Vermillion loses one of its biggest boosters


One of Vermillion's biggest community boosters is gone.

Roger Kozak, former mayor and former vice president of the University of South Dakota died Wednesday, Aug. 1, after a battle with cancer.

"He was very dedicated to our community – just a real cheerleader for Vermillion and USD," said current mayor Jack Powell, echoing the sentiments of many.

"What I really appreciated about Roger was the fact that he was one of these guys who was just completely passionate about Vermillion in ways that others aren't," said Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce & Development Company. "He brought forth a lot of energy and a positive attitude about growing and leading Vermillion.

"He was one of those people who, when he saw issues and things, he stepped up, and he was part of the solution," Howe said. "He was never the guy who just complained about the problem."

Kozak was born Oct. 15, 1945, in Lake Andes, where he graduated high school.

He earned his bachelor's degree in business education and business administration from the University of South Dakota-Springfield in 1969, and his master's degree in business teacher education in 1970.

He married his wife Patricia, who survives him, that same year.

In 1979 he earned his doctorate in higher education administration and began working for the university as a teaching assistant.

Over the next 22 years, he held a variety of positions at USD, including associate vice president and vice president, for 11 and six years, respectively.

He retired from USD in 2002.

"It was variety that kept this job interesting and challenging throughout the years," Kozak said at the time.

Kozak then turned his focus toward the community as a whole, serving as mayor from 2001-2003.

He also served with the Vermillion City council, the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce & Development Company, the Vermillion Rotary Club, the Dakota Hospital Foundation and the USD Board of Trustees, among other entities.

Kozak also served on the board of the Vermillion Public Library during his time as a councilman, and later was co-chair of the Library Foundation's fundraising committee, with Jerry Johnson.

Library Director Jane Larson said Kozak was "very involved" in raising funds for the library's current renovation and expansion project.

"He did PowerPoint presentations, he did all the forms, he did all the letters, he wrote quite a few grants," Larson said. "We couldn't have done it without him. He was so helpful and did so much, and just really cared about the community.

"He definitely will be missed," she said.

Howe said Kozak approached everything with a positive attitude.

"He could be talking about the worst things with a smile on his face," Howe said. "His illness was an example of that. He was one of the board members for Missouri Valley Growth … and the first meeting we had after his diagnosis, he was so very upfront about what that meant in terms of his long-term prognosis.

"He was so positive about it, and he made everybody in the room feel comfortable as he explained to the rest of the board about the situation he was in," he said.

Kozak brought this positive attitude toward all areas of leadership, which Howe said is one of the reasons he was successful as a leader.

"If we all could live up to Roger's standard, this community would be unstoppable," Howe said.

"He was just an all-around great guy," Powell said.

Kozak's funderal was held Monday at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Vermillion.

USD President James Abbott was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

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