Jerry Weber, who served as president of Bellevue College from 2017 to March of this year, died Wednesday. He was 70.
Weber had recently been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, and died at home, according to Bellevue College. He was with his wife, children and grandchildren.
Weber had a decades-long career in higher education as an instructor and administrator, which culminated with his role as Bellevue College president. He taught and held positions in several Illinois community colleges before he was hired to lead the Eastside school, which has an enrollment of 30,000 students. He resigned as president following a controversy in which a Bellevue College vice president made the decision to alter a mural of two Japanese American children in a World War II incarceration camp.
This week, former colleagues remembered Weber as a dedicated educator who advocated for diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as environmental sustainability on the campuses where he worked and opportunities for international students.
“His commitment to the community college mission and dedication to serving the students, faculty, and staff with whom he worked were hallmarks of his leadership,” Provost Kristen Jones wrote in a letter to the Bellevue College community. “We honor his service as our President and know, for many, this news will be met with great sorrow.”
Weber was named the fifth president of Kankakee Community College in Kankakee, Illinois, in 2001. In his nearly eight years there, the college opened several new centers and buildings and completed a 20-year facilities plan. He “was a catalyst for change and a champion for sustainability,” KCC President Michael Boyd said in a news release. He left KCC to become president of the College of Lake County, a school in Grayslake, Illinois. The community appreciated his warm personality and his passion for student connection, said CLC President Lori Suddick.
When he was hired by Bellevue College in 2017, trustees said that his experience and passion aligned with the college’s goals, and that he fit the profile of a dynamic leader who could deliver better outcomes for students as the college increased its number of four-year degrees.
On campus, he would share stories of his own educational path with students, said senior Emmanuel Tshimanga, the Associated Student Government vice president. Weber would tell Tshimanga that when he was in college, he first thought he was just there to earn a degree. But then, Tshimanga recalled Weber saying, he discovered he had a strong passion for higher education, even though it wasn’t something he had considered beforehand.
“His main focus was that it’s good to look outside what you normally do,” Tshimanga said. “He never stopped inspiring me and telling me how anything you wanted to accomplish was doable, as long as you worked hard.”
Weber’s tenure ended earlier this year, when he resigned as a consequence of the altering of the mural that had been part of the art installation “Never Again Is Now,” which was brought to Bellevue College as the school recognized the Day of Remembrance, commemorating the day President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. That order authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.
Weber said he wasn’t involved in the defacement but said, “I recognize that the event happened on my watch.” He added that it had been an honor to serve as president.
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the trustees, faculty, staff, and, especially, the students of Bellevue College,” he said in the statement.