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Star Gazing

In the expanding universe of Rutgers alumni, some stars shine more brightly than others. They are located in a distinct galaxy of their own, known as the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni. Formed in 1987, the honorary society inducts a new class of graduates each year who have made exceptional contributions to their field of endeavor and to society while bringing recognition to themselves and Rutgers.


This year’s inductees are leaders in their own right: a former publisher of a leading New Jersey newspaper; a renaissance man who has culminated his entrepreneurial career by heading an organization that promotes better leadership to address global concerns; a practitioner of contemporary art and an early advocate of the women’s art movement; the head of the Ford Motor Company in North and South America; and the president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. So, gaze up and take a closer look at the brightly burning orbs of Jules L. Plangere Jr. RC’44; James Cusumano RC’64, GSNB’68; Joan Snyder DC’62, MGSA’66; Mark Fields RC’83; and Terry Stewart ENG’69, ED’69.


Jules L. Plangere Jr.The English Patient

Jules L. Plangere Jr., once deficient in English, mastered his shortcoming, thrived in the publishing world, and now underwrites students with similar remedial needs.

Jules L. Plangere Jr. thought Asbury Park High School had prepared him well for college, but, like many young undergraduates, he soon discovered his basic communication skills weren’t up to par. “I thought I was fairly efficient in writing until I took a couple of tests,” recalls Plangere RC’44. A professor also recognized the first-year student’s academic weaknesses and suggested help. Plangere signed up for a remedial writing class that immediately boosted his grades and had a lasting impact on his life.

Decades later, after a storybook career in newspaper publishing, Plangere and his wife, Jane, endowed the writing center in the School of Arts and Sciences that bears his name. (The couple, who split their time between Spring Lake, New Jersey, and Boynton Beach, Florida, also endow scholarships at Rutgers and fund the Plangere communication center at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, which houses the student television studio and radio station.) The Plangere Writing Center at Rutgers provides tutoring in basic composition, advanced research, and scientific and business writing to 1,200 students a year. The Plangeres’ donation has allowed the center to remodel facilities, retain experienced tutors, expand tutoring hours, and develop online tutoring services.

Plangere’s college career was cut short by World War II. He enlisted in the Army after sophomore year in 1942 and served as an antiaircraft artillery officer in the South Pacific and as an aide to the U.S. Peace Mission in Korea. Afterward, he jumped at the chance for a steady paycheck—a management-trainee program under the G.I. Bill at the Asbury Park Press paying $37.50 a week. He rotated through virtually every aspect of the newspaper business, from selling ads to covering stories. “When you finished [the two-year program], you knew all of the operation,” says Plangere. He rose through the ranks of the Monmouth County-based daily with such savvy that publisher Wayne McMurray willed his protégé half of Asbury Park Press Inc. in 1974. He presided over the state’s second-largest daily for more than two decades with partner Donald Lass before a confluence of forces—the climbing costs of newsprint and employee benefits and the loss of advertising revenue—caused them to rethink their investment. They sold to Gannett in 1997, but Plangere keeps a hand in media as an owner of Press Communications LLC, the parent company of a half-dozen small radio stations including 98.5 FM, a pop station at the Jersey Shore.

— Angela Delli Santi


James CusumanoRenaissance Man

James Cusumano, jack of many trades and master of them all, has followed his free-range curiosity on many eclectic pursuits.

As a kid, James Cusumano had two passions: chemistry and rock and roll. The first struck him at age 8 when his parents, a postman and a homemaker, bought him a chemistry set, with which he made everything from cosmetics to ink and sold the products to neighbors. “I think they felt sorry for me, or thought I was cute,” says the New Jersey native. “But the idea of using technology and having somebody pay for it really stuck with me.”  

Later, Cusumano RC’64, GSNB’68, the oldest of 10, was expected to find work and donate half his earnings to the family. Because his mother had a piano in the house, he took lessons and, at 14, formed a band, which played proms and bars. By the time he enrolled at Rutgers, on a full scholarship, he was a member of a rock and roll outfit called the Royal Teens, best known for the hit “Short Shorts.” “I recorded and performed with them for 12 years,” he says. It was his love for chemistry, however, that blossomed at Rutgers. Armed with a research fellowship, he began the work that would carry him through his career. After earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, he worked as director of catalytic research for Exxon and later founded Catalytica Inc., a company that developed cleaner, more efficient means of production for the energy and pharmaceutical industries. It also made Cusumano and his partners very wealthy men.

