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In memoriam

MSU Denver mourns the passing of influential retired Professor Wilton Flemon, Ph.D.

By Lindsey Coulter

June 30, 2020

Wilton Flemon, Ph.D., in laboratory.Professor Emeritus Wilton Flemon, Ph.D., who dedicated his career to transforming education, died May 31. He was remembered by family and friends at a memorial Sunday.

Throughout his 50-year career at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Flemon was consistently an advocate for students, diversity and the University mission. He was recruited in 1969 to launch what is now MSU Denver’s Africana Studies Department, where he served as founding chair from 1969-72. During his time as a Roadrunner, Flemon also taught thousands of students as a professor of chemistry, helped advance online education and was chief staff assistant to the vice president of Academic Affairs from 1976-80. His passion for expanding equity and diversity at all levels drove him to help found the Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship and the Colorado-Wyoming Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program for underrepresented populations in STEM fields.

“I admire and respect his hard work and unwavering commitment, and I consider him a friend who shared great depth of institutional knowledge with me, as well as helped me find humor in some of my most frustrating times as an administrator,” said Andrew Bonham, Ph.D., chair, Chemistry and Biochemistry. “I will greatly miss his contributions to our department and our campus. I hope we can all take on his legacy of advocacy as we move forward, and I thank him for his many, many years of service.”

Flemon was a widely respected leader among his fellow faculty members. He served on the Faculty Senate for more than 20 years and was a former chair of the Rules Committee, the Faculty Diversity Committee and the Faculty Welfare Committee. His significant commitments to the University and to advancing justice were recognized with a President’s Distinguished Service Award in 2012 and the MLK Peace Award in 2019. He was further honored with the establishment of the Wilton Flemon Diversity Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship program, which aims to increase racial and ethnic minority diversity at the faculty level at MSU Denver.

Interviewed by RED on the establishment of his eponymous fellowship, Flemon noted, “There’s the belief that all students are better-served and -equipped for leadership, community engagement and professional competitiveness in the global environment when exposed to diversified perspectives. (This fellowship program) intends to increase our success in recruitment and retention of faculty who have historically been underrepresented – both nationally and here at our University.”

In that interview, Flemon also reflected, “Coming to MSU Denver is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Megan Lazorski, Ph.D., assistant professor, chemistry, noted that Flemon was a great mentor who regularly reached out to new faculty to foster collegiality. “He would always say things like, ‘Our department and college is a family,’ and, ‘We may agree or disagree, but it’s important to find ways to come back together,’” Lazorski recalled.

“Wilton was always very kind to me as well as to many other newer faculty at (MSU Denver),” added Craig Svonkin, Ph.D., professor, English. “I appreciated how he always fought for what he believed in, whether it was to make MSU Denver a more diverse campus or to protect faculty rights. He was a mensch – Yiddish for a good human being.”

Flemon earned a bachelor’s degree from Grambling College and Morehouse College in 1959, completed his master’s degree at Atlanta University in 1961 and later earned a doctorate from the University of Denver in 1969. He also worked with esteemed bodies such as the National Science Foundation as a research associate, the Environmental Protection Agency as a faculty fellow and many more.

Topics: Community

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