DelVal icon Dr. Josh Feldstein honored at 90th birthday celebration
Jun 13, 2011
By Edward Levenson
In a letter to Dr. Joshua Feldstein, a former student wrote, "God certainly had a plan for you the day you were born."
Lee Thompson's letter was among the tributes paid to Feldstein at a celebration of his 90th birthday at Delaware Valley College on June 12. More than 200 family members, friends, former students, professors, administrators, trustees and college staffers attended the dinner in the Moumgis Auditorium of the Student Center. The event was co-sponsored by the Feldstein family and the college, and organized by the younger of Feldstein's two sons, Dan.
Among the public officials in attendance were state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, state Rep. Kathy Watson, state Rep. Marguerite Quinn, Bucks County commissioners Charley Martin and Rob Loughery, and Doylestown Township supervisors Barbara Lyons and Tom Scarborough.
Feldstein's actual birthday was April 12, but the celebration was scheduled after the end of the school year. The Bucks County commissioners and the Doylestown Township supervisors separately proclaimed Sunday "Joshua Feldstein Day" in his honor. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives issued a citation signed by the members of the Bucks County delegation.
Ted Feldstein, the honoree's older son, read a letter praising Feldstein signed by President and Mrs. Obama. An aide to Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick, who was unable to attend, presented an American flag flown over the Capitol to mark his birthday.
Feldstein and his wife of 66 years, Miriam, sat at the head table.
"He's truly unique," said President Dr. Joseph Brosnan, noting Feldstein has been associated with the college since arriving at the then-National Farm School in 1939 as a student from Lithuania, two weeks shy of his 18th birthday. After graduating in 1942, Feldstein remained at the school as an assistant instructor in agricultural machinery.
Through determination and ability, Feldstein moved up the academic and administrative ladder over the next 45 years, serving as president from 1975 to 1987. He was called back for two stints as interim president from 1994 to 1997, and remains an active member of the board of trustees.
"He has an incredible enthusiasm for life and everything around him," Brosnan said.
Dr. James Trainer, chairman of the board of trustees, said he came to know Feldstein in the early 1980s, when Trainer was on the DelVal student committee planning the Student Center. Feldstein successfully argued the center should have an all-purpose room that would serve as more than an auditorium. Trainer noted the plaza outside the center is named the Joshua Feldstein Campus Court.
"To me, he's been a mentor, a counselor, a confidant, and even more so, a friend," Trainer said.
Trainer, director of Planning & Assessment and special assistant to the vice president for academic affairs at Villanova University, said he would not have pursued an academic career if it hadn't been for Feldstein.
Dr. John Mertz, who was dean during Feldstein's presidency, said their relationship goes back about 50 years. Feldstein hired him as a laboratory technician while doing research on peach tree irrigation for his doctorate in horticulture (which he received from Rutgers University in 1962).
"Josh, as we know, is a very rare individual," Mertz said. "The man never loses his cool. He's very level-headed."
Dr. Richard Funt, a 1968 DelVal graduate, recalled how, as a student, he went into Feldstein's classroom one day to borrow a key needed for field work. Some students laughed because he was wearing a red plaid hunter's cap and a denim jacket.
Pulling out the original cap and wearing it at the podium, Funt related how Feldstein scolded the class: "You never put down a working man even if he's six feet down in a ditch with a shovel."
Dr. Thomas Leamer, DelVal president from 1997 to 2007, said he often turned to Feldstein for advice.
"He truly has Delaware Valley College in his heart and mind at all times," he said.
The highlight of Sunday's celebration came when Feldstein ascended to the podium, greeted by a standing ovation.
"This is a distinct honor," said the white-haired Feldstein. Projected on a screen behind him was an enlarged photograph of himself as a dark-haired 21-year-old graduate, from the 1942 National Farm School yearbook.
Feldstein told how his parents, fearing the rise of Hitler, arranged for him to leave Lithuania in March 1939 and immigrate to the United States. Although Feldstein intended to attend the National Farm School for one year and then transfer to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study engineering, his plans were dashed when his American sponsor died unexpectedly in November 1939.
After graduating in 1942, Feldstein was going to join the Army Air Corps. However, Farm School President Dr. Harold Allen had Feldstein reclassified as an essential worker so he could remain at the school as a post-graduate student and assistant instructor. If he had gone into the service, Feldstein reflected, he never would have met his future wife on a blind date on June 28, 1942.
Feldstein said Dr. James Work, who became president in 1946, kept the school going during the difficult post-war years and oversaw its eventual transformation into Delaware Valley College. Work retired as president in 1974.
"If it were not for James Work, we wouldn't be here today," Feldstein said. "I consider James Work as a Moses. One thing he did that Moses didn't do, he saw the promised land (accreditation in 1962). Like Moses, he also had a Joshua."
Feldstein said he wouldn't have applied for the presidency in 1975 if Work hadn't placed his name in consideration.
"I've had the opportunity to do many things. I'm most proud of being able to help young men and women," he said, adding that he helped make the college co-educational in the late 1960s.
Referring to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's quote that old soldiers "fade away," Feldstein concluded: "Good people who continue to do good should never fade away until they die. That's the way I'll go."
As the celebration drew to a close, photographs from Feldstein's life flashed on the screen: as a high school student in Lithuania, as a field hand at the National Farm School, as a classroom teacher, as a researcher and as president.
The entire audience joined in singing "Happy Birthday."