Joshua Feldstein, the former Delaware Valley University president who helped admit the first female student in the school’s history, died June 19 at age 97.
Feldstein earned an undergraduate degree in horticulture from DelVal in 1942 and never left. He received another bachelor’s degree from the university in 1952, before serving as a professor, chair of the horticulture department and dean of the college. He became the college’s seventh president in 1975, holding the position for 12 years.
“Up to the day he died, honest to goodness, he was DelVal. For 75 years, he represented DelVal. It was his life,” said Maria Gallo, the university’s first female president, who started in July 2016. “He was giving back to an institution that was so important to him.”
An immigrant born in Belarus and raised in Lithuania, Feldstein’s family sent him to the United States when he was 17 years old to escape the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement. He arrived at DelVal, then known as the National Farm School, with $40 in his pocket. He never heard from his family, and eventually learned they had been killed during the Holocaust.
Feldstein found solace in bettering the DelVal community. As president he pushed for more female faculty members and orchestrated the construction of new academic and athletic facilities, like the Kenneth W. and Helen H. Gemmill Center for Animal Husbandry and James Work Memorial Stadium.
He was designated DelVal’s president emeritus and appointed a member of the board of trustees after retiring. But his work on campus was hardly finished. He twice served as interim president, jumping in to serve the institution he kept close to his heart. He even documented the university’s history in a two-volume book, Evolution of a Unique Institution.
Old age couldn’t keep him away. Even in his later years he attended campus events, rolling around in his wheelchair. He made it to home football games for more than 70 years, in recent years sitting beside Jerry Fritz, a 1988 graduate and board of trustees member.
“He was my buddy,” Fritz said of Feldstein.
For Feldstein’s 97th birthday, Fritz, Gallo, board members and other high-ranking university officials met at Feldstein’s assisted-living facility. They sang him happy birthday in English and in Hebrew.
“Seeing his face and his smiles and seeing all his friends there was very memorable. He was crying,” Fritz said. “I have a video of him when he was blowing out the candles. He knew he was loved.”
Majid Alsayegh, chair of the board of trustees, said he felt a kinship toward Feldstein because of their similar backgrounds. An immigrant from Iraq, Alsayegh admired Feldstein’s rise through the ranks and his devotion to promoting campus diversity.
“It seemed like he was here forever, and it seemed like he would be here forever,” Alsayegh said. “His legacy will continue in the many students who graduated under his leadership and the many people who were touched by his good work.
“We will honor him at this university and make sure his story is told.”