Remembering Ken Denike

In sadness we share that our colleague Dr. Ken Denike passed away in May 2024. Ken leaves an indelible legacy after a lifetime of research, service and teaching. On faculty in the UBC Geography department for 35 years, this was a place where Ken put to work his interdisciplinary academic training. Ken began his academic pursuits at UBC in 1963, receiving his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Physics in 1966. Next, he completed his Masters degree in Community and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, and eventually Ken went on to complete his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business where he specialized in Regional Science. Joining UBC Geography in 1969 the department benefited from Ken’s diverse expertise. His academic background positioned him as an expert in spatial analysis, urban organization and theory, urban planning, and transportation studies. 

Ken’s scholarly contributions were wide-ranging and influential. His early academic work focused on equity and the efficient delivery of public and private economic activity in the transportation and education sectors. He later worked in medical geography with Tom Koch, focusing on spatial analysis and mapping for disease studies. Their study of equality and efficiency in funding controversies in the New York city medical system resulted in new distribution programs there. In 2014, he published a study with Dr. Luigi G (Joe) Sulmona and Professor David Edgington on advanced border controls at Canadian airports.  

Ken’s influence extended into the world. In Vancouver, he played a crucial role in the development of the Expo Transit Line and the evolving SkyTrain system that followed Expo ‘86. Following passage of the Canada Health Act, he played a central role in establishing regional health districts across BC as a key director on the inaugural board. Ken was first elected to the Vancouver School Board in 1984 and served three terms as board chair over a 23-year period. During his latter term as chair in 2007, he successfully lobbied the Federal government to fund settlement workers in BC schools. Ken was recognized as a strong advocate for high-quality public education and fair funding for public schools.     

To honour the significant contributions Ken made to the urban and global transportation sector, in 2023 a student scholarship was established in Ken’s name from a generous endowment by a former graduate supervisee, Dr. Joe Sulmona, and other friends. This annual award is offered to students “…who demonstrate an interest in the fields related to urban and global transportation, connectivity and mobility, and a commitment to furthering interdisciplinary inquiry related to these themes.” Ken wished to encourage others to follow in his footsteps, emphasizing the value of interdisciplinary collaboration to solve key societal issues.  

“That’s really what I want to encourage; continuing that dialogue across boundaries. It’s served me so well in my career, and that’s what I wish to promote,” Ken said of the award. 

The geography research community and our city at large will be forever transformed by Ken’s dedication to his research and his many noteworthy achievements. His passing is a deep loss for our department and his friends and family alike. He will be missed and not forgotten.