A ‘Special’ Educator, A.J. Pappanikou Dies

Retired Neag School of Education Professor, Agisilaos John Pappanikou, Ph.D., who fought for the needs of people with developmental disabilities and their families, died Nov. 6, 2009 at age 79.

Called “Pappy” by those who knew him, he was a professor of special education at UConn’s School of Education from 1965 to 1989.

A. J. Pappanikou, Ph.D.
A. J. Pappanikou, Ph.D.

His friends and colleagues at the Neag School of Education describe Pappanikou as gregarious and out-going.  He spent 19 years at UConn as chair of the Special Education Unit and 20 years as a member of the University Senate. He served on a wide range of committees, from president and dean searches to the Scholastic Standards Committee. He was one of the founding fathers of the Counsel for Children with Behavioral Disorders, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children. He helped establish the first International Medical Conference on Mental Retardation. Since his retirement, he had continued to work with parents and school systems to develop programs for children with special needs.

Mark Shibles, who was the education dean while Pappanikou was a faculty member, called him “A legend who made remarkable contributions to the field of developmental disabilities, the University, his community, and to all those whose lives he touched.”

“Pappy lived his life with astounding passion, energy, and leadership, and he was a fun person to be around,” Shibles said.

Pappanikou was a long-time resident of Mansfield and stayed active in town issues. He was predeceased by his beloved wife of 55 years, Lucette, who passed away in April 2006, and by their daughter, Lisa Glidden, who died in 1999. He is survived by four other children: Anne Druzolowski (MA, Neag, ’76), John Pappanikou (BS, BUS, ’79), Elayne Marrotte (BA, CLAS, ’81), and Sandra Sutyla (MA & 6th yr. Diploma, Neag, ’87 & ’97).

Pappanikou wrote and coauthored numerous publications, including the book, Mainstreaming Emotionally Disturbed Children. He served as advisor to 51 Ph.D. students, in addition to many students of master’s and sixth-year programs.

Neag School of Education colleague Sally Reis, Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, described him as “a champion for those who needed help the most. He fought tirelessly for those with profound disabilities and was a crusader for parents, as well as children.”

While his contributions to special education reached both state and national levels, his greatest legacy may be the center to which he gave both his name and financial support. The A.J. Pappanikou Center for Developmental Disabilities, which relocated to the UConn Health Center several years ago, is committed to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families.

Pappanikou was born in Grevena, Greece, and moved to Augusta, Maine, at the age of seven. In 1952, he earned his undergraduate degree at Bowdoin College, and then became assistant director of education at Maine’s Pownal State School for people with development disabilities. He earned a master’s degree in 1957 and a doctorate in 1962 from Syracuse University.

Pappanikou, an avid sports fan, was a familiar sight at UConn games, including women’s soccer and men’s hockey.  For over 15 years, he was the University’s NCAA faculty athletics representative and served as an advisor to three athletic directors. In 1994, he and his wife established two scholarships for student-athletes.

To honor the memory of their daughter Lisa, a Neag staff member, they created a third scholarship in 1999 to support special education majors.

In 1970, Pappanikou received the first Distinguished Public Service Award from the UConn Alumni Association, and, 31 years later, the association made him an “Honorary Alumnus.”  In 2004, the Neag School Alumni Society presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, Bowdoin College presented him with its Distinguished Educator Award.

Pappanikou’s generous financial support earned him a place in the UConn Founders Society Constitution Circle and on the board of Athletics’ UConn Club, for which he also served as president for a time. In 1978 he received the club’s award for Outstanding Contribution.