Indiana University mourns passing of IUPUI Chancellor Emeritus Gerald Bepko
Sep 6, 2023
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on Sept. 7, 2023, to correct the time of the memorial service.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana University community is mourning the death, and celebrating the life and legacy, of IUPUI Chancellor Emeritus Gerald “Jerry” Bepko, who died Sept. 5, 2023, at age 83.
Photo by Indiana University The longest-serving chancellor of IUPUI, Bepko held the position from 1986 to 2003. He also served as interim president of Indiana University from Jan. 1, 2003, to Aug. 31, 2003.
Bepko’s visionary leadership established IUPUI as a leading urban university. During his tenure, enrollment increased nearly 25 percent; the campus added more than 20 buildings; the research budget grew to more than $200 million; and his emphasis on supporting incoming undergraduate students led to the creation of University College.
“Jerry Bepko was and will always be a giant on the IUPUI campus, deeply respected in the community, and at his heart a servant leader always looking for ways to build relationships that would help people grow and would also serve the institution,” said IUPUI Chancellor Emeritus Charles Bantz, who succeeded Bepko in the position.
“I speak with a combination of authority and humility when I say that nobody has been able to fill his shoes as chancellor, so deeply engaged was he in building the IUPUI campus and shaping the future of higher education as a whole.”
Bepko’s professional path did not start in higher education. After graduating from Northern Illinois University and Chicago-Kent College of Law, he joined the FBI and investigated civil rights abuses and violence in the 1960s. While working as a federal agent, he was involved in a traffic accident that left him seriously injured, which led to a career change.
In 1972, after a stint as an associate professor at Chicago-Kent and earning a Master of Laws degree at Yale Law School, Bepko accepted an associate professor position at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, now the Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He became a full professor and was named associate dean for academic affairs before becoming dean of the law school in 1981.
“Our beloved colleague, Jerry Bepko, embodied servant leadership, deep goodness, integrity and a rare humanity,” said Karen Bravo, dean of the McKinney School and Gerald L. Bepko Professor of Law. “He gave time and attention to all those with whom he interacted, and never failed to offer kind gentleness and percipient analysis. He will be deeply missed.”
Bepko’s impact extended beyond the IUPUI campus. He was involved in the consolidation of IU hospitals with Methodist Hospitals of Indiana to form Clarian Health Partners Inc., now IU Health, which proved to be an important anchor for Indiana’s health care industry and a solution to some of the challenges of academic medicine.
He also served on numerous not-for-profit boards, including Riley Hospital for Children, United Way of Central Indiana, Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Sports Corp.
Bepko’s legacy lives on in many ways on the IUPUI campus, including via the many awards, achievements and programs named in his honor.
Gerald Bepko, center, receives an honorary Indiana University degree in 2007. Photo by Indiana UniversityBepko’s many accolades include honorary degrees from Indiana University, Purdue University and Chicago-Kent College of Law. In 2015, he received the University Medal, the highest award bestowed by Indiana University, for his extraordinary contributions and exceptional achievements. He is also a two-time recipient of the distinguished Sagamore of the Wabash, an award given by the governor of Indiana and one of the state’s highest honors.
He credited much of his success to his wife, Jean Cougnenc Bepko. They were married for 54 years and had two children, Gerald Jr. and Arminda.
A memorial service to celebrate the life and legacy of Gerald Bepko will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 14 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in his memory to the Bepko Scholars and Fellows Program at IUPUI.