A cold rain fell on the Lincroft campus Oct. 27, as dozens of Brookdale faculty, staff, administrators and community members came together to honor the memory of seven long-time Brookdalians who passed away in the last year.
The former employees – Winifred “Winnie” Albert-Johnson, Cheryl Cummings, Marianne Drake, Michael “Spike” Fowler, James Palumbo, Seymour “Sy” Siegler and Mary Louise Wagner – worked at Brookdale for a total of nearly 200 years, spearheading valuable college initiatives and serving as inspirational leaders to their colleagues and students.
“They are heroes of mine, and even more so to the family and friends who are here today,” said assistant English professor John “Jack” Ryan, who organized and emceed the memorial. “We really appreciate everyone who came out, and for all the support they have given in making this possible.”
The program began with a dedication of three new memorial trees on the Lincroft campus, planted this year following the passing of Drake, Folwer and Palumbo. The trees – which include a crepe myrtle for Folwer, a Kwanzan cherry tree for Drake, and a zelkova tree for Palumbo – all stand within close distance to each other near the Corn Crib on the Lincroft campus. The trees, and three forthcoming plaques honoring each employee, were funded by contributions made by former colleagues and friends, Ryan said.
Surviving family members – many of whom travelled long distances for the ceremony – spoke lovingly and sometimes humorously of their departed loved ones, remembering their passion and dedication to their colleagues, the college and their students.
Palumbo, who served as dean of enrollment development and student affairs and executive vice president of educational services during his nearly 30-year career with the college, was honored by his wife, Debby.
“I want to thank everyone, because you guys were great to Jimmy, and he loved it here,” said Debby Palumbo, who was joined at the program by Jim’s sister, Donna, daughter Kristen, daughter Jamie, brother-in-law Don, son-in-law Nate and grandson Beckett.
“His friends know he talked about Brookdale constantly, to the point where they didn’t want to hear about it anymore – the way he loved the students, and doing everything he could to make it a better college, the people here who supported him and made his life a little easier, who didn’t take offense for the comments he was known for making. All the people who helped him… Thank you for everything that you did for him, and us.”
Fowler, a beloved marketing and advertising professor at Brookdale for 45 years, was honored by his sons Stephen and David.
“My father absolutely loved Brookdale,” said Stephen, who was also joined at the ceremony by Michael’s wife, Gloria, granddaughter Marin, and Stephen’s girlfriend, Jessica. “He loved teaching and mentoring. I remember when he got the promotion to full professor, he was so proud that we had to refer to him as Michael Fowler, full professor… He was very proud of his students and his colleagues. I know he would love this, and I know he loves all of you.”
“When we would go out to eat he would wear his Brookdale jacket or Brookdale sweater,” added David. “Once in a while he would come across a former student, and a big point of pride for him was that he could remember their name and one thing about them. With the tens of thousands of students that passed through his courses, I think that’s a fantastic testament to the type of person he was, and the type of environment he fostered.
“If you have the opportunity to walk by the crepe myrtle tree, please do, and think of our father,” he said. “I think that it is a wonderful symbolic materialization of his relationship with Brookdale – knowing that it is rooted in Brookdale, but it is ever-blooming. That’s what he brought, and I’m happy to see it living on through us, and through all that he shared with you.”
Drake, who served in Brookdale’s communications, technology and library departments during her 15-year career and was a long-standing member of Brookdale Governance, was honored by her husband and former Brookdale employee Dennis.
“Marianne touched many with her grace, kindness and warmth,” he said. “She was an accomplished poet, lover of life, art, literature and song, all of which she approached with much enthusiasm. Marianne took great pleasure and satisfaction in her work at Brookdale.
“Thanks to Jack Ryan, Maureen Murphy and the Brookdale administration for planting this tree in her honor, and thanks to the Brookdale Foundation for setting up the Marianne Drake Memorial Scholarship Fund, to help financially challenged students. Our family will continue to support this fund through the years.”
The program then continued with testimonials from current employees and former colleagues, each of whom remembered the honorees for making the college – and their own lives – just a little bit better.
From history professor Jess LeVine, who said Fowler helped him get his first job as a lifeguard before later helping him join the Brookdale faculty; to Norah Kerr-McKurry, who said Palumbo encouraged her to return to college and earn an advanced degree, enabling her to start a new career path at Brookdale; to legendary coach Thomas “Bo” Scannapieco, who remembered Drake as “one of the nicest, sweetest people you could ever hope to meet,” the testminoials drew waves of laughter, tears and joy from all in attendance.
Albert-Johnson, teacher and director of the Brookdale Children’s Learning Center for more than 30 years, was remembered for her forward-looking vision for the center, which was “well ahead of its time” under her decades of leadership, and for dedication to the center’s young students.
Cummings, who served as a communications professor and director of the Brookdale Network during her 28-year career with the college, was remembered as a passionate advocate of the theater and the arts, which she worked to impart on her students and colleagues.
Siegler, a Brookdale psychology professor for 25 years, was remembered for co-founding the first ever community college-based Center for Holocaust Studies in New Jersey in 1979. The center, which has now grown in the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange) with a dedicated facility in the Bankier Library, “has morphed into an incredibly progressive idea, and one that deals with some of the most important social issues that we face,” Ryan said.
Wagner, a Brookdale sociology professor for 22 years, was remembered by long-time history professor Richard Sorrell as a lynchpin of the college’s sociology department and one of the original authors of the college’s historical text, “A Triangle of Land.” She also helped found the college’s Diversity Council, which continues to advocate on behalf of students and employees today.
“Today’s program, and the fact that so many of you are here today, is testimony to the significant contributions that these people have made to the college community over the years,” said Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “They were heroic, and we need to remember them for that.”
View more photos from the Employee Memorial Program here.