ForeverMissed
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Read David's obituary and the lasting impact he leaves on California higher education in the San Francisco Chronicle
"His entire life he fought to ensure that more students could go to college, and in retirement he didn’t stop. Hundreds of thousands of students have benefited from directly from his advocacy." - Campaign for College Opportunity President Michele Siqueiros

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Remarks delivered by Campaign for College Opportunity President Michele Siqueiros
It is with a truly heavy heart that I share the news that the Campaign for College Opportunity’s co-founder, David Wolf, passed away on April 9, 2021.
After an amazing career in higher education, David Wolf joined Steve Weiner on a road trip across California in retirement. They spoke to experts, did research, raised money, and convinced iconic civil rights leader Antonia Hernandez, legendary business leader Bill Hauck, and prominent community college champion David Viar to co-found the Campaign for College Opportunity in 2004.
David and Steve then launched a rigorous search for a leader. I was less than six years out of grad school and I saw this job announcement – a leader who could ensure California would protect the promise of college opportunity. I read that job announcement and found my purpose. Sheryl Sandberg might have called it leaning in. I’d never run an organization or raised money, but I really wanted to do this work and had ideas for why I was a good fit. I sent my cover letter and resume and got my first-round interview. It was scheduled at the Wolf home had a beautiful pathway to the front door with big bay windows. Behind these windows, David and Steve positioned themselves so they could see you and judge your prospects before you even got a handshake in.
I later learned that as soon as Steve saw me, he turned to David and said, “This is gonna be quick.” David agreed. Despite their first impression, the interview went really well. We both laughed afterward in the realization that first impressions aren’t always accurate. They both loved telling this story. I was one of the top three finalists for the job but I didn’t get it. Abdi Soltani, who got the job, ended up hiring me as his #2 person because he had the confidence to ask David if there was anyone he should talk to. Both David and Steve told Abdi to talk to me. I became the President four years later.
In 17 years, I learned a lot from David, and this “how we met story” was just the first lesson he gave me. As brilliant and talented as he always was, he was absolutely comfortable with being surprised and even being wrong. He was an inquisitive man and knew that as much as he knew, he didn’t know it all. And he relished in the joy and company of people who taught him new things.
It took me a while before I got comfortable with this story. As a woman and as a Latina, I learned that being underestimated was not the worst thing you could be. You could always show up, work hard, out-strategize those who hadn’t prepared like you did, and experience the true joy of surprising those who underestimated you. David really relished in that.
The work of the Campaign for College Opportunity has followed that path. For years it was difficult to get traction and we were often underestimated. But 17 years later this small organization that started on a road trip has made the most significant changes in higher education in California. This made David incredibly proud. After a long career, retirement didn’t mean David stopped trying to make things better for students – through policy change at the Campaign and by directly mentoring students with his wife Ruth at Roseland University Prep through the Yes We Can scholarship fund.
Some might not think a retired white Jewish baby boomer who grew up in Los Angeles and worked in some of the most prestigious posts in academia would have much in common with a young Latina who was the first in her family to go to college, but we did. We were both passionate, inquisitive, and committed - David about making sure the next generation would have the same chance to advance economically and civically through higher education as he did, and myself feeling the same pressure to make sure others who looked like me, those who didn't always give a good first impression, could get a shot at college and success.
I was blessed that our paths crossed. I cannot imagine my life without him. We all know there are only a handful of people that change the trajectory of where you might end up AND who challenge and make you better for being in your life.
When Steve Weiner died, David shared the following with me, “There is a Jewish line of thought that defines immortality as the thoughts about a person that persist after the individual is no longer physically with us. We now think about our friend and in so doing, he lives on.”
So of course, in his final lesson to me, he taught me there will never be a world without David Wolf. He is a part of me. He is a part of all of us. He will always be a part of the Campaign for College Opportunity and every small and big accomplishment that's been had or is yet to come. It brings me so much comfort that we made him proud of the temple he built.
I promise each of you that our work to ensure California significantly increases college opportunity and student success will continue. David’s vision for a better California will be with us every single day. In this work, we will keep his memory alive and indeed he will be immortalized.
David is survived by his beautiful wife Ruth Wolf and their sons Ben and Eric. If you would like to share your thoughts about David with his family, please feel free to do so in the tribute section below or in the 'stories' tab above.



