Robert E. Coon, Vice President for Student Affairs Emeritus, passes away

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Robert E. Coon

Robert E. Coon

Robert E. Coon, 94, Vice President for Student Affairs Emeritus at the State University of New York College at Fredonia, passed away Wednesday, Dec. 15, at Brooks Hospital in Dunkirk, following a brief illness.

Mr. Coon is remembered with great affection and admiration by the SUNY Fredonia community, former colleagues, and generations of alumni. His “students first” and open-door philosophy was reflected in the high quality of student life at SUNY Fredonia over his 35-year career at the university.

At Mr. Coon’s retirement in 1991, then-SUNY Fredonia President Donald A. MacPhee honored him, noting, “His impact on the college, through fundamental changes in size complexity, facilities, and services is unprecedented and extends far beyond his particular areas of responsibility. Over these many years, he became known to many as ‘Mr. Fredonia,’ and brought a unique blend of firm and caring leadership to each and every position he held on campus. One has only to observe, as I have, the deep affection of Fredonia alumni for him to sense the impact he has had on our students’ lives.”

The son of the late Edwin L. Coon and Emma (Steck) Coon, Mr. Coon was born on Feb. 16, 1927, in Silver Creek, and graduated from Silver Creek High School in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve from July 1944 until May 1945 (Clemson College), and then in the U.S. Navy from May 1945 until July 1946 in the South Pacific, including the Philippines and Japan.

After leaving the Navy, Mr. Coon married his high school sweetheart, Shirley (Pattyson) on Aug. 16, 1947, whom he met at a dance after a high school basketball game.

A 1950 graduate of the State University of New York College at Fredonia, earning a bachelor’s degree in Music Education, Mr. Coon enrolled in the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, completing a Master of Music degree in 1954. Additional education included Columbia University and the University of Buffalo, where he took doctoral courses in Higher Education Administration. He played several instruments, including piano, saxophone, vibraphone and clarinet.

Mr. Coon was Director of Music at Holley (N.Y.) Central School from 1950-53, after which he was the owner-manager of the Kuchen Music Co. in Fredonia from 1953-56.

Mr. Coon started his career at the College of Fredonia as the Coordinator of Field Services in 1956, responsible for Student Recruitment, Alumni Relations, College Tours and Campus Visitations. He was promoted to the Director of Admissions in 1961 and Dean of Students in 1965. In 1969, then-President Oscar Lanford promoted him to Vice President for Student Affairs, and in 1978, he was promoted to Vice President for Student Affairs and College Services, a position Mr. Coon held until his retirement in 1991.

Serving the College at Fredonia for more than 35 years, often during tumultuous times, Mr. Coon will be most remembered for his dedication to undergraduate students, his mentoring of Higher Education graduate students, and for his exceptional supervision of many student service professionals. A colleague once wrote that “Bob is unflinching in his determination to secure a harmonious, growth-oriented comprehensive and innovative program of services to students.”

For 12 years, from 1978-1990, Mr. Coon’s administration also oversaw the physical campus plant, with his area of supervision including college services as well as student affairs. Mr. Coon was a driving force in making the campus a 12-month center for non-college educational recreational and conference activities, including, among other efforts, bringing the Buffalo Bills to campus for its summer training camp, as well as the Buffalo Sabres, Elderhostel, youth hockey, the New York State Summer School for the Arts, and National Public Radio.

Mr. Coon was a Founding Member of the Fredonia College Foundation, serving as a member of the board of directors from 1965 until 2006, and its treasurer for 13 years. Upon his retirement from the university, the Robert E. Coon Recognition Scholarship, which has honored junior-level students for over 30 years, was established through the foundation. He and Mrs. Coon are also members of the foundation’s Dallas K. Beal Legacy Society. In retirement, Mr. Coon served as alumni chair of the foundation’s first capital campaign, “Extending Our Horizons: the Campaign for Fredonia,” and as national chair for its second comprehensive campaign, “Traditions and Transitions: The Anniversary Campaign.” He was later named an Honorary member of the foundation board.

Among his many honors, Mr. Coon was a recipient of the Fredonia College Foundation’s Distinguished Service Award, the Hillman Memorial Music Association’s Jessie Hillman Award for Excellence, the Business Person of the Year from the student-run Business Club at SUNY Fredonia, the Fredonia Alumni Association Meritorious Service Award, and was named an honorary member of the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998, an honoree of the NFL Community Quarterback Award program, and was honored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals on National Philanthropy Day.

He was also recognized by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, which nominated him for the national Scott Goodnight Award for Outstanding Performance as Dean.

Mr. Coon is a former President of the Hillman Memorial Music Association, the Faculty Student Association of SUNY Fredonia, the Fredonia Alumni Association Board of Directors, and the Western New York College Personnel Association. He served as a member of the St. Columban’s on the Lake Retirement Home Advisory Board, the Salvation Army Board of Directors for 20 years, eight years as its treasurer; and as President and a Charter Member of the Chautauqua County Vacationlands Association. He also served as chair of the Council of Chief Student Affairs Administrators for the State University of New York.

He was an avid golfer and member of Shorewood Country Club, with alumni friends returning to the area for annual rounds of golf and fun, and for many years, an avid Bridge player.

Mr. Coon was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church of Fredonia.

In addition to Mrs. Coon, his wife of 74 years, Mr. Coon is survived by a niece, Gileen Widmer French, of Dunkirk, and seven nephews. He was predeceased by a son, Joseph, and brothers, Donald, Carlton, and William.

Interment will take place at the Sheridan Pioneer Cemetery on Center Road at the convenience of the family. Memorials can be made to the Robert E. and Shirley P. Coon Scholarship at the Fredonia College Foundation, 272 Central Avenue, Fredonia, NY 14063, or St. Columban’s on the Lake Retirement Home, 2546 Lake Road, Silver Creek, NY 14136.

Arrangements are by Riles & Woolley Funeral Home, Forestville

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