All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Peter Sammartino
INTERVIEWER: Hilde Weisert
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    April 17, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (11/11/1984)

I might begin by just asking, we went to trace your perspective as a leader at Fairleigh Dickinson during the time of change at Fairleigh and in Teaneck as a whole. Now did Fairleigh Dickinson take over from Bergen Junior College?

(N) Why don’t I start and then when you have questions, do you want to identify my voice?

(I) I’ve got the tape marked so we are fine. I wrote it on the

(N) Do you have my correct name?

(I) Well why don’t you give it to me?

(N) Well it is Dr. Peter Sammartino. The reason I say that is because I just got a notice of an important event and they had the head table, and they have me, my name incorrectly spelled although it isn’t misspelled. They have a middle initial, which I don’t have. And my title is Chancellor and president Emeritus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. All right, now my involvement with Teaneck goes back to the, to 1941, long before we were established in Teaneck because at that time, when Mrs. Sammartino and I founded what was then Fairleigh Dickinson Junior college, we worked with that Bergen college would come to an end and that we would assume the assets and liabilities of the defunct institution. The move was called a merger for apparent reasons but that’s what happened. So in February of 1954, that campus became the Teaneck campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. But we had a number of problems. Number one, the problems of the students. There were about 300 full time students and only half of them were really students that could do college work. Some of them weren’t even high school graduates. So we had to let go, of 150 students, approximately half and most of the other students were allowed to continue on probation. Then we had the problem with facilities because the facilities were in deplorable condition. One might say that there were no classrooms to speak of. The laboratories were, hadn’t been taken care of for years; the library was simply devoid of any up to date books; and so seventeen of our faculty pitched in and without any extra remuneration, began the process of changing over the campus and making it a real college campus. The first thing we had to do was to put up a building for classrooms whish we did very quickly.

(I) Which one is that?

(N) That’s, well it was at that time called Williams Hall then it was renamed in honor of Mrs. Smith who was the mother of Mrs. Dickinson. That’s the one over the little lake in front where the swans are. (Can you stop a minute?) These were Hiram B.D. Blauvelt and Mr. Kron. Then we had a wonderful person in Althea Herald our library director who rolled up here sleeves and within two months really had to start from scratch because there were really no books in the Teaneck library and she ordered the books and got them in and you had a working library. As a matter of fact, she had a working library within two weeks but within a couple of months she had a full library and then within the next few years, she we had to build first an addition to the library and then we had to put up an entirely new building which is the library that we have now. She lived in Teaneck. She came to live in Teaneck by the way. Mrs. Sammartino was a dean of admissions and registrar and she whipped out a new catalogue very quickly. I think it was ready within one month, wasn’t it? Mrs. Hillers, professor Hillers, took care of the laboratories. She rolled up her sleeves literally and got the laboratories ready. Professor Luck got the physics laboratory. My dean, dean Ray Miller, watched over the twenty-four projects. We had a big sign with the twenty-four projects that we had to take care of and every day there was a little red line that was extended according to the progress so that students and faculty and any visitors could see what was happening. Then in Rutherford, since we had had a lot of trouble with parking, I said let’s make sure that we have all the parking that’s possible so we decided to fill in a great big area that was under water that was part of the Hackensack river. And for two years we took all the garbage that Teaneck had to offer in order to build up the area. And we found, it wound up, I think there is room for 4,000 cars.

(I) Didn’t you also get the tunnel Debris, Lincoln Tunnel?

(N) That’s right. I had forgotten that. We got the Debris from the Lincoln Tunnel to fill in the area.

(I) Garbage that was collected or

(N) We had garbage and Debris from the Tunnel and we just filled in part of the river.

(I) So underneath that parking lot, there’s all this stuff. That’s very interesting.

