Norman Reitman, Class of ’32, will never forget what it was like to struggle to pay his tuition. Scholarships and waiting tables helped him complete his education and attend medical school.
Since 1982, Reitman, who turned 100 in January, has been repaying the favor by helping other Rutgers pre-med and science majors in need with their tuition bills.
“Somebody gave money for me when I was in college,’’ said Reitman. “I had scholarships … after all, that is what life is about. You help me. I’ll help you.’’
Today there are almost 150 Reitman scholars all over the world. In honor of Reitman’s centennial birthday, nearly two dozen recipients of Reitman’s scholarships wrote letters thanking him for making a difference in their lives. Excerpts of the letters were read during a ceremony in December when Reitman received a presidential citation for his service to Rutgers University.
Reitman, of Highland Park, offers a very simple explanation for why he and his wife Syril started the scholarship program that is open to students at Rutgers' School of Arts and Sciences and Douglass Residential College. When he started at Rutgers in 1928, his father was a wealthy textile manufacturer. Reitman lived in a private suite on campus. Money was no issue. Then his father lost everything in the Depression and he needed help to get through college.
In their letters, the Reitman scholars thanked him for helping them stay in school when they were in danger of dropping out, making them feel like part of an extended family, and inspiring them to want to help others to follow in his footsteps.
“When you are socially or economically disadvantaged and at college, you feel like you are all alone and maybe the hill is too hard to climb,’’ said John Tumillo, a 1988 Rutgers graduate who grew up in Trenton.
Tumillo, an anesthesiologist at NYU’s Hospital for Joint Diseases, said when he was a student it was difficult not be able to share the experience with family members because they didn’t go to college. He said receiving the scholarship from Dr. Reitman was like having an uncle say: “I know how hard it is.’’
“It made me focus in the sense that I wanted to be like him,’’ Tumillo said. “I wanted to help and heal and care for other people and make a difference in people’s lives. When you grow up like I did, you don’t see a lot of people who are doctors or lawyers who are doing altruistic things. Once I received the scholarship, it made me realize there are great people out there and I must be pretty close.’’