Monmouth Memories Oral History Project
Date of Interview: December 7, 2017
Interviewee: Janet Fell, former Monmouth employee
Interviewer: Samantha Papa, Monmouth University Student
Summarizer: Alexandra Stantzos, Monmouth University Student
Janet Fell worked at Monmouth University for three decades. Janet grew up in North Jersey and graduated from North Arlington High School in Bergen County. After attending Fairleigh Dickinson College and Rutgers University for a few semesters, studying marketing and humanities, she worked in Newark for several years at law firms and at Rutgers University Law School. In the 1960s, after marrying, she moved south to Monmouth County.
After raising her children, a son and daughter, she returned to college and completed an AA degree in Media Studies at Brookdale Community College. She then enrolled in Thomas Edison University to earn her bachelor’s degree in Humanities and she explains that it was not your typical or traditional university experience. She says that it was an alternative for adults, to complete degree requirements in an untraditional way. This did not include being enrolled in classes and having to attend them weekly, rather it involved submitting portfolios, documentation of work history, and tests in lieu of credits earned in a classroom, to demonstrate skills learned. Thomas Edison University, as a credit bank, helped her aggregate all of her previous credits, earned at three different colleges, to complete her bachelor’s degree. At the same time, Janet worked for a local weekly newspaper as both a writer and editor. In this portion of the interview, Janet muses on how differently universities were run while she was a student in the 1980s.
Her very positive and fulfilling experience as a college student and of working at Rutgers Law School led her to want to find a position in higher education and with that in mind she applied to Monmouth University and was hired.
The first position Janet held at Monmouth in the 1980s was as a member of the Division of Institutional Advancement, which entailed working under a Director of Development. Their focus was creating a new capital campaign. She found her experience at the previous newspaper job she held helped prepare her for working as a secretary under the Director of Development and assisting with the writing and publication of campaign literature. She held the job from June 1987- October 1988, when a position opened in the President’s office as Executive Assistant. She says it was a different atmosphere as the job held more responsibility since it reported to the president of the university, and the department as a whole was more serious. For years she worked under Presidents Samuel Magill, Rebecca Stafford, and Paul Gaffney, explaining that each was a new experience. There was a transition from one to the other, each carrying with them a new vision for the campus. She elaborates on her time with Dr. Stafford, discussing the monumental opportunity of working under the first and only female president Monmouth has had. According to Janet, Dr. Stafford set the precedent for creating a more caring atmosphere for students and employees, emphasizing the importance of community.
During her time in the President’s Office, she was responsible for managing the day to day operation of the office and supervising the staff. She worked with the Board of Trustees, served as chair and member of a variety of University committees, organized University-wide events, such as dedications, presidential inaugurations, etc. She also became the chair of the Founder’s Day Committee, explaining its importance as a yearly tradition, specifically mentioning her involvement in placing a time capsule on campus during the Millenium that will be opened in 2033, Monmouth’s 100th anniversary. In 2007 she transitioned to the position of Special Assistant to the Board of Trustees, serving in that capacity under Presidents Brown and Dimenna. For ten years she stayed in that position, growing concerned that she would not be able to juggle her responsibilities when her late husband became ill with Parkinson’s. Janet explains that her husband, Gilbert Fell, had worked at Monmouth as a professor of philosophy and religion for 35 years. He was on the campus in the 1960s, and was one of those who picked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. up from the airport in Red Bank in 1966 when he came to speak at the University. Dr. Fell, who was also a Methodist minister, was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement. The Fells met in the 1990s when Janet took her soon to be husband’s graduate philosophy class. They began socially seeing one another, and married soon after.
Janet Fell’s lasting impact on Monmouth’s campus can be found in the Fell Philosophy Endowed Scholarship, and in Fells’ Bells, the carillon housed in the Plangere Center clock tower, whose bells ring out across the campus hourly. Both are gifts to the University from Janet and Gilbert. She explains that she wanted nothing more than to give back to the community that she holds very near and dear to her heart.