(N) And Dr. Claire Black reorganized the science curriculum. Dean Lloyd Haberly, the liberal arts curriculum. And so that we had the library, the laboratory, we had to, we created that pond that you saw, the one in front, that wasn’t there. We had to redesign the sort of little stream that went underneath the campus and we created that pond under Williams hall which we had built. Then what else happened? Oh yes, then Dick Poor gave us the two swans for the pond and the Governor at that time was Gov. Driscoll called me personally and he said, Peter, I am so happy that you’re taking over the campus and I know that you will create a good institution on that campus because Bergen Junior College had never been accredited.

(I) So that’s how they were able to have students who hadn’t finished high school?

(N) Well they did a, well I don’t want to dwell into that, but to give you an example, during the Veteran period, we only increased our enrollment at the rate of 150 a year. It was a steady growth at our Rutherford campus so that we wanted to make sure that we could take care of the students each year. In Teaneck, they took in 5,000 students and before they knew it, something happened and none of the high school principals would collaborate with Bergen Junior College. In the gymnasium, sheets separated some of the classes. The only classrooms they had were in the gymnasium and they had to, classes had to complete with the dribbling of the basketball so that’s why we had to rush into building of a classroom building so that we would have that ready.

(I) Did you keep any of their faculty?

(N) Well then we had trouble with the faculty. We kept some of the faculty, approximately ¼ of the faculty that we felt came up to standards and the other faculty members we had to let them go. So that there was a great deal of very painful adjustment and then we had to cut out fraternities and Bergen Junior College had fraternities. Well some of the students didn’t like that. And there was a great deal of grumbling of the 150 students who remained there. So finally after a few weeks, I used to collect suits of Armor. I put on one of my suits of Armor and I appeared before them and I said, well, I expect some brickbats and I’m all set for you. And of course that produced a laugh and I began to explain to them that if we hadn’t stepped in, the college would have gone bankrupt and they couldn’t have graduated and they would have lost the tuition that they had paid in September of 1953 whereas we guaranteed whatever, we took them to the end of the year. We didn’t receive the tuition, the old Bergen Junior College had, and it had been spent and so that by the end of June in 1954, we had a going campus and then we increased, we had about twenty high school principals, we took in, we took them from other areas in the northern parts of the county, and we had about thirty when we got through. And as I said, marshes had to be drained, parking lots had to be created, everything had to be painted and put in prime condition because everything had been allowed to disintegrate and then we made up a plan, a five year plan, for building on the campus.

(I) Now you were able to keep running Rutherford, it must have been very hectic to keep both the Rutherford campus as well as getting Teaneck underway.

(N) Yes but first of all, I told you that seventeen of the faculty, it was the finest example of faculty cooperation I’ve ever seen. The former president of Bergen Junior College became the dean but then he retired after the first semester and we brought in Dr. Rice as dean and he did very well. And we took a cadre of our faculty members from Rutherford and to build up the faculty at Teaneck. Is that what you meant by your question?

(I) Yes but also wasn’t it hard to keep the Rutherford campus, you must have been

(N) No, it wasn’t that difficult. We tried to create at Teaneck the counterpart of Rutherford. Just like having a new child in the family and everything, they were denied nothing that we had so we sent a cadre of our faculty over there and then of course we got new faculty to come in and by September of that year, we had 300 full time members and the high school principals who hither to had not wanted to send their students to Fairleigh Dickinson, at that time it was Fairleigh Dickinson College. And we created a town and Gown society.

(I) I remember.

(N) You remember that. Were you a member of that?

(I) I am a member now. I belong to it.

(N) Well that was part of it.

(I) Tell about what lead to that.

