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profiles archive
Ringo Adamson ’78
Michael Adler ’83
Jeff Bender ’81
Jack Collins ’64, ’67
Marvin Creamer ’43
Joe Conte ’74
Renai Ellison ’89
Kevin Feeney ’78, Gregg Feistman ’80 & Sandy Maxwell ’69, ’84
Michael J. Fowlkes ’81
> Georgina Blake Fries '60
> Louise Hammel ’95
Mike Iaconelli ’94
> Billy Lange ’94
> Termaine Lee ’03
Mark Milan ’89 & Dave Gorham ’89
> Kenton ’85 & Kathy Iadicola Nice ’85
Elaine Reed ’85
Lindsey Roy ’04
> Mike Stengel ’78
> Dean Thomas ’72

Mr. Collins goes to Trenton
By Mary Galloway Dovey ’75, ’96

n the 1960s, you might have been a classmate or teammate. In the ’70s, if you were lucky, you played on one of his legendary basketball teams. And in the ’90s, you could not have learned from a more qualified professor than he. In fact, for nearly 40 years, if you’ve been a part of Rowan University, you’ve been connected to Jack Collins ’64, ’67.

Teacher, coach, lawyer, college administrator—Jack Collins is known today throughout New Jersey in a much larger context—as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly. For the past 18 years, Collins, a Salem County Republican, has served as an Assemblyman, and for 10 years, as Assembly Speaker, one of the most powerful positions in the state. As presiding officer, Collins oversees the Assembly’s entire operation including setting the schedule and legislative priorities.

In fact, the legislative agenda is where Collins’ power and influence are most significant. Without his approval, his fellow lawmakers’ bills can’t come up for a vote.
Collins’ rise to the position was almost meteoric, and he is now the longest-serving Speaker in the Assembly’s history. There is really only one state office more powerful, and this fall, Collins is expected to formally announce his intention to add “governor” to his list of accomplishments.

During college, the six-foot Collins was known for his prowess on the basketball court. He scored 1,038 points in his Profs career, long before the three-point basket came to be. After graduation, armed with a science education degree and a record that would earn him a place on the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame, he accepted a position teaching science and coaching basketball at Sterling High School.

The next year, Camden County College invited him to become coach of their fledgling team, and the following year, his alma mater extended the same offer, making Collins, at 26, one of the youngest head basketball coaches in the country.
“It was such an honor to return to the college and be among my own coaches and professors as a colleague,” says Collins, who also served in the University’s Admissions Office for eight years. Eventually, he would spend 14 years as executive assistant working with administrator Lawson Brown and, later, President Herman James.

After racking up more than 131 victories and three conference titles in a row, Collins decided he’d had enough of basketball. He says that it was his wife, the former Betsy Leeds ’65, who realized the need to channel her husband’s energy in a new direction. Having already earned a master’s degree in student personnel services in 1967, Collins jumped at his wife’s suggestion that he attend law school, and in 1982, he graduated from Rutgers University School of Law in Camden.

The father of four, Collins’ first foray into politics was a term on his local school board. During one meeting a fellow member surprised him, telling Collins that he’d suggested his name as a possible Assembly candidate. “I remember asking, ‘For what party?’ ” Collins said, laughing. The son of a Gloucester City welder and life-long Democrat, no one was more surprised than Collins when the chairman of the Salem County Republican party called, asking him to run as its candidate. “After meeting with the leadership and discussing it with my family I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s try this,’ ” Collins said. He easily won his first Assembly race in 1985.

Hardly a career politico sheltered in paneled conference rooms and marble halls, Collins begins each day feeding the animals and doing other chores on the three-acre Pittsgrove Township farm where he’s lived for 26 years. Inspired by the TV westerns of his youth, the city-born Collins and his wife bought the property the day they looked at it.

Throughout the ’90s, Collins would return to Rowan after a long day in Trenton to face an even more formidable group than state lawmakers: graduate students in educational leadership. He loved it. “Subjects like school law, with locker searches and things like that, are so intriguing,” he said. “With graduate students, it was like throwing raw meat to lions. They came alive, and we were learning on both sides of the desk.”

Collins unabashedly calls his own college experience the best four years of his life. “What I learned as an undergraduate, about life and about people, has allowed me to enjoy so many of the other years of my life,” he says sincerely. Collins believes that the forces that shaped his education, especially the closeness and the interaction between faculty and students, are still the same, despite the growth of his alma mater.

The place that most influenced him and where he has contributed so much has honored him twice: in 1993, Collins was the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award and this May, he was awarded an honorary doctorate during the Class of 2000 commencement exercises.

Of his political success, Collins says simply, “I have a good rapport with people. As a teacher, I learned to bring out the best in students, and as a coach, to take the strengths of each person and blend them so that they work as a team.” Politics is no less challenging. “I enjoy government and I enjoy people, but it can be hard. Always, always, you have to believe in yourself.”

from summer ’00

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