Remarks delivered by the Yes We Can scholars who have been funded and mentored by David and Ruth: Nadia Paniagua, Maria Nolasco, Isabel Jimenez, Jocelyn Jimenez, Brayan Orduna, and Rodrigo Estrella.
There are no words that can express the sadness we feel about David’s passing. His passion for higher education left a remarkable impact in each one of our lives. Today we are deeply saddened to say goodbye to one of the kindest human beings we have ever met.

David came into our lives as a huge blessing. We are thankful and humbled to have met such a delightful soul. He brought great wisdom and enthusiasm to our lives. He was truly the MAN. Although he is not physically here with us anymore, he will forever remain in our hearts. He will be our Angel guiding us towards the right direction and help us continue working hard toward our goals.

David gave us our wings. He helped make our dreams of pursuing higher education a reality. He believed in us even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. He taught us to be courageous and to follow our own paths. He supported our decision to follow alternate majors in physical science, social science and design fields; even when our families didn’t support our decisions, David was there to motivate us. He believed in the Yes We Can family and pushed us to the peak of our limits.

David might have started off as being our scholarship donor, but he became so much more to us. He was our mentor, teacher, at times counselor, an advocate, a grandpa, family, and a friend.

David will be missed, but never forgotten. He will rest well in our hearts.

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The family has asked that any contributions in David's memory be made to the Friends of David and Ruth Wolf Scholarship Fund at Roseland University Prep and the Steve Weiner and David Wolf Founder Fellowship program. In honor of our co-founders, the Campaign for College Opportunity created the Steve Weiner and David Wolf Founder Fellowship to prepare the next generation of higher education advocates. Fellows have a paid opportunity to learn what it means to advocate on behalf of California’s students to access, afford, and succeed in the state’s colleges and universities and how to harness the critical skills and tools necessary to compel change.
In celebration of David’s legacy, please consider making a contribution to the scholarship fund and fellowship program below.


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Posted by Leif Haase on April 20, 2021
I met David Wolf and Steve Weiner when I came to California in 2006 to work for New America, a think tank. Both of them were incredibly generous with contacts, ideas, and personal advice-- both for our education program and for the organization more broadly. Their dedication to improving the lives of young people through better policy was extraordinary, and the impact of what they built will live on in the formal institutions they founded and in the many chance encounters that changed so many lives.
Posted by Eric Wolf on April 19, 2021
My eulogy from Dad's memorial service in Santa Rosa on April 16, 2021:

It is nearly impossible for a son to reduce his fifty-year relationship with his father to a few minutes, so I will not endeavor to try. Rather I will briefly address a couple of themes that were important to him, and that have been on my mind quite often as I reflect on the man my father was.

The first is the notion of leadership. Professionally, my father was an administrator in higher education, and, particularly later in his life, was quite concerned with public policy and politics. Those of you who know me, know that I can be very skeptical of most leaders and notions of leadership—I have always been one to whom the notion of “question authority” was among the highest virtues. Yet one type of leadership that is often ignored in these discussions is true moral leadership through example. And it is exactly this type of leadership that was incarnated in my father so often, particularly after his diagnosis with Acute Myeloid Leukemia nearly two years ago. Those of you here who have followed the blog he kept over these two years know how he never played the victim or felt robbed, but rather celebrated the people and experiences that made his life a complete one. While failures and mistakes are presented alongside successes and achievements, it is the process of growing and surrounding oneself with the right people, the good people that formed the core of the stories he related.

And this brings me to the second theme I wish to address, that of monuments and legacy. The tomb of the great English architect Sir Christopher Wren is in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, his magnum opus. His tomb is merely a slab of black granite with the Latin inscription “Si monumentum requiris circumspice.” (If you seek his monument, look around.) So his monument is not the grave stone, but the cathedral, or not the cathedral, but the City of London, where he built many of the great monuments that still stand today after most of the City of London burned in the Great Fire of 1666. Dad was not an architect; but he was an inspiration to many people, in all different walks of life, he led by example, and inspired all of us, so if you seek his monument, look around you at this gathering, listen to and engage with people outside your usual comfort zone and profession. This is the monument that I believe Dad would want.
Posted by Stacey Holderbach on April 19, 2021
I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to know and work with David. He was a passionate leader, but also warm, generous, and kind. I met him only 5 days after joining the Campaign team, and he was welcoming, charming, and funny. I will miss working with him, but am so incredibly proud to continue the work he began 17 years ago.

