Epperson first experienced the YMCA community as a student at the University of Pittsburgh 1954, when he attended “freshman camp” at Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer in Beaver County. After a four-year stint in the Air Force, he returned to the University of Pittsburgh and began working part time at the Centre Avenue YMCA in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. He proceeded to become president of the University of Pittsburgh Student YMCA and the National Student YMCA.
After graduating with bachelor’s degree in political science, he continued his education, earning master’s degrees in social work and international relations and a PhD. in political science and public policy, all from the University of Pittsburgh where he eventually made his career. Beloved by his students and colleagues, Epperson served as Dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work 29 years, making him the longest-serving dean in the university’s history. He retired in 2001, serving as dean emeritus and professor emeritus until his death in 2011 at the age of 76.
“I knew Dave as a colleague, a neighbor, a friend and fellow servant of the YMCA,” said Dr. Leon L. Haley, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “A Citadel of Hope: The Centre Avenue YMCA.” “He had three passions in life: his faith and service to the church; his wife and daughters, and by extension, a love of teaching all children; and his love of the YMCA, which lasted from his first day of his freshman year at college until the last day of his life. He not only supported the YMCA’s values of respect, responsibility, honesty and caring, but lived them out in every facet of his life each day.”
While Epperson’s devotion to the Pittsburgh community was unwavering, he also worked hard to spread the YMCA’s mission globally. During college, he volunteered at the YMCA’s Buildings of Brotherhood Work Camp in Turkey. After he graduated, he became the first African American World Service worker with the Chinese YMCA in Hong Kong. In 1991, he joined the Y-USA’s International Committee, for which he served twice as chair of the committee and 15 years as chair of the committee’s Office for Africa. He was also a delegate to nine World Council meetings and served on the World Alliance Executive Committee.
“The YMCA has never had an ambassador that was so well-known and well-liked nationally and internationally as Dave,” said Julius Jones, former executive director of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh from 1979 to 2003. “No matter where we traveled in the world, people knew him as a man who would do anything to ease the burden of another. He was the kind of person who would promise a village in Kenya that he would raise money to dig a well for clean drinking water, and come back with the resources to dig 500 wells across the country.”
At home in Pittsburgh, Epperson volunteered with the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and served on its Board of Directors, including as board chair, for more than 50 years. He also served on the Y-USA‘s Board of Directors from 1998 to 2007, and was the first African-American Board Chairman of Y-USA. During his national chairmanship, he emphasized diversity and inclusion initiatives and expanding the YMCA’s public policy role in Washington, D.C.
“Dr. Epperson made a lifelong impact on the YMCA at the local, national and international levels,” said Eric Mann, current president & CEO of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast and former CEO of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. “His leadership and mentorship of young people was a beacon of hope among the African-American community. Many of us grew up wanting to be like him, hoping we could someday emulate his tremendous impact on the world through his work with the YMCA.”
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