In Memoriam: Dr. Joseph Ernest Di Santo

Jul 5 2022

Shared by Dr. Jim Frideres, University of Calgary

Joseph Ernest Di Santo (1934-2022)

Born in Boulder, Colorado, Joe spent much of his childhood in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After earning his BA from Black Hills State College, he taught history in High school at Gillette, Wyoming. He began his post-secondary education in Verdun and Metz, France while holding a position of Quartermaster. He began working on his M.A. at South Dakota State University but transferred to the University of Wisconsin (Madison) to complete his M.A. and go on to obtain his PhD in Rural Sociology. Joe began his academic career teaching at Kansas State University before moving to the University of Calgary in 1970.

While at the University of Wisconsin, Joe worked with D. Marshall, A. Wileden and others, and analyzed and supervised the analysis of the U.S. Census data for the State of Wisconsin. When he moved to Kansas, he was appointed as the director of the Population Research Laboratory and acted as a consultant to the State of Kansas in developing a population information system. When Joe took a position at the University of Calgary, he was pivotal in the development of the Ph.D. program and later brought his experience and knowledge to the role he played as Head of the Department. He held a steadfast belief in the value of education and what it would bring to society.

Over the years, Joe reviewed for many Sociological journals and his reviews were never dismissive but always respectful of other scholars. He was never intellectually sectarian or doctrinaire but open minded, flexible; never self-serving but always looking out for the interests of others. At the same time, he ensured the research and analysis met the rigorous standards of academic scholarship. Throughout his career, he engaged a broader audience than just his academic colleagues and he shared his research results to contribute to solutions for the pressing problems of our time. His goal was to move his research beyond scholarly journals and conferences into the public realm where they would contribute to public conversations.

Joes work in Rural Sociology brought him to the field and he never forgot his roots with the rural population. He made a major contribution to the field of social impact assessment. His work and influence convinced the Province of Alberta to drop the antiquated Coal Act” for assessing the impact of major natural resource projects and create an Environmental Impact Assessment piece of legislation that included the social” component in the assessment. Joe’s keen insights were essential in guiding the provincial government in developing and passing this new legislation. He demonstrated the same dedication and determination to ensure the assessments were faithfully carried out, and he went on to help the province to implement a cumulative impact” component to the legislation.

Joe was a practitioner par excellence. His field work and knowledge were sought after by government officials, the private sector and community organizations across the Western Provinces and Northern Territories. While he was a member of the Alberta Premier's Council on Science and Technology, he shared his analytical expertise as well as his sociological perspective. His expertise was sought by companies such as Standard Oil, Shell Oil, Petro Canada, Fording Coal, and TransAlta, as well as The province of Alberta and The Energy Resources Conservation Board, just to mention a few. Through all his consultancies and community service, he never lost his academic integrity and meticulously practiced established and innovative research techniques to address the issue he was investigating. 

After teaching for many years at the University of Calgary, Joe retired in 1991, but continued for several years teaching Methodology and Statistics for the Department of Anthropology. He was an inspiring scholar, teacher, colleague and friend. His students grasped the standards of excellence he embraced and welcomed his insights and intellectual challenges. His commitment to service, academic and research standards, as well as a sense of justice left indelible and wide-ranging marks on all of us who knew him—from provincial politicians to colleagues to farmers who worked with Joe in his various consultancies. His legacy of community service was admired by colleagues and community leaders alike.

Scholarship was central to his identity but it wasnt his entire identity. Joe loved the outdoors, hiking, fishing, and hunting. In his shop (his hide away), Joe built many beautiful pieces of furniture, took up fly-tying and rod-building and was always available for advice or to take you out into the wilderness to experience nature. If you go to a copy of the National Geographic (June 1973), you will find a full-page picture of him, carrying his dog Snoopy in his back pack.

Joe was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He shared with pride his daughters and always stood back to seek the wisdom and caring nature of his wife Laura. He is survived by his wife Laura, four daughters: Diane (Terry), twins Debra and Denise, and Linda, granddaughters Naomi, Miranda and Jenna, and great-grandson Leo Joseph.

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