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Richard D. DeCosmo, 88, of West Chester, president emeritus of Delaware County Community College, tireless education advocate, and accomplished cook, died Thursday, Jan. 12, of complications from heart failure at Chester County Hospital.
Affable, energetic, and innovative, Dr. DeCosmo dedicated his career to making education available to anyone who sought it. He championed low-cost college courses for high school graduates, continuing education for working adults, job training programs for those seeking new skills, and community outreach that resulted in countless students from underserved communities finding success in the classroom and beyond.
He served as Delaware County Community College’s second president from 1980 until his retirement in 2003, and his tenure featured unprecedented growth, expansion, and empowerment for the school. He deftly maneuvered through a series of funding fluctuations, and enrollment rose, and programs and degrees were added, especially for nontraditional students.
He negotiated course credit agreements with high schools and technical schools, expanded grant eligibility qualifications, and improved the school’s Graduate Equivalency Degree preparation. Satellite locations in Exton, West Goshen, West Chester, West Grove, Phoenixville, Downingtown, and elsewhere were opened in the 1990s, and he oversaw the construction of a 37,000-square-foot addition to the Academic Building that included a technology wing.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I came here,” he said in 2003 as he neared retirement, “to really fulfill and serve the needs of the community.”
During a funding debate in 1994, Dr. DeCosmo wrote an editorial for The Inquirer in which he said: “Is the college still essential to our community? I estimate that since 1967 DCCC has provided quality education for more than 150,000 people. …We contribute an incalculable economic return in taxes paid by graduates who achieve higher earnings by virtue of their education.”
L. Joy Gates Black, president at Delaware County, said in a tribute that Dr. DeCosmo “left an indelible mark” on the school. “His passing is a loss to the entire college community,” she said.
In addition to his work at the college, Dr. DeCosmo was president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges and secretary and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities. He was on the board of directors at the Ben Franklin Technology Center and Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, helped set state policy and planning as a member of the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association, and sat on an education task force for the Pennsylvania Area Council for Excellence.
“He believed it was our responsibility to take care of people on the fringe,” said his daughter Dawn Zimmerman. “He was all about raising people up.”
Born Jan. 13, 1934, in Detroit, Richard Donald DeCosmo earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science at the University of Detroit Mercy, and a doctorate in education administration at Loyola University Chicago in 1975.
At first, he taught high school civics and then classes at a community college in Michigan. He became an administrator at a community college in Illinois and left there to become president at Delaware County. He taught political science and philosophy classes for several years after he retired.
He married Jane Remski, and they had daughters Christine, Janice, Marian, and Carolyn, and sons Paul and Joseph. After a divorce, he married Arlene Zoller in 1983 and welcomed her daughters, Dawn and Dana, into the family. He and his wife lived in Media and later moved to West Chester.
Dr. DeCosmo was an accomplished cook who specialized in Italian, Chinese, and Mexican cuisine. His meatloaf “would bring a man to tears,” his family said in a tribute, and his multicourse dinner parties for colleagues and neighbors in the 1990s were “legendary,” a neighbor said in a tribute.
He followed politics and the Phillies closely, was an avid gardener, and created intricate model train layouts that mesmerized his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He and his wife traveled often to Italy and elsewhere, and he reveled in getting to know the locals.
His favorite song was “My Way,” and his motto was: Tomorrow is promised to no one. “He did everything with a passion,” his wife said. “He loved learning, and he loved his family.”
In addition to his wife and children, Dr. DeCosmo is survived by 20 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, a brother, and other relatives. His former wife died earlier.
A celebration of his life is to be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 22, in the auditorium of the Academic Building at Delaware County Community College, 901 South Media Line Road, Media, Pa. 19063.
Donations in his name may be made to the Richard DeCosmo Presidential Scholarship Fund, Delaware County Community College, 901 South Media Line Road, Media, Pa. 19063.
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