Richard Bernard Kranzdorf

Richard Bernard Kranzdorf, aged 80, passed away on April 17, 2018, at Bob & Corky’s assisted living home in San Luis Obispo.

Early in life when Parkinson’s disease was unforeseen Richard said he wanted four words to mark his tombstone: “he gave a damn.” His wish became a self-fulfilling prophecy: his life made a positive difference to so many.

Born in New York City, the only child of Fannie and Joseph Kranzdorf, he grew up with loving parents and a close extended family of Schulman and Kranzdorf relatives, located in New York, Pennsylvania, and southern California. Add to good roots his innate qualities and you have the man Richard became: curious, puckish, idealistic, empathetic, trusting, and scrupulous.

Like many of his generation, he sought advancement through education. After obtaining a Bachelors of Arts in 1958 and a Masters of Arts in 1959 from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked as an editor in Boston. Two years later he decided to pursue a doctorate in Political Science from UCLA, which was awarded in 1974. His passion for the piano and music, nourished by his mother, remained an avocation.

In 1971 a fortuitous event changed his life. Attending a west coast conference, he learned that Cal Poly had an open teaching position in the Political Science department. He received the position and began a new chapter. In Richard’s words, “The boy from New York City found nirvana in San Luis Obispo.” He loved teaching, the company of colleagues, and his beautiful hometown.

The list of what Richard cared about is extensive: social justice, the students that he taught as a Political Science professor at Cal Poly from 1971 to 2008, and the town of SLO. Over the decades he partnered with kindred spirits, the Sierra Club, environmentalists, and city officials to help maintain the town’s quality of life. An incomplete record reveals the extent of his activism: statements to the City Council, letters to newspaper editors, radio broadcasts, and many speeches at critical events. Besides civil persuasion, he marched, protested, and supported worthwhile causes and candidates. He was progressive in its classic meaning: “an advocate of better conditions who employs liberal ideas and embraces new and experimental methods to effect change.” His contribution was best summarized by a friend: “SLO would not be the same without Richard.”

In 1961 he joined the Peace Corps and began his travels in Africa, teaching journalism and piano at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka for two years. Later, he said of the Peace Corps stint that it made him a more empathetic university teacher. He went on to travel around the world. Some trips, like his Fulbrights to Pakistan, Poland, and Hungary and teaching semesters in Cal Poly’s London program, had an academic focus; others were simply for pleasure. A lovely scroll that lists these trips attests to his amazing energy and love of adventure.

Unconventional, Richard spent his time and money on what he deemed important: causes, travel, and people in need. He indulged himself in simple pleasures: concerts, films at the Palm theatre, running, his men’s group, getting together with friends, keeping in touch with distant loved ones, food, outdoor activities, books, and newspapers.

His contributions to the world are noteworthy but what made him special was personal: his reflexive decency, his incredible kindness to others, and his ability to savor and share the moment. He shared and gave pleasure to so many people.

Richard anchored his active life with family, a wide circle of cherished friends, and colleagues. At a birthday celebration and well-attended ‘roast’ in 2012, he said with arms extended in an embrace, “I have no wife or children; you are my family.” His SLO ‘family’ — along with a caring, attentive fiduciary and many loving caregivers prolonged and enriched his last years. Even as Parkinson’s eroded his body and mind, Richard would say, “I’m a lucky man.” This characteristic gratitude explains why he was surrounded by people who cared for, and about him, until the end.

What will linger in memory is his essence: his warm, deep, welcoming voice, the throaty chuckle that emanated when he saw you, the way he threw his head back in delight when making a clever retort, and his smile so wide that it crinkled the skin around his eyes. Rest in peace, dear Richard; you will be sorely missed.

Predeceased by his second wife, Ilona Ing, who died in 2008, he is survived by remaining loving cousins and their families and by many devoted former colleagues and friends in SLO and elsewhere.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donations.

A celebration of Richard’s life will be held at 4:00 pm, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at Congregation Beth David. Your contacting if you plan to attend would be greatly appreciated.


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