Junior State of America and its wide family of supporters, friends, and alumni mourn the passing of Richard T. Prosser, former Executive Director of the Junior Statesmen Foundation and a lifelong enthusiastic advocate for the Junior State program. Richard died May 26 at age 75. Generations of Junior State students, faculty, board members and donors will fondly remember Richard’s deep baritone, notes on 3” x 5” cards, love of newspapers, vibrant political discussions, sage advice, and encouraging words of support. Officers of the program will remember his wise counsel and visionary leadership that transformed a little-known California program into a nationwide educational institution impacting thousands of students. All should remember him as a passionate and effective advocate for nonpartisan civic education and a steadfast believer in young people’s agency and the student-run nature of JSA.
Like so many members of the extended Junior State family, Richard began his lifelong connection with JSA as a chapter member and JSA leader in junior high and high school in Napa. As a student, he showed his aptitude for innovation and drive to grow the program by establishing a new JSA region, along with students from other chapters that felt isolated from the concentration of JSA chapters in the Bay Area. He continued working with JSA while he attended Sacramento State and was so devoted to the organization that several of his first dates with his soulmate and future wife, Karen, involved staffing JSA conferences. Richard’s deep interest in journalism led him to earn a B.S. in journalism from Sac State and an M.S. in mass communications from San Jose State, after which he devoted his time fully to JSA’s mission.
Through good and tough times, Richard Prosser was the backbone of JSA. In the 1960s, when the Foundation’s Board of Trustees was contemplating shuttering the program, Richard stepped up and volunteered to run it. When prospects looked bleak, Richard rallied supporters and raised funds to transform the program into the powerhouse it is today. It is not an overstatement to say that JSA exists today thanks to Richard Prosser.
Richard oversaw every major expansion of JSA during his time serving as Executive Director from 1969 to 2007. He launched a summer school program in Washington, DC in 1981 which began JSA’s nationwide expansion. The tight-knit group of student leaders who attended that first summer school experienced an unparalleled speakers program featuring the President and every cabinet member but one, as well as the top Democratic congressional leaders of the time.
After the formation of new JSA “states” in the Pacific Northwest, Texas, the Midwest, New Jersey, and Florida, JSA, in partnership with the Department of the Interior, expanded the program to U.S. Territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam beginning in 1992. Personally leading key parts of JSA’s expansion, Richard and Karen moved across the country in 2001 to open JSA’s Washington, DC headquarters and, in 2007, to Phoenix to spearhead JSA’s expansion in Arizona. In 2010, Richard and Karen returned “home” to San Mateo, where they have lived ever since.
Richard is survived by his wife Karen, daughter Amy (DC Summer School ‘84), son-in-law, Josiah, son Edward (Stanford Summer School ‘87), daughter-in-law, Antonia, and granddaughter Elizabeth. The family requests that donations be made to JSA to honor Richard’s life and legacy, including incalculable contributions to American democracy and the lives of thousands of people who JSA touched.