Former USD dean passes away

John A. Day, who served as dean of USD’s College of Fine Arts from 1980 through 2004, addresses the last summer commencement exercise of the university held in July 2009. Day died last weekend in a Sioux Falls hospital. (Photo by David Lias)

John A. Day, who served as dean of USD’s College of Fine Arts from 1980 through 2004, addresses the last summer commencement exercise of the university held in July 2009. Day died last weekend in a Sioux Falls hospital. (Photo by David Lias)

By Travis Gulbrandson

travis.gulbrandson@plaintalk.net

A former dean of USD’s College of Fine Arts has died.

John A. Day, who served as dean from 1980 to 2004, died this weekend in a Sioux Falls hospital.

“It is very sad,” said Dr. Larry Schou, the current dean of the College of Fine Arts. “I know he has been seriously ill for several months now. He was a great friend and colleague. …

“It’s a sad day for the college and, I think, for the fine arts community of South Dakota because he was so well-connected to arts organizations across the state,” he said.

Schou said Day had been dealing with heart problems over the past several years.

“I’m not sure what happened, what took him finally,” Schou said. “It was an up and down situation.”

Day held a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame, and joined USD in 1976 after serving on the faculty at Mount Marty College in Yankton.

He served as art department chair at USD until he became dean in 1980. He also served as vice president for academic affairs in 1984-1985.

In addition to this, Day served as director of the University Art Galleries from 1977-2009, during which time he curated more than 50 major exhibitions.

He also was curator of the USD Oscar Howe Collection, the world’s largest collection of work by the artist. As part of this role, Day lectured and wrote on the life and art of Howe for more than 30 years, and organized more than 20 Howe exhibitions.

According to the USD Web site, he was “instrumental” in establishing the Oscar Howe Archives and the Oscar Howe Memorial Association at USD, as well.

He also served on the South Dakota Arts Council, was a member of the South Dakota Capitol Beautification Commission and was a recipient of the South Dakota Governor’s Award for Outstanding Support for the Arts by an Individual.

“He’ll be truly missed by the university and the departments,” Schou said.

One of USD’s galleries was named for Day several years ago.

“That was in part in honor of him when he did retire,” Schou said. “It was very important, I think, to name one facility that he was so closely attached to and worked for so many decades to enhance and grow and develop.”

Even after his retirement, Day maintained a close involvement with the university.

“When he was in better health, he would be stopping over, he would be in the hallways chatting with faculty and staff,” Schou said. “The former dean Wayne Knutson does the same thing. They’ll stop in my office and say hi. We have some private conversations, because they know what it means to be a higher education administrator. They were in my shoes. So we share stories and they would give good advice. I’d always seek their counsel on things.”

In the early part of the week, Schou was at a conference in Michigan, but said that when he returned there would be a meeting held to discuss a ceremony to honor Day’s legacy.

“He was a great guy,” Schou said. “His whole heart and mind were in South Dakota for the betterment of the arts. That’s a thing for all of us to remember.”

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