Campus News

Emeritus Professor W. Dean Wolfe Dies at 85

August 20, 2015

Communications Staff

Photo credit: Caroline Wolfe

W. Dean Wolfe, retired Oberlin College professor and lay leader in the Episcopal Church, died from conditions related to a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease in Youngtown, Arizona, on August 10, 2015, at the age of 85. He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Caroline, four daughters (Karen Shriver of Mount Vernon, Ohio; Katherine Wolfe of Middletown, Connecticut; Kirstin Flores of Glendale, Arizona; and Deanna Bouman of North Ridgeville, Ohio), and nine grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers, and his first wife, the late Erma June Clevinger Wolfe.

Born and raised in Indiana and a graduate of Ball State University, Wolfe served in the United States Army as a medical technician. After an honorable discharge, he completed his graduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he taught for five years before joining the Oberlin College faculty.

Wolfe taught communication studies at Oberlin and served in various administrative positions—most notably as the director of the Teacher’s Academy—for 30 years. While at Oberlin, he co-edited a speech pathology textbook and published other works in professional speech and linguistics journals. He served for several years as chair of Oberlin College’s Religious Life Committee and was instrumental in making Yom Kippur an official religious holiday at the college. He retired in 1993.

Wolfe’s involvement in the Oberlin community was not confined to the college. As a devoted father, his energies almost always focused on varied areas of concern for youth, especially youth education. He served for eight years on the Oberlin Board of Education, and he was its president for two terms. His love of research led to the naming of Oberlin’s middle school in John Mercer Langston’s honor during Oberlin’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1983. For several years, he was president of the Oberlin Baseball-Softball Federation.

Perhaps Wolfe’s greatest passion was the Episcopal Church where, in addition to singing in the choir at Christ Church (as well as the community’s Musical Union), he served on a variety of committees and in many lay leadership positions. He served several terms on the Vestry and was senior warden at various times. Active in the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, he served on many committees, including the Episcopal Peace Fellowship in Ohio. In the '80s and '90s, he was active in advancing people-to-people encounters and dialogue between western Christians and Christian communities in the former Soviet Union and Cuba. This work involved repeated trips to Russia and Cuba and to hosting church visitors to Ohio from those countries.

Wolfe was one of three Ohioans honored by the Interfaith Center for Peace in Columbus, Ohio, as “Peacemaker 2000.” He was committed to the belief that people of faith—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—must seek open and honest dialogue with each other, even over difficult and controversial issues. Wolfe was passionate up to his death in opposing war and violence in our communities and around the world.

Outside of his career, community work, and family life, Wolfe had a love of athletics. An avid tennis player through college and an Indiana state tennis champion, he also enjoyed playing basketball with his daughters. Thrilled with the development of the Oberlin bike trail, he enjoyed riding the many miles of the trail before his declining health prevented it.

Looking for relief from Ohio’s winter weather, Wolfe and his wife moved to Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun in 2005. There, he became an active member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, proudly gardened in his small yard, and became an accomplished painter through the painting program at the Muhammed Ali Parkinson’s Center. An active member of the community, Wolfe left an indelible fingerprint wherever he lived.

A memorial service will be held at Christ Church, Episcopal, 162 South Main Street, Oberlin, Ohio, on October 10 at 2 p.m. In lieu of floral tributes, the family suggests memorial gifts in his name to support Parkinson’s research to the Sun Health Foundation. Gifts can be made by calling 623-832-5330 or online at

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