Dick Cone – A personal reflection on his contributions to California Campus Compact
Dr. Richard E. Cone (simply and fondly called “Dick” by his colleagues) passed away on April 3, 2020. He was a leader in the national dialogue on experiential education, civic engagement and service-learning since the 1970s. He provided a guiding spirit and voice in the development and evolution of California Campus Compact since its beginnings more than 30 years ago. I met Dick Cone in 1999, just prior to becoming the director of California Campus Compact (CACC). We met at a service-learning meeting and I was fortunate to work closely with him on various projects and initiatives over the next 20 years.
As the director of the University of Southern California’s Joint Education Project (JEP), Dick emphasized the importance of building strong, authentic, and reciprocal relationships with the community. In 1999, California Campus Compact created the Richard E. Cone Award for Excellence and Leadership in Cultivating Community Partnerships to honor Dick and to recognize an exemplary leader in the field of community engagement whose work has had a positive impact on campus and in the community, and who is guided by the best practices of community-campus partnerships. Dick was the first recipient of the award and was involved in selecting each subsequent winner of the award.
Dick was instrumental in moving the service-learning and community engagement work forward in California. For a decade, he hosted regional gatherings in Southern California. These networking gatherings offered community engagement and service-learning professionals the opportunity to share resources and practices with each other. These gatherings were critical at a time when service-learning was marginalized in higher education. While Dick didn’t like to be in the spotlight – preferring to hear the voices of others – there is no question that he was influential in developing a strong network of service-learning leaders in California.
After his retirement from USC, he continued to stay involved with CACC and the national community-engagement field. Dick was passionate about our democracy and the leadership of the younger generation. In 2002 when Campus Compact received a grant focused on youth engagement, Dick led CACC’s implementation of the Raise Your Voice Campaign, designed to encourage college students to get engaged in civic activities and to speak out on issues of importance to them.
In 2015, Dick had the idea of replicating the seminal 1995 Wingspread meeting that he participated in. He shared his idea with Tim Stanton and CACC, and together we created and implemented The 2017 Gathering: An intergenerational and international dialogue between service-learning pioneers and those who will build and sustain the field in the future. The purpose of this gathering was to engage in critical, cross-generational review and reflection of the service-learning field, to identify and address the field’s current challenges, to explore successful strategies, and to revisit the roots of the practice to deepen our understanding of how incorporating community service into the life blood of academic institutions improves instruction, empowers communities and enhances the civic life and skills of young people.
Throughout his career and in retirement, Dick modeled authentic and selfless leadership. He was a mentor to many in the field, including me. He supported and guided me in my leadership and professional development. I recall receiving many long philosophical emails, asking the tough questions and encouraging us to “make the road by walking”. I have fond memories of dinners with Dick and Jean at their lovely home and felt so honored to get to see the other talents Dick had (his woodworking was beautiful, as were the gardens at his home). Dick led the charge for a more just and equitable world through community engagement in higher education. Dick was a teacher, fighter, mentor, guiding light, colleague, and friend. He touched so many lives and we are all better for having known him.