When Joetta Di Bella Sautter ’69 and her husband, Chris, returned to Montclair State for her 50th class reunion, they were in awe. “We were so impressed to see the amazing growth of the University, we couldn’t believe it,” she says.
The two grew up in Montclair and share fond memories of when the “school on the hill” served as their playground. “Chris lived close enough to ride his bike to campus, and we would play in what was then a quarry to climb on the rocks.”
As an English major, Joetta fell in love with the school. “The professors in the English department hooked me, especially Dr. Krauss and Mrs. Barrett. I had four happy years at Montclair State.”
Deviating from her initial plans to become an English teacher, Joetta instead launched a successful career in television and broadcast media production that took her from Manhattan to Hollywood. An Emmy Award-winning producer, she received a Los Angeles area Emmy for her work with KTLA Channel 5 and has served on the Television Academy’s Diversity Committee and its Foundation’s Education Committee. During her career, she also wrote and produced the station’s Family Film Festival and a number of Hollywood Christmas and Rose parades. Before retiring, she put her love of history to use as an archivist for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.
“When I grew up in New Jersey, I didn’t know I would get into TV and production,” she says. “My parents valued education and gave us the opportunity to explore. … It helped me realize that there are many paths in life, and it’s good to take chances and be adventurous.” On her reunion visit to campus, Joetta was struck, in particular, by the direction of the School of Communication and Media and by its state-of-the-art building. “I am astounded by the opportunities offered, the quality of the professors and the emphasis on developing skills,” she says. “Students are working in the newsroom, shooting newscasts and calling the shots as directors, learning on the same equipment you would see in a professional TV studio.”
This “learn by doing” approach that enables students to “get their fingernails dirty” is why Joetta and Chris decided to invest in the School to create opportunities for students. Their generosity was recognized in the naming of the Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication, a collaborative space where generations of students will gain competitive advantages as they train to become strategic communication practitioners.
“I am grateful to be in a position where we can give back to our roots in Montclair and give students opportunities to get hands-on experience to boost their careers,” Joetta says.
She encourages students to explore and take full advantage of everything available at the University. “You don’t know what path life will take you on,” she says. “You may think your goal is to become a newscaster, but then you get your hands on a camera and realize that your passion is behind the camera.”
“I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to go to school here now,” she says with a laugh.
– Laura Iandiorio