By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – Congregation Beth El offered retiring Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman good wishes and mazel tov Wednesday at a special cocktail reception and community celebration held at the synagogue on Jerome Avenue.
Numerous speakers paid tribute to his more than 50 years as a member of the Stockton family. Kesselman was a member of the first graduating class, taught there and rose through administrative ranks to become president in 2015.
Businessman Leo B. Schoffer said when he learned that Kesselman was considering leaving to become president of a university in Maine, he and his colleagues asked to meet him at the Shore Diner, where they convinced him to sign a napkin stating, “I want to stay.”
“We needed Harvey. He was the right man at the right time, and we were not going to let him leave,” Schoffer said.
Schoffer said Kesselman is “charismatic” and able to deal with a wide range of people, including students, faculty, administrators and public officials. That made him the perfect person to forward a vision to bring the Stockton campus back to Atlantic City where it originated 50 years ago at the Mayflower Hotel.
During his tenure, the university expanded educational offerings in Jewish, Holocaust and genocide studies, created the Holocaust Resource Center, and completed the first and second phases of building its beachfront campus in Atlantic City.
Stockton University Board of Trustees Chairman Raymond R. Ciccone said Kesselman’s vision “shaped the trajectory of the university.”
“He lived the model, Students First,” he told the crowd gathered in the sanctuary.
Speaking directly to Kesselman, Ciccone said, “Your legacy will continue to shape the lives of students, and will endure. You are an extraordinary leader and there will never be anyone like you.”
Jane Stark, executive director of Stockton’s Sam Azeez Museum in Woodbine, said Kesselman’s career “exploded like a firecracker on the 4th of July.”
Rabbi Emeritus Aaron Krauss, who advocated to create the four-year educational institution in Atlantic City back in 1971, said Kesselman was “a pioneer of the Mayflower.”
“We dreamed Atlantic City would take its place amid Princeton and Rutgers, but a different location was chosen, wisely,” and the “College in the Pines” was built in Galloway Township.
The advocates’ dream of having a presence in Atlantic City may have been delayed for more than four decades, but Kesselman made it happen before he retired.
“Our gratefulness will be forever,” Rabbi Krauss told Kesselman.
A highlight of the evening included a presentation by Margate’s Eugene A. Tighe Middle School teacher Chelsi Crompton who introduced her sixth grade student, Allie Garrabrandt, who won Stockton’s Jersey Shore Science Fair and went on to compete at a higher level.
Crompton said opportunities offered by the university make it possible for students to excel in their education at all grade levels.
“When I visited Stockton it was a great experience for me and everyone else who participated,” Allie said.
In his speech, Kesselman brought down the house when he declared that Allie would get a free ride to the university if that’s where she chose to complete her education.
“From the first moment he attended the first classes at the Mayflower until his retirement, Harvey Kesselman was a staunch advocate of education in the region. His contributions to the community are unmatched,” retired attorney Bill Subin of Margate said.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. thanked Kesselman for setting him back on the right path after he was dismissed from Stockton. Although he returned to finish his education and has since achieved great things, he took time to thank Kesselman for the most major accomplishment of his life – learning how be a husband and father, Small said.
“Thank you for making me a family man,” he said.
Because the university insisted he complete his education at the Galloway Township campus, Small said that’s where he met the woman who would eventually become his wife and the mother of his two children.
“He led Stockton to become a world class university and made a Stockton degree more valuable each and every day,” Small said.
Professor of Music Beverly Vaughan provided color as she presided as mistress of ceremonies.
Musical selections included the performance of Saint-Saens “The Swan” by Assistant Principal Cello Rose Bart and Musical Director Jed Gaylin of the Bay Atlantic Symphony; the Children’s Choir of South Jersey; Beth El Choir with Cantor Ralph Goren, and Bishop R. Lyles and the Gospel Friends Ensemble.
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