The Rev. Chester "Chet" Wickwire arrived at Johns
Hopkins in 1953, a new doctorate from Yale
in hand, to take up the post of executive secretary of the
Levering Hall YMCA, which was located on
the Homewood campus. By the time he retired in 1984 as
chaplain emeritus of the university, he had
left an indelible mark on not only Johns Hopkins but also
his adopted hometown of Baltimore.
Wickwire, who was born in Nebraska and raised in
Colorado, died on Aug. 31 at the Broadmead
retirement community in Hunt Valley, Md., at the age of 94.
The cause was complications of dementia.
When attending Yale Divinity School in the 1940s,
Wickwire was stricken with polio and spent 13
months in a local paupers hospital. That experience, he
said, opened his eyes to a broader world and
set him on his life journey.
Setting down roots in Baltimore, he engaged in
academic and civic activities that would affect
all around him.
An anti-segregationist, he organized the first
integrated concert in Baltimore (featuring
Maynard Ferguson, Dave Brubeck and others), found talented
black high school students to attend the
university and was one of the first to bring black guests
to the Johns Hopkins Club.
During his early years, though employed by the YMCA,
Wickwire wore many hats at Johns
Hopkins: He was in charge of orientation, special events,
religious activities, volunteer programs and
Wanting Johns Hopkins students to engage with the
broader community, he created during the
civil rights movement what would be one of his greatest
legacies: the Johns
Hopkins Tutorial Project,
which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary. At one
time, it had more than 300 tutors — faculty
members and nonaffiliates, as well as students.
Wickwire's goal was for the Johns Hopkins students,
most of whom were male and white, to
interact with the city's black families. He organized
groups from black and white churches to drive
Johns Hopkins students into black neighborhoods, where they
would tutor high school students in
their homes. During the time of civil disorder in the
mid-1960s, the children — now elementary school
students because Wickwire decided that at-risk students
needed early intervention — were bused from
the schools to the Homewood campus.
They still are, benefiting from learning in a college
setting. Today, 120 students work one-on-one with trained
Johns Hopkins tutors after school, two afternoons a week.
And the university
students, all of whom are volunteers, say that the program
benefits them as much as their charges: It
gives them something to focus on besides their grades and
gives them a perspective of the world
outside the campus.
"The thing about [the Tutorial Project] I'm most proud
of," Wickwire told The Gazette in 1998,
"is that getting involved in the tutoring really changed
the lives of the people involved."
The program now operates through the university's
Center for Social
Concern, led by Bill
Tiefenwerth. There would be no Center for Social Concern
today, Tiefenwerth said, were it not for
Wickwire. "[It] was created as an outcome of Chet's
mentoring me when I was one of the assistant
chaplains in the late '70s, early '80s," Tiefenwerth
Wickwire also created
Baltimore Free University, an informal
education program that existed from 1968 to 1984 and was
brought back by the university in 2003
(now operated by the Village Learning Place as the
Baltimore Lyceum), and his office was one of the
first to bring cultural events to campus. Duke Ellington,
Nina Simone, Charlie Mingus, Simon and
Garfunkel, Frank Zappa, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar and the
Mamas and the Pappas all performed during
the Wickwire years.
A pied piper for young people, Wickwire was supported
by more than 90 percent of the
students — who signed a petition over two days
— when conservative campus leaders considered
him in the mid-'60s, when the YMCA talked about leaving the
campus. A gathering place for students
on the second floor of Levering was known to all simply as
Wickwire is survived by his wife, Mary Ann; three
sons, C. Lynn, Jon and Brian Wickwire; four
grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and his brother,
A memorial service will be held from 10 a.m. to noon
on Sunday, Sept. 28, at Broadmead. Friends
and colleagues are invited to share their memories.
To hear Wickwire reminiscing about his years at Johns
Hopkins and in Baltimore, listen to the