“But I never thought about making money,” he says. “I thought about having fun building a company. The money came from something I really had a passion for.” 

That passion extends to his family. When Jane, his wife of 18 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, he founded a film company to bankroll What Matters Most, a film she wrote and directed while undergoing chemotherapy just months before she died. The film earned numerous film festival awards and was distributed worldwide.

Fast-forward a decade, and Cusumano is now married to Inéz Sipulova, a heritage-restoration entrepreneur from the Czech Republic with whom he turned a rundown 17th-century mansion outside Prague into an awarding-winning, eco-friendly hotel and spa, Chateau Mcely (pronounced mis-SHELL-ee). It’s a “launchpad” for several projects, including a line of natural cosmetics, used at the spa and sold online, and Leadership for Life, an organization operating under the premise that “many of the critical issues that we face globally—whether climate change, energy security, poverty—come down to ineffective leadership,” he says. The group’s debut event, a conference and workshop for CEOs, will take place in June.

Even though he is physically far from Rutgers, Cusumano hasn’t forgotten it. He recalls fondly how the university instilled his interest in catalysis, and he remembers his first foray into the corporate world, where among Ivy League graduates, “I could really hold my own,” he says. “All those things I learned, in retrospect, were important in helping to craft the future that I created in my life.”

— Rich Shea RC’86

Joan SnyderA Life Revealed Through Art

Painter and printmaker Joan Snyder brings a vibrant expression to her paintings, etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts—many of them richly autobiographical.

Joan Snyder’s art exposes a lot about her life. Sorrowful canvases with totems and trees symbolize the loss of a miscarried first child, and stark woodcut faces stamped on velvet and silk tell of AIDS victims’ deaths. More of her art, though, is optimistic. Vibrant expressionist works that celebrate the birth of her only daughter, Molly, or the artist’s 10th anniversary with her partner, titled My Maggie, are among her many themes.

Snyder DC’62, MGSA’66 has been a painter and printmaker for nearly 50 years. Having grown up across the Raritan River from Rutgers, in Highland Park, she took her first art class as a senior sociology major at Douglass College in 1962. “For me, it was like speaking for the first time,” says Snyder, who abandoned a career in social work and embraced the fine arts. “I was very lucky to be able to make that jump. I told myself, ‘Someday, I’m going to be very good at this.’” She earned an M.F.A. four years later and, as a young artist, urged her alma mater into starting a women artists series at the library, the only one of its kind in the nation at the time. The Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series continues today.

Snyder’s paintings, etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts hang in some of the nation’s most celebrated museums, among them New York City’s Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which have her work in their permanent collections. She was honored this year with a print retrospective at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum—Dancing With the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963–2010—which showcased her long printmaking career and was well received by arts professionals and the public. The artist, delighted with the four-month-long exhibit, described the show as “over the moon.” Snyder has been labeled a feminist artist. Although the themes of motherhood, sexuality, and social injustice have appeared, she says she doesn’t often think consciously about the symbols in her work. Instead, she borrows psychologist Carl Jung’s term—collective unconscious—to describe how certain brushstrokes, words, or images might wind up in her paintings and prints. She sketches prolifically but edits judiciously; only pencil drawings that hold her interest over time become paintings. Rising before dawn and spending several hours a day in her Brooklyn studio, Snyder delights in art-making. “You never know what it’s going to end up to be,” she says. “In the middle of the process, hopefully magic happens.”

— Angela Delli Santi

Mark FieldsBuilt Ford Tough

Mark Fields, president of Ford’s Americas operations, brings the auto giant back from the abyss and into growing profitability.

Thirty years ago, when he was an economics major and a fraternity brother, Mark Fields would have told anyone suggesting that he’d someday be inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni: “How long did you just spend at Olde Queens Tavern?”

But Fields RC’83 may have had an inkling that he’d end up in an executive position that would help earn him the honor—in part because of his experiences at Zeta Psi, where he served as pledge master and vice president. “When you live with 49 other guys, and you’re trying to get things done, it teaches you how to motivate people and influence them,” says the Ford Motor Company’s president of The Americas.