(N) Well I felt that the Teaneck people ought to have a part in the transition and I wanted them to know fully what was happening so we had a town and Gown society in Rutherford and we founded one in Teaneck. Our faculty in some cases a faculty member might teach some courses in Rutherford and some courses in Teaneck. And at that point began our development as multiple campus. Later on we were to have a third campus in Madison, you know that.  That was much more difficult because that was much farther away but it was a very exhilarating period and we had, it was a challenge. And a curious thing developed. The son of President Eisenhower accepted a position as provost at the Teaneck campus. He was in Korea at the time and I invited him, I knew he was looking, he had a masters degree in education., a teachers’ college, and I invited him to come on board and he consulted with his uncle Milton Eisenhower and Milton said, well it’s an opportunity. He said Fairleigh Dickinson is not as old as Harvard but it’s a good opportunity for you to get into the education field. And he accepted. Then he had to back out because President Eisenhower made him military aide at the White House.

(I) So he felt he had to take that job?

(N) Well he would have had to resign from the army in order to come to Fairleigh Dickinson and the army felt that it would be demoralizing if the President’s son, but I didn’t find out the real reason until I read Truman’s book and General Marshall had something to do with it but I’m not going to tell that story. You can do your own research. But at any rate, he visited the Teaneck campus and he was going to live either in Teaneck or in Hackensack. But I thought that you..

(I) That’s very interesting. Now who came in instead when he ..

(N) Well Dr. Rice became, yeah, actually Barbara and John Eisenhower came here and had lunch here.

(I) They sat right here?

(N) They sat right here in our dining room and we had organic hamburgers.

(I) What are the organic hamburgers?

(N) Well made out of organically grown beef because one of the things that Fairleigh Dickinson was always interested in was nutrition.

(I) Where do you get that?

(N) Now you are asking a story. Well a friend of mine was very allergic to DDT in beef but he was rich enough to set up his own farm, Globe Hill farms, and I prevailed upon him to sell us his beef at cost price. Well his cost price was higher than commercial beef but we bought it anyway and that’s what out students had, his beef,

(I) Oh, that’s very interesting.

(N) We used to make our own whole wheat bread with organically grown wheat from Pennsylvania and

(I) And this was served at Fairleigh in Teaneck as well as Rutherford? You were ahead of your time?

(N) This was in the 50s.

(I) When did that stop. Now they obviously have

(N) Well, after I retired. We had Gordon Walker milk. Walker Gordon milk.

(I) What’s that?

(N) Certified milk. Unpasteurized milk. You don’t know about that?

(I) I’ve heard of it.

(N) Well you see milk, when you pasteurize it, you lose a great deal of the nutritional value. But we had the Walker Gordon unpasteurized milk, the cows are tested every day and we had our own vitamins made which we sold to the students at $1.00 a bottle.

(I) What lead to your interest in nutrition? This is fascinating.

(N) Well you got to read my book.

(I) Well okay.

(Wife) We became interested in nutrition right away and especially when

(N) It goes back to the 40s. Practically at the time we founded the college. As a matter of fact, it does go back to 1942 when Ed Hewitt spoke to our students and our students, 1942 was a war year, all of our students were girls with the exception of a couple of boys. And he said your girls look very pretty but now why don’t you, they are only living on 50% value. Why don’t you do something for them? And I did. And we began to get a great many people, some of the outstanding nutritionists of the country like Clyde Mckay of Cornell, Ansel Keyes of the university of Minnesota, even Gloria Swanson, she was the best.

(I) Yes, I’ve heard that she was interested.

(N) Because they listened to her.

(Wife) She came right here in this living room with a gang from New York and her son was a baby in her arms and a loaf of whole wheat bread in the other arm. And we had an organic meeting for about thirty people.

(I) Wow. Fascinating.

(N) So then you see we began to arrange for new buildings. I’m looking over the chapter on nutrition and Cooper Marsh was my friend who was involved with the beef. We had a course for nutrition for all students and then we began to develop the school of Engineering in Teaneck. In the meantime, we began to get a great many friends in Teaneck, the major one being Al Robinson. Al and Ann Robinson were the first big donors from Teaneck and they gave us $150,000 for our first building and in the meantime, we decided quite independently, we had decided to start a school of Dentistry and we decided that we might as well have it in Teaneck because we had more room there. Rutherford was very crowded. We only had 11-1/2 acres over here. So we decided to have that and the Robinsons gave us our first gift for that and..

