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John Dizikes


1932 - 2018 Obituary Condolences Gallery
John Dizikes Obituary
John Dizikes
November 8, 1932 - December 26, 2018
Resident of Santa Cruz
John Dizikes, a beloved husband, father, and founding faculty member of UC Santa Cruz, died peacefully at his home on December 26, 2018, surrounded by family. He was 86. The cause of death was heart failure. John was a professor emeritus of American Studies at UCSC, and a Santa Cruz resident for over 50 years.
A dedicated teacher and accomplished scholar, John had a deep idealism about higher education, which he applied to the lecture hall, the seminar room, his own research, and his advising of students. A highly engaged provost of Cowell College, he promoted a sense of community at UCSC, and enjoyed citing the Cowell College motto, "The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends," as an ambition for university life.
As a teacher, John sought to encourage in students "a wonderful excitement about the possibilities of learning many different things," as he told a UCSC oral history interviewer in 2011. In recognition of John's impact, UCSC in 2002 established the annual Dizikes Faculty Teaching Award in Humanities. Another award, the John Dizikes Writing Prize, is granted each year to students of Cowell College. An annual musical event, the Dizikes Concert, occurs during alumni weekend.
As a scholar, John's work ranged broadly across American cultural history, from the arts to the origins of modern sporting culture. John had a life-long passion for opera, and his best-known book, "Opera in America," won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, as well as the Commonwealth Club of California's 1993 Gold Medal. Among other things, the book made the case that opera was a more integral part of American popular culture than has been commonly recognized.
John Dizikes was born in Salt Lake City, into a Greek-American family, and grew up in Utah and Southern California. John received his A.A. degree from Pasadena City College and served for two years in the U.S. Army before being granted his B.A. in History from UCLA. He held full-time jobs throughout his undergraduate years. John began his graduate studies at UCLA before earning his PhD in History from Harvard University in 1964, where he was awarded a two-year Fulbright Fellowship for dissertation research about the impact of the New Deal in Britain. After one year on the faculty at the University of Connecticut, John was hired as a faculty member at UC Santa Cruz, starting in 1965.
From UCSC's first days, John worked to help students take challenging classes from attentive faculty. He was an advocate of UCSC's college system and of narrative evaluations for students (which he called "infinitely superior" to letter grades). He was a proponent of interdisciplinary education and taught many kinds of classes at UCSC, including popular lectures on the arts in America, and on women in the arts. He was always impressed with UCSC's students, and after his retirement in 2000, John kept teaching in the university's Lifelong Learners program.
John was also a senior preceptor at Cowell College, served as provost of Cowell College from 1979 through 1983, and co-founded UCSC's American Studies program. His tenure as provost was a highlight of John's career, as he and his wife Ann threw their full efforts into sustaining the campus life they both valued.
John's research and writing followed his personal interests, an approach he was encouraged to take by historian Page Smith, who taught John at UCLA and was his colleague at UCSC. John published five books: "Britain, Roosevelt, and the New Deal" (1979); "Sportsmen and Gamesmen" (1981), an examination of 19th century sporting culture; "Opera in America" (1993), which was the first comprehensive history of the subject in the U.S.; "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (2000), a biography of the jockey Tod Sloan; and "Love Songs" (2018), about the lives and work of nine female American poets.
John was a devoted husband, generous parent, and spirited conversationalist with a ready sense of humor. John's love of opera was sparked by the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts he heard as a child on the family farm in Utah. He was a season-ticket holder at the San Francisco Opera for decades and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater. John also enjoyed sports, and loved talking politics with family and friends. John could regularly be found striding down from campus at the end of a workday, or walking along West Cliff Drive with Ann. He enjoyed friendships from many spheres of Santa Cruz life.
John is survived by Ann, his wife of 54 years; his daughter, Helen Sanders, and her husband, Rick Sanders; his son, Peter Dizikes, and Peter's wife, Mary Lewis; his grandchildren, Isabelle, Vivian, Sebastian, and Simon; and his brother, Dean, and sister-in-law Marilyn. He is predeceased by a daughter, Virginia Dizikes; and his brother, Leo, and sister-in-law Kathy. Plans for a memorial event will be announced later.


View the online memorial for John Dizikes
Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Jan. 4, 2019
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