Steve Gunderson letter on the passing of Randy Proto

August 15, 2013


Some messages are more difficult to share than others. Our friend and colleague Randy Proto passed away Monday morning after a courageous and valiant battle against cancer. Even after his diagnosis and treatment, he lifted up the spirits of so many with his optimism and fighting spirit. Until the very end he was active in all things related to our sector, especially APSCU. For that we will miss him dearly.

Anyone who met Randy instantly saw his excitement and energy when it came to education. He spent more than 30 years working to improve access, delivery and outcomes for students. At the time of his passing he was the Chief Strategy Officer at Premier Education Group. As the CSO, he was a member of the executive team responsible for creating, communicating and implementing strategic initiatives across their 27 campuses.

Randy was active in our sector's work at the local, state and national levels. He was a board member of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools, chairing their Scholarship Committee, which provides over $1.5 million in scholarships each year. At the national level, Randy was a stalwart supporter of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. He served in many different capacities, most recently as a member of the Grassroots and PAC Committees. Randy understood the importance of educating and engaging policymakers on the need for public policy that was in the best interest of our students. Whether it was a personal commitment or asking his colleagues to support an event, Randy answered the call. During his fight with cancer Randy continued to serve. His most recent leadership role was serving as chair of the event honoring Congressman John Kline, Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. In a way, that only describes his courage and optimism because Randy had already volunteered to co-chair the dinner celebrating the work of Art Keiser this December.

Randy began his work with career education as a computer programming student at Computer Processing Institute in Connecticut. After graduating from CPI in 1978, he worked as an adjunct professor, instructor and Department Chair in its southern Connecticut location before serving as Director of Education, Director of Admissions, Director of Campus Operations, and Campus President at its New Jersey location.

In 1986, he founded the Rhodes Group and acquired suburban Technical School in New York with eleven campuses. Among its schools was Dover Business College, which became part of the group in 1991.  In 1994, he joined Whitman Education Group as its President and Chief Operating Officer growing the organization to twenty-three campuses and an enrollment of 9,000 students. From 1996 to 2007, Randy was involved with the founding of the American Institute schools as an investor and board member. In 2005, he became President of the School of Health Careers in Florida. In 2007, he became the CEO of American Institutes Holdings, with a group of schools focused primarily on the delivery of degree and non-degree allied health programs. Just as he was passionate about his work with his students and schools, he was a loving husband to Maria and their son, Christopher.

Randy was a fighter until the very end.  He willingly shared with many of us the complexity of his disease and the countless decisions the family had to make navigating his journey. In Randy's life, nothing was simple and everything was focused on the future. His wife had hoped that Randy's wishes for his final days could be honored by reading the documents he had prepared. But in classic Randy fashion, it was a 50-page document! Randy lived the complicated professional challenge of meeting the unique needs of each student he was privileged to serve. How could death be easy and simple when, for Randy, there was so much yet to do?

For me, and hundreds – if not thousands – of people in our sector, Randy always reached out to offer his help, his counsel, and his support. We are a better sector because of Randy's legacy of service. We are better people because Randy touched our lives in incredible ways. We will miss him at our national and Florida meetings. His spirit and contributions will live on in each of us for years to come.

Blessed be his memory. Our sympathy goes out to his dear wife and his son; and to all those who were close to him.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, August 19th at 11:00 a.m. at Norfield Congregational Church, 64 Norfield Road, Weston, Conn., 06883. Following the services, lunch will be served at the Proto Family's home. The address and directions will be given at the service. There will be a private family burial this week. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Lustgarten Foundation.

With deepest sympathy,
Steve Gunderson
President and CEO

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