(I) Now about when was this?

(N) Well now we are going into the late 50s and early 60s. But then you see we really stopped growing in Rutherford and whatever growth we had was in Teaneck. We stopped talking any more students in Rutherford and we began to build up Teaneck and pretty soon Teaneck had as many students as Rutherford had.

(I) About how many at that point?

(N) Well if you want to know, I can get the figures for you.

(I) Just approximate.

(N) Well pretty soon we, before we knew it, we had 1,000 students at Teaneck and Teaneck from the mid 60s on became the larger of the two campuses because the School Of Dentistry was there, the School Of Engineering and in 1956, we became a university because we had a School Of Dentistry, a School Of Engineering, a School Of Business Administration, a School Of Education, College Of Liberal Arts and the graduate school. See we had six schools and we became a university. Then we acquired land on the other side of the river in Hackensack and we erected a bridge between the two campuses.

(I) Where is that bridge?

(N) Well that bridge goes from the parking lot into the campus of the Edward Williams college.

(I) Is that a footbridge or

(N) It is a footbridge but a car can go across it. But it is really intended as a ….so there’s the story of Teaneck and then we acquired the historic house on River road and that became the residence of Dr. Pollack when he became president. And it was in the early 70s that I felt that as we were growing larger, we were losing some of the advantages of having a small college because we were a small college when we started in Rutherford. It was never my intention to have a large institution. People think that I wanted to establish campuses all over New Jersey and have a large institution. That isn’t so. When we founded Fairleigh Dickinson, we were thinking in terms of a small institution of about 200/300 students. That’s all. Now as we became larger, then I felt that the time had come to break up the first two years into small colleges of 400 and our first experiment in that was Edward Williams College which is on the Hackensack side which has been an outstanding success.

(I) Is that Liberal arts?

(N) It was entirely Liberal arts. It was a core curriculum for two years in Liberal arts. And that college had curiously the largest growth of any private college in America and then the second unit was supposed to be in Teaneck and the next time you go there, if you look at Robinson Hall, one end of it has some large white panels. I purposely had built on to Robinson hall a part that was going to be the second 400 student college for those interested in math, physics and new fangled thing called the computer. That was in 1966. And my successor, Dr. Fuller, whatever I did, he wanted to dismantle. He wanted to give Edward Williams College away for nothing. And of course he aborted the idea of continuing the experiment. But that second part is, you can still see it. It was a wing for the second unit so to speak.

(I) So that concept of the math, science, computer school disappeared. Well that’s a shame. Now he succeeded you but you were still

(N) You can only start things and after all, you don’t live forever and whoever comes along, then he dismantled the Board Of Educational Directors of the high school principals.

(I) Why?

(N) Well he felt that a university, I don’t know, shouldn’t have anything to do with high schools whereas we had felt very strongly that a college after all grows out of the graduates of the high school and there should be the maximum coordination and we used to collaborate with the high schools very closely. For instance, if we had an outstanding speaker, we would invite some of the students from the high schools who were interested in that particular subject to come. If we had a poetry reading, like with Kenneth Roberts, not Kenneth, we would invite the students that were interested in poetry to come over. If we had a French play, we would invite those advanced students from the high schools to come in and listen to the French play and then, see this is when I put on the suit of Armor

(I) Oh, you meant that very literally (Machine is turned off)

(N) In Rutherford, we tried to duplicate in Teaneck. In other words, we evolved the concept of equal campuses. We didn’t want Teaneck to be considered simply a secondary campus. We wanted it to be a co-equal campus. That’s word we used. See, co-equal campuses.

(I) When do you feel that Teaneck really came into its own. Was it in 56 with the university?

