The Contra Costa Community College District family has lost its most valued leader.
Governing Board Trustee John T. Nejedly, 52, died in his Hilton-Riverside room on Oct. 9 while attending a community college leadership convention in New Orleans.
Nejedly’s influence in securing districtwide construction bond measures, charismatic levity and genuine dedication to the district and the communities it serves will be impossible to replace.
He served on the board when the district secured each of its successful bond measures — Bond Measure A (2002), Bond Measure A (2006) and Bond Measure E (2014).
His dedication to the district helped secure about $856 million in funds to use for construction and renovation projects at its three colleges — Contra Costa, Los Medanos and Diablo Valley.
But his personal drive, and his humanity in the face of the bureaucratic monotony that thrives in environments like the District Office, is something that everyone could benefit from emulating.
The source of sorrow and grief at the Oct. 12 Governing Board meeting, just three days after his death, radiated from Nejedly’s empty chair at the board’s table.
That night many people spoke about his achievements in the district, but the most valuable stories came from those who talked about his ability to relate to the people around him like no one else could.
United Faculty President Donna Wapner was supposed to present her constituency report at the meeting. But, because of Nejedly’s death, she chose to remind people at the meeting that a title, or job, does not define a person.
“Not having (Nejedly) here makes me think of the relationships we build as way more than just constituency groups… and sometimes we forget about that,” Wapner said. “Our real purpose is to serve students and the communities they come from — and John knew that. We need to help people from the communities we serve get the education they need and deserve.”
Despite being the youngest board member at 52, Nejedly’s 22-year tenure gave him the most experience serving the district’s communities.
Relationships are what define our existence. How we interact with the world is how we will be remembered. And in that regard, Nejedly is unique.
District Communications and Relations Director Tim Leong said Nejedly had an ability to empathize with people because he saw that connections between people matter.
Leong said Nejedly spoke his mind about issues that passed through the Governing Board in a way that made the content relatable.
He said that was the way he carried himself and interacted with the world around him.
“In a way that you know he is real — what you see is what you get (with him),” Leong said to those assembled at the Governing Board meeting.
At that meeting on Oct. 12, board Trustee John Marquez said he had a disagreement with Nejedly when he first joined the board in 2010. But after years of working with him, Marquez said he found a friend.
“He would tell me, ‘You know you remind me of my dad’,” he said. “And since I knew his dad — Sen. John A. Nejedly way back when — I was honored by those comments.”
So when the district begins the inevitable search to replace Nejedly, it should look for someone who shares his ability to empathize with others and dedicate himself to bettering our communities and the experiences of our students.
And while it is impossible to replace Nejedly — we need a person who understands that without students none of the work done at the District Office matters.