~Stacey Holderbach, Vice President of Development & Administration, Campaign for College Opportunity
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
A hundred memories flash through my mind. I first met David fifteen years ago. I was an old grad student taking a class in "deliberative democracy" from David Davenport here at Pepperdine, and David Wolf was a fellow board member (with David D.) of a fledgling bipartisan nonprofit called Common Sense California, which tasked itself with promoting greater civic participation in California policymaking.

Little did I know then that within a year, I'd take the executive director gig of Common Sense CA and work closely with both Davids for years afterwards. Of course Steve Weiner was also a founder of Common Sense CA, and it's impossible to remember one without the other. Board meetings, retreats, casual conversations, and always the good-natured jokes. Meeting David and Steve was my first exposure to knowing true civic entrepreneurs (well before that term became fashionable). David was a man who could do anything he wanted in the private sector, but dedicated his life to academia and public service.

- Pete Peterson, Dean, Braun Family Dean's Chair, and Senior Fellow at Davenport Institute, School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
David was a great friend, colleague, and mentor. It was my great fortune to work with him as president of the WASC Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges when I served as chair of ACCJC. After that, he “dragged” me through other ventures, such as Claremont Graduate University, the Vineyard Symposium, the formation of the Campaign for College Opportunity, and much more. He was a brilliant man, a great visionary and innovator, a sharp analyst, and a man of great heart, integrity, and soul. I will miss him forever.

- Dr. Constance M. Carroll, Chancellor, San Diego Community College District
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
Through his work with the Campaign for College Opportunity, David embodied the model of inclusive and active citizenship. I always appreciated his sense of responsibility, both to his ancestors and to future generations.

- Abdi Soltani, President, ACLU of Northern California and first Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
Although I didn't have the good fortune to meet David Wolf until just seven years ago, we became instant friends, close colleagues, and sharers of life's lessons almost immediately. That was the way it was with David. He was an engineer by training and used that skill to try and re-engineer almost everything he came in contact with from antique cars, to eager young college students, to California's higher education system, and ultimately, through his service on the Campaign for Free College Tuition's board, to higher educational opportunities for the entire country. His wisdom, which coupled a deep understanding of how to bring about change with a passion and a persistence that made it happen, was a unique trait that made every organization he was a part of better for his participation in it. David's contribution to creating a better world will live on if we all remember the lessons he taught us for the rest of our lives. Goodbye David, and Godspeed.

- Morley Winograd ,President and CEO, Campaign for Free College Tuition
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
We have lost an angel, a wonderful friend, and a visionary. He left this world a better place, our task is to keep his work alive.
- Antonia Hernandez, President & Chief Executive Officer, California Community Foundation; Campaign for College Opportunity founding board member
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
I met David sixteen years ago when I arrived at the Hewlett Foundation to lead the higher ed portfolio. Though he and the Campaign were beneficiaries of the foundation, I was very much the beneficiary of his wisdom, support, and mentorship. He schooled me in the culture and history of the community college system, and introduced me to numerous leaders. He was also a model for how to make meaningful change during so-called retirement. Though I haven’t seen him much in recent years, I was blessed to be part of a gathering with him shortly before the COVID curtain came down… His influence and insights will live on in all of us.

- Pamela Burdman, Executive Director, Just Equations
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
David Wolf led a life that exemplifies the person in your life that tirelessly goes above and beyond what you ever imagined possible, with a broad smile most of the time. He designed the Vineyard Symposium way back when, bringing bright, diverse, passionate leaders together to build trust, share personal and professional challenges, and map out ambitious plans to change millions of lives for the better. Whether it was community colleges, Jewish life, equity, or accountability, topics that David spent his life unpacking for the betterment of the public good, he transformed the status quo. He did this time and time again. He will forever remain in our hearts and minds the champion of excellence for all to which we strive.

