Duel Richardson’s retirement caps a career of building strong communities

University Communications

After a remarkable 34-year career spent helping local students and building the University's ties with the community, Duel Richardson is retiring as Director of Neighborhood Relations/Education in the University's Office of Civic Engagement.

Richardson, AB'67, who in January received a University Diversity Leadership Award, was an early staff member of the Office of Civic Engagement when it was established in 1974 as the Office of Community Affairs. He has since devoted his career to building sustainable relationships between the University and the Hyde Park community.

"The vitality of the community is absolutely critical to the vitality of the University," Richardson said.

From the start, the job was a natural fit for Richardson. After graduating from the College, he spent nine years teaching third to eighth grades in Chicago Public Schools. It was his passion to help children that eventually led him back to UChicago.

"A group of University faculty had children in public schools and thought the University should bolster public schools, and that laid one of the foundations for the work of the University's Community Affairs office," Richardson recalls. "By supporting these many neighborhood programs, we support the whole fabric of life of the Hyde Park community."

Sonya Malunda, Associate Vice President in the Office of Civic Engagement, has learned to depend on Richardson in their 13 years as colleagues. "Duel is respectful, helpful and serves as a sounding board with the community for quality of life initiatives," she said. "He's a wonderful colleague. We'll miss him, and I'll keep his number on speed dial because he's been such a resource."

One of many programs Richardson helped build is the Neighborhood Schools Program. The University annually employs 300-400 UChicago students in local schools assisting teachers, grading papers and working with children.

"Our students contribute to the advancement of these public school students, and at the same time, they learn the challenges public schools face," Richardson said. "You see these little children come to kindergarten smiling and so excited. But what happens to them after three or four years? They start to fall behind, and when you're told you're behind, you become discouraged. You see them come out of eighth grade and they don't resemble the kids that went in. So many are lost forever. It's a crime and it's a shame that so much talent is lost, and the lack of opportunity is so great.

"It's an exhausting enterprise that takes every ounce of your being," Richardson continued. "These little children are in need of adults to help them. They need guidance and answers to their questions from caring adults, and too often they don't find them. It takes the power of caring people to turn around lives. It's not hard to maintain a passion for something so in need of remedy."

In his position in the Office of Civic Engagement, Richardson views his role as a "point of entry" for locals who want to partner with the University. "I've been a person that people in the neighborhood can call, and I connect them to the right resources," he says.

Richardson officially retired from the university on June 30, after more than three decades of tireless contribution. No doubt many colleagues and community partners will continue to keep his number on speed dial.

By Angela Roberts