Cover photo for Richard Gary Zevitz's Obituary
Richard Gary Zevitz Profile Photo

Richard Gary Zevitz

d. October 22, 2020

Richard Gary Zevitz (1944–2020)

Richard Gary Zevitz, scholar committed to criminal justice reform, mentor to his students, loving and devoted father, and friend to so many whose lives he touched, passed away on October 22, 2020, in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, from complications of a glioblastoma brain tumor — a grave diagnosis which he faced with tremendous courage and grace, principally from the cockpit of a kayak, the front seat of a ruby red rented Camaro, and on driving tours of Civil War battlefields.

Born in 1944 to the late Bernard and Gertrude Zevitz (née Canar) of Omaha, Nebraska, Richard was a lifelong “Cornhusker,” excelling at tennis and enduring Latin at Omaha Central High before leaving his home state to earn a bachelor’s degree in History and Economics at the University of Michigan. With the draft looming and armed only with what he called “the most useless” of foreign languages, he opted to attend law school at the University of Nebraska, receiving his Juris Doctor and gaining admittance to the Nebraska State Bar in 1969. During his time as a law student and then as a newly-minted lawyer, Richard also worked for Omaha’s Legal Aid Society.

Like any respectable young liberal of his day, he then packed his car with Joan Baez records and moved to California on the heels of the Free Speech Movement, where (rather than live out his twenties in a commune) he pursued a doctorate in Criminology from the University of California Berkeley. As a politically active graduate student at Cal, Richard struck up a friendship with fellow student and San Francisco police officer Richard Hongisto, helping his campaign secure an unlikely victory in the 1971 race for sheriff. Richard served for a year as Hongisto’s confidential secretary and then founded and led the County Parole Division, transforming the role of the county jail from a “drunk tank” overflowing with minor offenders, drug addicts, and alcoholics to a well-organized pipeline to local live-in treatment centers and community resources. Over the course of a decade, Richard wrote and administered grants, continued implementing reform in the county parole system, and served as an advisor on legal, law enforcement, and correctional policy. He also received the Director’s Award from the State of California Department of Social Services for his leadership role in the statewide child abuse prevention program and a public service award from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for reforms instituted in the parole system.

When not applying his organizational superpowers in the sheriff’s office, Richard could be found at Berkeley, continuing his doctoral research or coming to the aid of a stranger with a heavy suitcase and leaving his business card with said stranger, who was, in fact, a fellow graduate student in sociology with an interest in corrections, Susan Takata. In January 1980, he married her in the most legendary and seismic (a 5.2 on the Richter scale) Jewish-Buddhist wedding San Francisco had ever seen.

Richard earned his doctorate in criminology in 1981; his dissertation examined the history of the misdemeanor parole reform movement in America. In 1983, the criminal justice power couple packed up their belongings and traded the hills of San Francisco for the flatlands of Wisconsin — he, for a position as assistant professor and director of the Criminology and Law Studies (CRLS) program at Marquette University, and she as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. During his thirty years at Marquette, Richard reorganized and led the CRLS program, which comprised over 200 majors, developed and ran a successful student internship program, and advised hundreds of undergraduate students each semester. His research interests included gangs, mortality behind bars, and sex offender community notification — the latter earning him the Anderson Outstanding Paper Award at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences annual conference in 2000. Later in his career, his lifelong interest in history inspired him to write “Long Road Home” (2012), a novel on the struggles of Confederate prisoners at Madison’s Camp Randall during the American Civil War.

Richard cherished spending time with his daughter, teaching her how to be unstoppable. Their adventures included, but were not limited to, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, juvenile diabetes advocacy, crossing America by rail, appreciating old-time radio, and perfecting the art of the “good foul” on the basketball court. He retired in 2013 and subsequently moved to South Florida, where he could be found kayaking the mangrove trails, bicycling the Hollywood Broadwalk, teaching his nephew’s children how to box while dodging a hurricane, going to the gym, and complaining about “snowbirds” taking all the parking spaces.

Richard was preceded in death by his parents, Bernard and Gertrude Zevitz, and dear cousin Norman Zevitz. He is remembered with love by his daughter/kayak partner/fellow cinema-goer (whom he consistently snuck in at the senior rate), Elise Zevitz; former spouse, co-author, and skiing companion (whom he always accused of making more money than he did), Susan Takata; sister, Maureen (Douglas) Cohn, from whom he received several childhood scars (one, allegedly, from having his face run over by a vacuum cleaner), and nephew Greg Cohn, niece Jamie Frank, and their families.

A graveside funeral service with family was held on October 28, 2020, at Fisher Farm Cemetery in Bellevue, Nebraska, where Richard always proudly vowed he would return to take up residence in a plot between his parents and grandparents (which happens to be in close proximity to the inventor of the Reuben sandwich).

In remembrance of Richard’s life and the causes dear to him, his family suggests that those desiring to make a charitable donation in his name consider the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or Temple University’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

John A. Gentleman Mortuaries

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Service Schedule

Past Services

Graveside Service

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Starts at 11:00 am (Central time)

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