Obituary: Founding Faculty John Dizikes

Alumni, staff, colleagues remember his legacy

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John Dizikes, beloved UC Santa Cruz historian and founding faculty member, died in his Santa Cruz home at 86 on Dec. 26. 

Dizikes joined the UCSC faculty in 1965, the summer before the campus began operation. Educated at Harvard University, he was drawn to UCSC because he supported the idea of a modern research university and devotion to undergraduate students. 

Photo courtesy of David Harsamy

Fellow founding member of UCSC, Todd Newberry, referred to Dizikes as one of the “founding fathers” of the campus. Dizikes was a history professor and co-founder of the American Studies department. 

“One thing that distinguished John Dizikes is that he listened. He listened to his students and to his colleagues,” Newberry said. “From that experience, by hearing us out, we learned to hear ourselves much more thoroughly, too. That is what teaching and learning depends on. John epitomized it.” 

From 1979-83 Dizikes served as the Cowell provost, then as chair of the Council of Provosts. 

When he became provost, Dizikes and his wife, Ann, opened the Cowell Provost home differently than his predecessors had. They often hosted events, including intimate receptions, to make students feel more at home on campus. By the end of his first year as provost, every Cowell student received an invitation to one of their dinners. 

“John and Ann made me feel special and provided a sense of security and home-away-from-home for so many,” saidCowell alumna Tracy DiGioia, who graduated in 1985. “I learned so much from them about hospitality and inclusiveness.” 

In 2002, UCSC established the John Dizikes Teaching Award in Humanities to honor all Dizikes contributed to the humanities division and UCSC as a whole. The award is given to a faculty member in recognition of their ability to inspire and teach students in a similar way Dizikes did. It includes a $3,000 prize for the recipient as well as the opportunity for the faculty member to award a $3,000 scholarship to a student of their choice. 

Dizikes was also honored with the UCSC Alumni Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award. 

“John never lauded over people, his experience or knowledge, he preferred the company of friends, equals and that is how I always felt he treated me,” said Ray Vitale, one of his former teaching assistants, on an online memorial set up by Dizikes’ family. 

After his retirement in 2000, he remained active in the campus community. He `consistently attended Cowell College events as well as Alumni Weekend and concerts. 

“His enthusiasm for art and culture was contagious,” said Gabrielle Brick, class of ‘94. “John was also kind and truly present for students. Now an elementary teacher, I hope I can honor his legacy by doing the same for my students.” 

Dizikes is spoken of highly among staff, faculty, and students. He had an impact on thousands. He was regarded as always being kind and gracious, constantly cheerful. It was said he had the ability to be instantly personable with anyone he spoke to. 

Dizikes is survived by his wife Ann; their daughter Helen Sanders and her husband Rick Sanders; their son Peter and his wife Mary Lewis; four grandchildren; and his brother Dean and sister-in-law Marilyn. He is predeceased by a daughter Virginia, and his brother Leo and sister-in-law Kathy.