Jeffrey Vernooy, who died Monday at 61, was the driving force behind many of the programs that make Wright State University one of the top disability-friendly schools in the nation, colleagues said Tuesday.
A “tremendous role model,” Vernooy spent his 36-year career at Wright State ensuring students could not only earn a degree, but build a career after graduation.
“He was very respected on the campus,” said Katherine Myers, interim director of the Office of Disability Services. “Jeff was very passionate about the diversity of our campus and having people understand the differences of our populations.”
Vernooy died at Hospice of Dayton. A memorial service will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Kindred Funeral Home, 400 Union Blvd. in Englewood. An additional service is being planned by the university for this fall.
Vernooy served as director of the Office of Disability Services since 1998, and held various positions since 1977. During his tenure, he developed new programs to serve students with autism, increased the office’s scholarship offerings to $30,000 last year and helped secure $18 million in grants.
“He was a true advocate and voice for disability inclusion, not only at the local level but also nationally and internationally,” said Tykiah Wright, a Wright State alumna who founded a nonprofit, Wright Choice, with Vernooy’s encouragement.
With his dedication, Wright State was recognized in 2012 for going above and beyond to make it possible for students with disabilities to live and study on campus by the book “College Success for Students with Physical Disabilities.”
Vernooy had polio as a child and was disabled himself. He was a role model for the students, Myers said, and “he didn’t let things stop him.”
Wright State University President David Hopkins described Vernooy to the campus community not only in his role in disability services, but as a “tireless advocate on behalf of gender equality, racial equality, rights for the LGBT community and religious freedom.”
He was a member of the Montgomery County Task Force for Special Populations, chair of the board of directors of the Dayton Foundation Disability Trust Fund, member of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Minority Advisory Committee and member of the Southwestern Ohio Consortium on Higher Education’s Diversity Subcommittee, according to Wright State.
“He has always faced tough issues head on and he has demonstrated that anything is possible if you work for it,” Hopkins said in a note sent Tuesday. “We are infinitely better off for having known and worked with Jeff.