Rutgers recently passed a major milestone with more than 500,000 alumni living worldwide. Hidden within that remarkable group are some other numbers worth celebrating:
320: The number (approximately) of alumni from Rutgers who passed their 100th birthday (and are still counting!)
110: the age of the person believed to be the oldest living Rutgers alumnus, a member of the Class of 1931 who studied engineering and currently lives in Wyoming
1938 (or earlier): When most of our centenarian alumni graduated from Rutgers
632: The size of the class of 1938 (compared to the nearly 16,000 students universitywide in the class of 2018)
8: Where Rutgers ranks nationally for the size of its alumni network
6: The number of continents where Rutgers alumni can be found (and in all 50 states, the District of Columbia six U.S. territories)
115: the number of chartered Rutgers alumni organizations across Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe and North America
If about 320 alumni over the age of 100 sounds like an usual number, that is because it is, according to James Hughes, university professor and dean emeritus of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. The percentage of Rutgers alumni to reach 100, about two-thirds of 1 percent, is actually three times greater than the overall number of people nationwide from their generation to reach that milestone, Hughes said.
The chance of living to 100 was considered close to zero percent when Rutgers centenarian alumni were born, he said.
“There are many benefits to being a Scarlet Knight,’’ Hughes said. “It seems to triple your chances of making it to 100 years of age.’’
Much has changed at Rutgers since the university’s most senior graduates completed their degrees, but there are also plenty of recognizable landmarks intact from nearly a century ago. The oldest alumni were here before Rutgers became the state university of New Jersey, a designation obtained in 1956, when it was a much smaller place.
Gladys Kirschbaum Hosch, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in the fall, was a 1938 graduate of the New Jersey College for Women, which later become Douglass Residential College – named for its first dean Mable Smith Douglass. Hosch came to Rutgers from Asbury Park, where her father owned the famed kiddie rides and ran concession stands on the boardwalk. She was one of 182 women in her graduating class.
Some of the names on campus buildings were familiar when Hosch was a student studying economics and psychology. She lived in the Jameson dorm, built in 1927, which she described as new at the time she lived there and remains as a campus landmark.
Hosch fondly recalls going to dances on campus, where the men wore jackets and ties and the women were in modest floor length dresses. She attended games to cheer on the Rutgers football team, although she doesn’t remember if she was in some of the first crowds at the original Rutgers Stadium – completed in 1938 as a federal Works Projects Administration project.
“It’s so long ago it’s hard to recall,’’ Hosch said. “A lot of memories have piled up since then.’’
But she remembers the cost of tuition – $250 a semester – and the name of her college roommate, Renee Cohen, who she briefly reconnected with a few years ago.
After graduation, Hosch went on to work for the Asbury Park Housing Authority, where she helped build affordable housing in the city. She married Ira J. Hosch, an officer in the U.S. Army, before he was deployed to Europe and Africa during World War II. The couple had two children after he returned. They moved to Fort Meyers, Florida in 1973, where Hosch worked as executive director of the United Way of Lee County.
Eighty years after her graduation, Hosch sees many differences between then and now, but the change that strikes her the most is the technology students have at their disposal. When she was a student everything was written by hand; she didn’t even have access to a typewriter. She believes that in the not-so-distant future the art of writing handwritten notes will become obsolete.
“I wrote a letter to my great-granddaughter when she was born eight years ago, and I said, ‘The reason I am writing you is I want you to see what handwriting looked like in the old days,’’ Hosch said.
In comparison to Hosch, John Archibald, who will turn 97 in July, might seem young. But his memories of his times at Rutgers – from marching with a rifle at Neilson field as a member of the ROTC to shooting a pistol in the range in the basement of the College Avenue Gym to his recollection of how segregation created roadblocks and hardship in the lives of people he knew – bring to light some of the significant chapters in history.
Archibald, Class of 1943, grew up in Middlebush, a small village that is part of Franklin Township, a few miles from campus. His father was a professor at the university and friends with Rutgers’ celebrated alumnus Paul Robeson. Archibald recalls going to see Robeson perform at the College Avenue Gym and talking with his father about the barriers Robeson faced because of segregation, which was legal at the time.
“My father was horrified Paul Robeson couldn’t travel with the glee club, stay in hotels or eat in restaurants when they were on the road,’’ Archibald said. “My father had great compassion for him. He always understood how Paul was disillusioned in a way with the life that he was dealt.’’
Archibald started at Rutgers in 1939 and was drafted two years later after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He entered an accelerated track, an option created to allow students to complete their degrees quickly and enter the military.
“Roosevelt was such an inspiring leader and we were ready to go,’’ Archibald remembers. “There was no reluctance. It was in our DNA.’’
The current class of Rutgers students might be surprised that Hosch doesn’t have any words of wisdom to share with them as she approaches her 100th birthday. But that is because she believes they are on the right track.
“I think young people today are doing very well,’’ she said. “They seem to be thriving.”