Members of the Union community are remembering Vincent C. DeBaun ’47, who passed away on Dec. 16, 2017 at his home in Charlottesville, Va. He was 91.
Known to his many friends as “Vin,” he had the dry wit of an English professor, the persuasive nature of a fundraiser and the urbane elegance of a college president, all of which he was. In everything from grant proposals to personal notes, he wrote sparkling prose, sprinkled with catchy literary references.
He began his career in higher education at Union in 1949 as a young instructor of English, joining the professors he so admired as a student. He came out of retirement in 1992 to become the College’s director of corporations and foundations. He retired, again, in 1996.
He held a number of teaching and administrative posts at 10 different institutions including presidencies at Lasell Junior College and Cazenovia College. He also taught English at the University of New Hampshire, Rutgers University and Wells College. He was director of corporate and foundation programs at Syracuse University, and director of resource development at Northeastern University and director of development and foundations and corporations at M.I.T.
In 1968, at the age of 42, DeBaun resigned as president of Lasell Junior College in Newton, Mass. to become professor of humanities and chair of the humanities division at Talladega College in Alabama. DeBaun told a reporter for JET magazine that his decision to move to the historically black college was prompted by the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was president of Cazenovia from 1971 to 1975, during which the board, pointing to heavy debt and declining enrollment, voted to cease operation. After an outpouring from students, alumni and citizens prompted a dramatic reversal by the board, DeBaun oversaw renegotiated loans, fundraising and the addition of six new programs to secure the college’s future. When DeBaun stepped down, the chair of the board said, “Without his sustained and creative effort, there might well be no Cazenovia College today.” As head class agent at Union, DeBaun used the Cazenovia example to make the case to his classmates.
At Union, DeBaun was responsible for the grant proposal that secured funding for the F.W. Olin Center.
President Emeritus Roger Hull hired DeBaun twice, once when Hull was vice president for development at Syracuse, and again when he was president at Union. “Aside from being the quintessential gentleman and a wonderful person, Vin wrote better than anyone I have ever met,” Hull said. “So I was delighted on both counts to work with him at two institutions I was privileged to serve.”
DeBaun held a master’s and Ph.D. in English literature from Rutgers.
He received the Alumni Council’s Gold Medal in 1997.
Among his activities in retirement, he was a volunteer reader for the visually impaired, and recorded college textbooks in the humanities and social sciences.
A U.S. Navy veteran who served during the World War II and the Korean War, he wrote an account of life as a V-12 student for the College magazine in 1968. He recently contributed books and commentary for a Schaffer Library exhibit on the Armed Services Editions book program during World War II.
He is survived by his wife, Hillary; and two sons, Christian and Nicholas.
Interment is planned at Arlington National Cemetery.