When he was promoted to the post in 2005, after helping Ford turn profits overseas, Fields had lots of motivating to do. Like its Big Three counterparts, Ford was struggling to stay solvent. But unlike Chrysler and General Motors, it refused government bailout funds and devised a plan to scale back its workforce and emphasize design innovations that would get Ford the attention of car buyers.

Although Ford’s North American division continued to lose money through 2009, it earned $5.4 billion in 2010, or 65 percent of the com­pany’s $8.3 billion operating profit worldwide, according to Fields. And its cars, trucks, and SUVs not only earn high safety ratings, but also have grabbed a growing share of the market, geographically and demographically, the fastest among the 18-to-24-year-old group.

Last summer, the company launched MyFord Touch, “a combination,” Fields says, “of buttons on the steering wheel, voice commands, and touch screens” that control every aspect of the car while linking to phone and internet services. Ford, in fact, depends heavily on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to launch its products and draw consumer feedback. “We’re pushing the envelope to get our message out and to have authentic conversations with potential customers as opposed to just marketing at them,” Fields says.

Paying attention to customers is a lesson he learned from working in other countries, including Japan, where, in the early 2000s, Fields moved the money-losing Ford affiliate Mazda into the black. Exposed to a different culture, “I learned you have to be a good listener and always try to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes as you discuss issues or problems or approaches,” says Fields, who was instrumental several years ago in having Ford donate two Land Rovers for use in a field program run through the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Any company, however, must be profitable, so that funds can be reinvested in better products and, no small thing, make employees happy. Because of 2010’s windfall, each Ford employee received a bonus of at least $5,000. And sales in January and February, especially for fuel-efficient cars like the Fiesta and Focus, exceeded those for the same months in 2010. “When we have that profitable growth,” Fields says, “everybody—employees and consumers—can share in the reward.”

— Rich Shea RC’86

Terry StewartThe Curator of Rock and Roll’s Legacy

Terry Stewart brings his business pedigree and love of rock music to the growing mission of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Twelve years into his run as the president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Terry Stewart could regale you with one cool story after another about his encounters with rock’s royalty. But, getting chummy with them isn’t important to him. What does interest him is whether musicians want to get involved with promoting the mission of the museum. “We do incredible stuff here,” says Stewart ENG’69, ED’69, “but most people think of us as a tourist destination, a giant Hard Rock Café. We do some of that, though that’s not really who we are. We take this art form very seriously.”

Stewart makes no bones about it: rock and roll has had a bigger cultural impact on the history of man than any other art form. “It aggravates people when I say that, but this is the raison d´être for this museum.” For starters, he proudly points to its award-winning educational programs, which facilitate learning among young people of all ages, teaching everything from science to finance. Among hall of fame museums, his is the nation’s top draw, attracting 450,000 people annually to the imposing I.M. Pei-designed facility overlooking Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio. Next year, the museum will open an extensive archive at nearby Cuyahoga Community College, which will be nirvana for scholars. And the museum, in addition to its much-anticipated hall of fame induction ceremony each year, has new shows all the time, the latest being Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power. And, of course, there are the collections—floor after floor of gems illuminating the life of rock and roll (a phrase coined by Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed), from its birth in the early 1950s to today.

It’s only appropriate that Stewart, who has the mien of a 1950s hipster, presides over it all, a job, he says, in which every day feels like the weekend. A hopelessly addicted collector—he owns more than a half-million LPs, 45s, and 78s (did we mention the jukeboxes, the posters, the Vespas, the neon clocks?)—Stewart lobbied relentlessly for the top job, a position that had seen much turnover before his arrival. Established in 1995 as a nonprofit, after outbidding 17 cities for the rights to host it, the museum, somewhat in financial and organizational disarray, immediately benefited from Stewart’s business background, most recently as the president of Marvel Entertainment for eight years.

But his most important talent may have been his adoration for rock and roll, which hit him at gale force growing up in Daphne, Alabama, first checking out Ray Charles and James Brown in concert when he was “always the only white kid in the crowd.” It was a harbinger of the music that would rattle the windows of Delta Kappa Epsilon, one of the indelible memories of his days at Rutgers, where he made lifelong friends and got a full scholarship to a great education after passing up on the U.S. Military Academy. “I have loved music and pop culture all my life,” he says. “It is who I am, and this is what I do.”

— David W. Major