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In memoriam: USC chaplain and community builder Alvin S. Rudisill, 89

As USC’s first administrator with a formal community relations position, Rudisill was a driving force behind hundreds of programs and collaborations that strengthened the university’s ties with its neighbors and city

Alvin S. Rudisill
Alvin S. Rudisill joined USC in 1962 and worked to build a relationship between the university and its neighbors. (Photo/Courtesy of Janice Hsia)

Alvin S. Rudisill, a longtime USC chaplain who built an enduring connection between the university and its neighbors, died Feb. 21. He was 89.

An ordained Lutheran, Rudisill joined USC as campus pastor in 1962 before being named university chaplain in 1969. He was a counselor to four USC presidents, and his role overseeing community outreach and programs in the 1980s and 1990s reshaped USC’s relationship with its surrounding community.

He also served as associate professor of religion and medicine and senior fellow with USC’s Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies. Although he stepped down from his post in 1995 for a brief sabbatical, he returned to teaching at USC a year later and was a mainstay on campus until his retirement in 2011.

When then-USC President James H. Zumberge asked him to oversee community relations at the university in the mid-1980s, Rudisill quickly developed three main goals: building trust with the community, creating a diverse staff and developing patience.

If we were serious about a partnership, we had to really listen to the community and establish some rapport with them.

Alvin Rudisill

“If we were serious about a partnership, we had to really listen to the community and establish some rapport with them,” Rudisill said in a USC News story in 1994.

He helped develop beneficial partnerships

He spearheaded a conversation between USC and hundreds of stakeholders in the community to discuss neighborhood concerns. That initiative revealed a major need for new community-building infrastructure to help develop beneficial partnerships.

Rudisill and his team created the United Neighborhood Council, a coalition of businesses, community groups, residents and church officials in the surrounding community. The council established a simple but profound goal of improving the lives of people working or living near the University Park Campus.

He also helped oversee efforts to collaborate with local schools, including USC’s Joint Educational Project; USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a seven-year enrichment program designed to prepare underprivileged students from South and East Los Angeles for admission to college; and other partnerships designed to further strengthen the community. Other major endeavors included programs intended to encourage economic development and efforts to help the university’s neighbors recover and rebuild following the 1992 Los Angeles unrest.

Rudisill’s academic interests

Regarding his academic pursuits, Rudisill’s primary field was church history, but he also developed expertise in medical ethics. He relied on his knowledge of concerns surrounding human experimentation and fetal, neonatal and child bioethics while serving on several medical review boards at USC.

Throughout his career, he also explored issues involving peace, multiethnic and transnational relationships, and the role of institutions and communities in inner cities.

He was the former grand president of Phi Sigma Kappa and member of Vesper Society and Rotary Club of Los Angeles.

Theological background

A native of New Jersey, Rudisill graduated from Gettysburg College and held master’s degrees from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania. He served as pastor of Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Leonia, N.J.

He was a Fulbright Scholar at Heidelberg University in Germany and completed his doctor of philosophy at Drew University in New Jersey. He also held an honorary doctor of humane letters from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

He was married to Shirley Erickson and later to Nancy Jane Western from 1977 until she passed away in 2001. He is survived by his devoted companion, Janice Hsia; his daughter, Suzanne; his son, Alan; five grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; five stepchildren; and two step-grandchildren.

More information on Rudisill’s work at USC is available in an interview from 2005 as part of the Living History Project at the USC Emeriti Center.

Donations in remembrance of Rudisill can be made to: USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative, c/o Janice Hsia, USC University Relations, 3551 Trousdale Parkway, ADM 260, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0018.

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In memoriam: USC chaplain and community builder Alvin S. Rudisill, 89

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