watches its basketball teams conclude their seasons, and the university’s spring sports teams begin their seasons, they will do so with heavy hearts.
On Monday morning, Dr. Dennis DePerro, the university’s 21st president, died after spending months battling COVID-19. The news was a significant blow to the university, but also to the athletic department.
DePerro’s commitment to the athletics at St. Bonaventure was steadfast, and to athletic director Tim Kenney, this commitment was profound and demonstrated in his character.
“He exuded what it was, what this place is about. His kindness, his personality, he knew the student athletes,” Kenney said. “You don’t see that with a lot of presidents at times, and he knew them.”
DePerro had a special connection with student-athletes at St Bonaventure. Having two sons who played soccer at Providence College, DePerro understood what it means to be a student athlete.
“He understood athletics, and that couldn’t be understated enough,” Kenney said. “A lot of the student-athletes I saw today…. they couldn’t believe it,” Kenney said.
Faculty in the athletic department took the news with the same sorrow as the athletes. With his passing, the department knew they lost someone who was more than their boss.
“He was our boss, but he was more of a friend. It’s very rare in this day and age that you have that,” Kenney said. “The person you knew was the way he led; there was no ego involved with that.”
Mark Schmidt, head coach of SBU’s men’s basketball team, emphasized his own relationship he had developed with DePerro.
“He was a friend. He was a guy that I could walk into his office at any time and sit down and talk to,” Schmidt said. “He really supported athletics, in particular men’s basketball.”
Schmidt was appreciative of his leadership, and acknowledged its power within the basketball program.
“It starts from the top, and when the top guy believes in athletics and its mission and believes in basketball and the importance of it, you’re in a good spot.”
Dr. DePerro’s understanding of athletics translated to his leadership. DePerro was even-keeled and never overreacted, according to Schmidt. He made it a point to be approachable, and this tightened his bonds with the players and the coaches.
“As a boss, that’s the kind of guy you want. Someone that’s always gonna be there with you, you know, in good times and bad times,” Schmidt said. “He had a doctorate degree, but he didn’t act like he had a doctorate degree; he was just one of us.”
The men’s basketball team had DePerro’s cardboard cutout specially placed at the Reilly Center for Monday night’s game against Dayton, and the team wore commemorative stickers bearing his initials. Schmidt and the Bonnies will head to Richmond this week for the A-10 tournament, but will dedicate the rest of their season to DePerro.
“He knew how important athletics is to this university,” Schmidt said. “He understood how important basketball is to this university, and he was as supportive as any person on this campus.”