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February 01, 2010

Dennis Cesarotti
Dennis Cesarotti

NIU mourns CEET’s Dennis Cesarotti, funeral service planned for Wednesday

DeKalb, Ill. — Dennis Cesarotti’s mastery as a teacher of all things related to occupational safety was known across the country.

Today, however, those who learned from and worked with him were much more eager to talk about his excellence as a friend, a mentor and a colleague.

Cesarotti, 57, died suddenly Friday, Jan. 29, at his home in Lisle. He is survived by his wife of 18 years, Cindy, and their two daughters Katy and Cari.

Cesarotti joined the faculty in the Department of Technology, in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, in 2003. He already had logged more than 20 years working in the risk management field, including founding the Aires Consulting Group, which had offices across the country.

Upon arriving at Northern Illinois University, it did not take him long to fit in.

“Dennis was everyone’s friend and he was always there to help. He never said no to anything,” said Cliff Mirman, chair of the Department of Technology. “It was hard to stop him from teaching five or six courses a semester – and that was on top of running our OSHA Safety Education Center.”

Despite the demands of that workload, Cesarotti was well known for his boisterous laugh and quick wit, said Earl Hanson, Cesarotti’s colleague in the Department of Technology and a friend for nearly 30 years.

“Dennis never met a stranger,” said Hansen, who spent Friday reminiscing with a steady stream of faculty, students and alumni at an informal vigil for Cesarotti. “He had a tremendous impact on people, and it didn’t stop at the classroom door.”

A Facebook page (titled “Dr. Dennis Cesarotti made a difference in my life”) set up by Cesarotti’s students, as well as comments left in an online guest book accompanying his obituary, demonstrated just how profound that impact was. In entry after entry his former pupils wrote of how he challenged them to not only be better students but also better professionals and better people as well.

One of those students, Bob Bohentin, who graduated in 2007, shared a passage from a letter he wrote in support of Cesarotti’s recent nomination for an Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. “Dr. Dennis Cesarotti challenged me like no other professor would. In every one of Dr. Cesarotti’s lectures, he consistently conveyed his knowledge in such a way that would inspire me to work harder and to learn more,” he said in the letter. “I think of him more as a mentor than as a teacher.” 

That type of commitment made an impression on Chuck Carroll, an alumnus of the college who owns a consulting firm that works in Cesarotti’s area of expertise – safety and risk management. While Cesarotti arrived at NIU long after Carroll had graduated, the two became fast friends and Carroll leaned on him to help him choose recipients for a scholarship he created.

“Dennis would always ask me, ‘Am I teaching them what they need to know?,’ ” said Carroll. “He wasn’t just focused on helping them earn a degree; he was interested in providing students the best opportunity to make a success of their lives.”

That devotion to students will be missed, said Promod Vohra, dean of CEET.

“With his passing we have lost a great advocate for students,” Vohra said. “We have also lost someone who was a great leader in the college. He was always willing to step up to the plate when something needed to be done, and would consistently go beyond the call of duty to reach a goal.”

He displayed that determination when he assumed the directorship of the college’s OSHA Safety Education Center in 2006. That center, which develops, provides and sponsors instruction in the area of occupational safety and health issues, grosses more than a half-million dollars a year.

He also jumped into the breach when the university began crafting certificate programs aimed at preparing students for careers related to homeland security. He not only taught courses related to the subject matter but he also created an online course that became a pre-requisite for homeland security courses statewide. In fact, he was helping to lead an effort aimed at creating cooperative certificate programs that allow students to draw upon the strengths of programs at universities across the state.

NIU President John Peters said today that it is difficult to imagine anyone other than Cesarotti fulfilling that role on behalf of the university.

“Dennis was a great ambassador for his college and the university as a whole,” Peters said. “He epitomized the real-world, student-focused teaching that are the hallmarks of this institution. With his passing we have lost a valued member of the university community.”

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home, Naperville. Funeral Services will be 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at Knox Presbyterian Church, 1105 Catalpa Lane, Naperville, with additional visitation one hour prior. Interment will be private. Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home 44 S. Mill St., Naperville, IL 60540. For more information, call (630) 355-0213 or visit www.friedrich-jones.com.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials to the Dennis Cesarotti Memorial Scholarship at the NIU Foundation, Northern Illinois University, Attn: John Salvani, EB130, DeKalb, IL, 60115.

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Media Contact: Joe King, NIU Media Relations and Internal Communications
Phone: (815) 753-4299
Email: joking@niu.edu