- Martha Kanter, CEO College Promise and former US Under Secretary of Education
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
David was an amazing leader, mentor, and agent of change to all of us. He has left an indelible stamp on California higher education and we have all been blessed to have known him.
- Lisa Smith, Managing Director of Public Finance, MUFG Union Bank
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
David brought me to the Campaign and I was very honored by his interest and willingness to hear my opinions on issues facing our community colleges. Our State and our educational community was certainly blessed to have had David bring his insights and wisdom forward to make progress in our institutions. He will forever be a memory of mine and I hope I can live up to his high standards of excellence and charity.
- William G McGinnis, Trustee, Butte-Glenn Community College District
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
David Wolf was a friend and mentor. He was the first person that I turned to when I thought of applying to Santa Rosa Junior College. Being a resident of Santa Rosa, he always kept an eye for me. David was pioneer, thought leader, and change agent. He quietly mentored many young people from local high schools. I learned so much from David and so enjoyed my lunches with him. The California Community College system owes David Wolf a debt of gratitude. RIP my friend.
- Dr. Frank Chong, Superintendent/President, Santa Rosa Junior College
Posted by Campaign for College Oppo... on April 16, 2021
I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of David Wolf. David has been a longtime leader in higher education as well as a friend, colleague, and mentor. He will be sorely missed and his legacy will be felt for decades to come.

-Eloy Ortiz Oakley, Chancellor, California Community Colleges

Leave a Tribute

 
Recent Tributes
Posted by Leif Haase on April 20, 2021
I met David Wolf and Steve Weiner when I came to California in 2006 to work for New America, a think tank. Both of them were incredibly generous with contacts, ideas, and personal advice-- both for our education program and for the organization more broadly. Their dedication to improving the lives of young people through better policy was extraordinary, and the impact of what they built will live on in the formal institutions they founded and in the many chance encounters that changed so many lives.
Posted by Eric Wolf on April 19, 2021
My eulogy from Dad's memorial service in Santa Rosa on April 16, 2021:

It is nearly impossible for a son to reduce his fifty-year relationship with his father to a few minutes, so I will not endeavor to try. Rather I will briefly address a couple of themes that were important to him, and that have been on my mind quite often as I reflect on the man my father was.

The first is the notion of leadership. Professionally, my father was an administrator in higher education, and, particularly later in his life, was quite concerned with public policy and politics. Those of you who know me, know that I can be very skeptical of most leaders and notions of leadership—I have always been one to whom the notion of “question authority” was among the highest virtues. Yet one type of leadership that is often ignored in these discussions is true moral leadership through example. And it is exactly this type of leadership that was incarnated in my father so often, particularly after his diagnosis with Acute Myeloid Leukemia nearly two years ago. Those of you here who have followed the blog he kept over these two years know how he never played the victim or felt robbed, but rather celebrated the people and experiences that made his life a complete one. While failures and mistakes are presented alongside successes and achievements, it is the process of growing and surrounding oneself with the right people, the good people that formed the core of the stories he related.

And this brings me to the second theme I wish to address, that of monuments and legacy. The tomb of the great English architect Sir Christopher Wren is in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, his magnum opus. His tomb is merely a slab of black granite with the Latin inscription “Si monumentum requiris circumspice.” (If you seek his monument, look around.) So his monument is not the grave stone, but the cathedral, or not the cathedral, but the City of London, where he built many of the great monuments that still stand today after most of the City of London burned in the Great Fire of 1666. Dad was not an architect; but he was an inspiration to many people, in all different walks of life, he led by example, and inspired all of us, so if you seek his monument, look around you at this gathering, listen to and engage with people outside your usual comfort zone and profession. This is the monument that I believe Dad would want.
Posted by Stacey Holderbach on April 19, 2021
I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to know and work with David. He was a passionate leader, but also warm, generous, and kind. I met him only 5 days after joining the Campaign team, and he was welcoming, charming, and funny. I will miss working with him, but am so incredibly proud to continue the work he began 17 years ago.

~Stacey Holderbach, Vice President of Development & Administration, Campaign for College Opportunity
Recent stories
Shared by Wendy Weiner on April 20, 2021

I've known David and Ruth for as long as I can remember. Even as a little girl, David stood out to me among the "grown-ups" because he was so much fun, and he always made me feel special. As an adult, I got to know him as my dad's best friend and co-conspirator in making the world, and particularly California, a better place for students and prospective students. I know few people who will be as missed as David will be, and by so many people. 

President emeritus, Sonoma State University

Shared by Ruben Arminana on April 20, 2021
Great leader and better friend. He left his mark on California's higher education and many students. God bless him.