Obituary: Harry Kisker, former dean of students, 80

Harry Kisker, a former vice provost and dean of students at Washington University in St. Louis for nearly two decades, died peacefully Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Los Angeles, surrounded by family. He was 80.

Kisker is credited with creating the vibrant undergraduate experience that continues today. Hired in 1978, Kisker was a champion for students, improving life on the South 40, promoting new campus traditions and launching new clubs like the Pikers and the Greenleafs, WashU’s first a cappella groups. 

Harry Kisker celebrates with the WashU Bears in 1987. (Courtesy photo)

In an oral history of the university, the late Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth said the university hired Kisker after an accreditation team noted WashU’s lack of traditions and school spirit. 

“We didn’t know what we were doing with Student Affairs, so we hired Harry Kisker,” Danforth recalled. “He and his wife, Jeannie, had a house over on Delmar, and it was just an open house for students. He knew the students, took them under his wing and he was very sensitive to what they were doing and their needs and he was very imaginative in that he’d figure out what kind of things students would want to do.”

Kisker also loved cheering on the Bears and elevated the university athletics experience for both student athletes and their fans. He improved training facilities and Francis Olympic Field and empowered the then-new athletics director, John Schael, to develop a world-class Division III program. Kisker also was pivotal in the formation of, and WashU’s inclusion in, the University Athletic Association, which comprises eight select universities and is considered one of the finest conferences in collegiate athletics. Kisker was inducted into WashU’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

Rob Wild, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students, worked for Kisker as an undergraduate in 1991. He recalled Kisker would dress up as George Washington on Washington’s birthday and ride a horse through campus handing out mini cherry pies. Kisker also would send every student a personally signed birthday card.

Kisker was born in Germany, raised in Denver and earned degrees at Colgate and Cornell universities. Upon leaving WashU in 1997, Kisker served students at Louisville Collegiate School, the Branson School and as a private college counselor until he retired in 2017 to Ithaca, N.Y.

Kisker is survived by his wife, Jeannie; two sons, Clint (Jackie) Kisker and Sean (Carrie) Kisker; and four grandchildren.

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