(N) Well it had a very meteoric rise, very quickly because you see that northern part of the county was nearer to Teaneck than it was to Rutherford. We had grown in Rutherford just as much as we could. We couldn’t grow any more. Remember me telling you that we had a sign with all the different projects - the physics lab, see, and we had a red line to show how it was getting along so that the students would know what was happening. Those were the Robinsons over there. This was the library. This is when I put on the suit of Armor. And that was our first building. It was named Williams Hall. And then the students in Rutherford had a big party and they invited all the students in Teaneck to come to it, see.

(I) Oh, that was a great idea.

(N) And then we put up our, we got money to put up our new library and some of the people that were responsible for the growth of Teaneck, their names have been lost in the shuffle of things. Now no one worked harder than Mrs. Sammartino. She had to take care of the admissions for the new campus; she had to train a new staff, made up a catalogue for the new campus. She made sure that the students that were admitted came up to standard because you see; Bergen Junior College hadn’t done anything. They just took in students, whoever came over there, they just took them in. In some cases, they weren’t even high school graduates and but then we began to have new buildings. You see, this is Robinson Hall, It was built in 1964. This was the library. And now that was the William Zorach sculpture.

(I) How did you get that? That’s interesting.

(N) Well, there’s a story. William Zorach was visiting us in Maine and he was the blue funk and he had been paid $150,000 for the sculpture by a Texas bank and then they found out he was on a committee for the loyalists in Spain, you know. There was the Spanish Civil War so they became worried that it might have an unfavorable political effect on the bank so they told him to keep it. So he said, ‘my life’s masterpiece and it is going to waste. So I said, Bill, how much would it cost to have it cast because it was in plaster.

(I) Where was it at that point? Was it

(N) Oh well, at that point it was in Long Island in the foundry you see. He says, well, it would cost I think $15,000 to buy this. So I got in touch with my trustees. I said, look, can I have $15,000 to buy this. They said, well, you’ve done crazy things before. If you feel it worthwhile, go ahead and buy it. So I bought it. And we didn’t know it was there. The four pieces were all crated and lying on the ground and when we put up the new library, I had the architect design the building around this sculpture. Now this sculpture must be worth probably, I don’t know, if you had to buy it $1,000,000.

(I) Oh, it is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

(N) To my mind, it is the outstanding mural sculpture anywhere. And we saved a lot of money because the rest of the building is very simple. Usually you have to spend some money for the facade of a building. We had our façade. Next time you go there, look at it.

(I) Oh, I’ve noticed it. I’ll look again. Does it have a name, the sculpture?

(N) Oh yes, it has a name but I forget what it is. It was a symbolism inspired by Texan history you see. These are the flags of Texas. The flags of Texas are the same as the flags of the United States and this is supposed to symbolize the Indians in Texas. We had to symbolize the Indians in Bergen County. It is a beautiful sculpture. The only problem we have with the students is as a prank, every year always paint the nipples of the mother figure there and we have..

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The toenails pink and so we are making progress. But then we put up a building for student commons and over here, you see, that looks like a deck of a ship. I used to have deck chairs. See I have the same deck chairs they have on the Transatlantic liners and when you sat on those deck chairs with the Hackensack river flowing, you just had the illusion that you were on a trip and at five o’clock every day, I used to have hot chocolate served by stewards in white jackets so that you had the feeling that you were on a trip abroad.

(I) That’s a wonderful tradition.

(N) After I retired, Dr. Fuller discontinued these things and

(I) You retired in

(N) I retired in 1967. I had been president for twenty-five years, which was five times the average. (Stops to answer phone) The Muscarelli building and then see there’s Eisenhower’s son. Then when president Johnson came over, we had him go there and Mrs. Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson. In other words, we tried to have the important people sometimes come to Rutherford and sometimes go to Teaneck. We didn’t want them to feel that they were simply a stepchild and in time, of course, Teaneck became more important than Rutherford simply because it had more space and you could put the new buildings over there and so there’s the story of Fairleigh Dickinson of Teaneck.

 

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