Spotlight On: Nathan Weiss

Nathan Weiss with his wife, Bernice Rydell.

Nathan Weiss ’48 became president of Newark State College (now Kean University) in 1969 during the height of the student and faculty unrest that gripped the nation’s colleges and universities. He later chronicled those tumultuous early years of his 20-year presidency in his book, At the Center of the Storm: Reflections of a State College President. Weiss was an all-star on the undefeated 1947 Montclair State football team and recently attended a reunion with 12 of his teammates from 60 years ago.

From truck driver’s son to college president:
Nathan Weiss, 84, was heartbroken when a grade school librarian told him why his chances of becoming an archaeologist were hopeless. “She [said] that I should be more realistic because ‘truck drivers’ sons do not become archaeologists,’ ” writes Weiss in a draft of his memoirs—an ongoing project he undertakes with his wife, Dr. Bernice R. Rydell. “As it turned out, the closest I came to the study of archaeology was my college major, history.”

The product of humble beginnings, Weiss was not initially college-bound. It took a friend’s convincing and the desire to advance his budding football career to drive him to attend Montclair State Teachers College. As an undergrad at Montclair, he would shine—in academics and athletics—despite a 3-year hiatus as an army reserve called to duty in World War II. Weiss, a Newark native and Weequahic High School graduate, worked odd jobs to earn money for freshman tuition. He began what he calls “a love affair with Montclair,” in the semester he spent in school before being called to basic training.

A soldier’s return and gridiron glory:
Eager to resume his education and delighted that the G.I. Bill of Rights would be picking up the tab, Weiss was on campus the morning after his return. The fondest memory Weiss has of Montclair was of the warm reception he was given that day. “I can remember coming back to Montclair after surviving the war and the welcome that the Montclair staff had [for us],” he recalls. “[Montclair] had really been wonderful to its students, especially its veterans,” adds Weiss, who cherishes the post-war commitment by Montclair to its veteran scholars.

He would spend the next three years excelling on the field and in the classroom. The 1947 football team went undefeated and the all-star left guard earned Hall of Fame status at Montclair for his athletic performance. This September, Weiss reunited with 12 teammates from that year and their spouses at a luncheon at Montclair State.

A life in higher education:
Weiss taught high school briefly before enrolling in an NYU Ph.D. program, a move that would set him well on his path to professorship at Newark State (now Kean University). “I always wanted to become a college professor,” says Weiss. In 1961, his dream was realized and he spent the next few years teaching students about political activism before becoming president of Newark State College in 1969. Among his memorable achievements as president was his lone active support of student representation on the state college boards of trustees, a stance for which he was recognized upon his retirement in 1989 by the New Jersey State College Student Government Association. His public involvement and drive earned him honorary doctorates from Montclair and Kean Universities, and Jersey City State College.