John E. Ravekes, a career educator who served as president of both Dundalk and Essex community colleges and the driving force behind the building of the Dundalk Community Theatre, died Nov. 9 at Brightview Catonsville Senior Assisted Living & Memory Care. The former longtime Towson resident was 84.
His daughter, Michelle Allbritton of Ten Hills, said the cause of death was failure to thrive.
“He was an educator, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, traveler, sportsman, cowboy, sailor, theater lover, and sometimes actor,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.
John Edward Ravekes was the son of Benjamin Ravekes, a carpenter for Peterbilt Motors Co., and Zetta McWilliams Ravekes, a homemaker. He was born in Oakland, California, and raised in San Leandro, California.
He was a fourth-generation descendant of a family of forty-niners who came to California during the great days of the California gold rush.
“His childhood was full of Western adventures, from annual summer camping trips to Yosemite to horseback riding at the Ravekes homestead in Chico, California,” according to the profile.
After graduating from San Leandro High School, Dr. Ravekes earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from San Francisco State University and a master’s degree in education from Southern Illinois University. He obtained his doctorate in education from the University of California at Berkeley.
Before coming to Maryland in 1966 as dean of students at Essex Community College, now CCBC Essex, Dr. Ravekes had been dean of men at Southern Illinois and director of administrative services at Diablo Valley College, a junior college in Pleasant Hill, California.
He was acting dean at Essex from 1967 to 1968 and taught philosophy part time there from 1968 to 1970.
When he was appointed in 1970 as founding president of Dundalk Community College — now CCBC Dundalk — he was 32 years old and the youngest community college president in the country.
Sonia Socha, who was Dr. Ravekes’ assistant during his last year at the college and served as the director of student life for 15 years, said in a telephone interview: “When he was the founding president of Dundalk Community College, he brought professionals together from Maryland and across the country. But his focus was always on the students. He never left them out, and he believed in sharing governance and student leadership. They were his passion, and he believed their views were important. He really believed in that.”
Upon being named president of the college, Dr. Ravekes walked the streets of Dundalk to tell residents that “we are here,” The Evening Sun reported in a 1974 profile.
“The goal of walking the streets of this workingman’s community in 1971 was not to recruit students, but to simply let the people know that a community college was opening in the Dundalk United Methodist Church,” the newspaper reported.
“The only reason we’re here is to serve the people,” he told The Evening Sun. A community college should be “accessible and offer the right kinds of programs to attract the students,” he said.
During those formative years, the college grew into a 60-acre campus on Sollers Point Road.
“He and the team he recruited built Dundalk Community College from scratch,” Ms. Socha wrote in an email.
His leadership of Dundalk resulted in its becoming an accredited institution that provided a range of degrees and certifications.
A somewhat rumpled, casual college fixture whose shirttail sometimes hung out and who eschewed formality, he was a beloved campus fixture.
“He was outgoing, friendly and approachable,” Ms. Socha said. “Everyone loved John.”
In 1981, Dr. Ravekes was appointed president of Essex Community College.
At the time, he explained in a Sun interview that to leave Dundalk with a student enrollment of 2,500 was “the most difficult professional decision I have ever made,” but he looked forward to heading a larger college with 10,000 students, which eventually expanded to 40,000.
He retired from Essex in 1991.
Perhaps his most lasting legacy was channeling his love of theater, Broadway musicals, plays and concerts into becoming the motivating force for making Dundalk Community College a center for the arts with the erection of the Dundalk Community Theatre on campus.
“John firmly believed in the power of the theater to entertain and educate and he worked tirelessly to make live theater work and that it was accessible to the Dundalk community,” according to the family biographical profile.
Dr. Ravekes prevailed upon county officials to fund the state-of-the-art theater that opened with a production of “The Music Man.”
“John truly loved the theater, and the opening of ‘The Music Man’ was a real thrill,” said Michael Amann, who was the first president of the Dundalk Community Theatre and also an actor. “And he got great support from the faculty and administration. He loved taking theater to the community, and there was great joy in that for both of us.”
Tom Colonna, the theater’s managing director, wrote in an email, “John was the driving force for making the Dundalk Community Theatre the center of the arts in Dundalk in eastern Baltimore County.”
In 1995, Dundalk Community College named the theater the John E. Ravekes Theatre.
Full of wanderlust, Dr. Ravekes enjoyed visiting national parks and had traveled to all 50 states, family members said. When he was in his 70s, he took a trip to Antarctica with a granddaughter.
He was a Ravens and Orioles fan but remained loyal to his California teams: the San Francisco Giants and 49ers.
His wife of two years, the former Eleonor “Ellie” Xavier, a speech therapist and an elementary school principal, died in 1987.
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering for Mr. Ravekes to be held next year at the John E. Ravekes Theatre are incomplete.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his son, William Ravekes of Severna Park, and five grandchildren.