By PAULETTE PARKER
Dave DeVarti came of age in a time of what he calls “social ferment.” The Vietnam War era, civil rights and an emerging women’s movement influenced him early on. DeVarti, who joined the Washtenaw Community College board of trustees in January, graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor in 1970. On March 15, 1970, he received his first taste of political activism.
“His really early activism came while he was still a teenager,” said Pam Kisch, director of the Fair Housing Center and a longtime friend to DeVarti.
“I got involved with the first Earth Day teach-in,” DeVarti said. “In fact, I still think it was the most educational part of my high school experience, helping to plan what happened at the high school level for the teach-in.”
That activism has continued throughout DeVarti’s life. In 2013, he became embroiled in a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Secretary of State over a request for a custom license plate reading “WAR SUX.”
“I walked into the Secretary of State office, paid my money, and the woman who took my money and wrote it down looked, and it wasn’t already taken,” DeVarti said. A couple of weeks later he received a letter in the mail informing him that his request was denied on the grounds that it could be considered offensive.
“I said, ‘Who’s for war? Come on,’” he said. DeVarti was added to an existing case being handled by the ACLU for another driver fighting to obtain a rejected custom plate. After a long standoff, DeVarti was granted the plate.
“There’s a part of me that’s always been a peace activist,” DeVarti said. “And with all these wars going on, I thought it would be important to put a statement on the license plate. ‘PEACE’ was taken, so I went with ‘WAR SUX.’”
After high school, DeVarti went on to the University of Michigan to the School of Natural Resources. He recalls his first-semester tuition totaling $330 for a full course load. Comparing the cost of college then to the cost now is part of what encouraged him to run for the WCC board of trustees.
“I think it’s really important to the community and to our democracy to have an educated populous,” DeVarti said. “It’s my deep concern about the increasing economic inaccessibility to post-secondary education for people in our country.”
Beyond his role as a WCC trustee, DeVarti has served on the Ann Arbor city council, the Planning Commission, spent 18 years on the Downtown Development Authority and currently chairs the membership committee for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
DeVarti’s two children, Sam, 24, and Julia, 20, have followed in his political footsteps.
“My son ran for city council as an Independent, which I advised him he would be much better off running as a Democrat, but he didn’t take that advice – he wanted to do it his own way,” DeVarti said. Although Sam did not win, DeVarti commends his effort.
“I was proud of him. He did very well at the forums and really thought through issues,” DeVarti said. “And for a young person, I was really proud of him.” DeVarti’s daughter, Julia, now attends Wesleyan University in Connecticut, but while studying at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, she wrote a column for the student newspaper about feminism called “The F Word.”
“One of my favorite columns was “The Feminist Reading List,” and number one on the list was ‘Pride and Prejudice,’” DeVarti said. Around the spring of 1978, DeVarti was involved in establishing the “Michigan Football Roster,” an eight-page tabloid that was used to raise awareness for Coalition for Better Housing tenant-rights ballot questions. “Michigan Football Roster” evolved into the “Michigan Football Guide.”
By the late 1980s, DeVarti, along with three individuals from the “Michigan Football Roster,” had established a guide that included music, cinema, stage performances and book readings in Ann Arbor. This became “Current Magazine.”
“I remember meetings where we had 20 different possible names for the magazine,” DeVarti said. “’Current’ wasn’t number one on everybody’s list, but it was in the top three on everybody’s list.” “Current Magazine” was sold to Adams Street Publishing in Toledo in 2007.
DeVarti retained the rights to the “Michigan Football Guide” and occasionally considers reviving it.
“There are probably fans still to this day at the Michigan Football Stadium that miss the ‘Michigan Football Guide,’” DeVarti said.
DeVarti finds enjoyment in everything he does. He is in the Arts and Drawing clubs at WCC and takes a painting class.
“I have been a student (at WCC) taking one or two classes at a time for several years,” he said. “I’ve seen some real reduction in commitment to the arts and humanities during the time I’ve been there. That’s caused me some concern.”
He is also in the process of rehabbing a low-income residential building.
In his sparse free time, DeVarti enjoys cooking and hosting friends.
“I like having dinner parties and putting a nice multi-course meal out for 10 to 12 people and picking the wines to go with each course,” DeVarti said.
“One of the reasons we all love David is because David is an incredible cook,” Kisch said, adding that he is a barbeque expert.
“There’s all these different aspects to my life, and I don’t feel like any part of it is onerous,” DeVarti said. “I’m lucky that I can find enjoyment in the simplest of things and in the most complicated.”