Ralph W. Voorhees, a 1948 graduate of Rutgers University and friend and benefactor to the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Rutgers University, died of natural causes on Monday, November 4. He was 87.
A sterling example of volunteerism and civic engagement at its very best, Mr. Voorhees dedicated many years to service in several areas of university and community life, demonstrating vision, unquestionable altruism, and outstanding success as a philanthropic leader. His volunteer activities spanned education, health, urban renewal, local Democratic politics, and religion.
“The Bloustein School community is greatly saddened to hear of the passing of our long-time friend and supporter, Ralph Voorhees,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School. “He was truly a giant who can never be replaced. Ralph’s commitment to civic engagement was closely aligned with the public service ethic of the Bloustein School.”
He is best known for his contributions to Rutgers University, a school with which his family has had close ties for more than 100 years. Mr. Voorhees and his brother, Alan, established the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers in the 1970s, named in honor of their mother, a widow, who raised three children during the Depression. Through his time, energy, donations of money and art, and fundraising prowess, the museum grew to be “one of the top university museums in the world,” said Phillip Dennis Cate, former director.
In the 1990s, Mr. Voorhees helped found the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center—named for his brother, an internationally renowned transportation planner—at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. The Voorhees Transportation Center is a leader in transportation research and education at the national, state. and regional levels and serves as the nucleus of transportation-related training and education, policy, and research at Rutgers. The center’s primary activities include a blend of applied and academic research, education and training, and service to the state and region on a variety of transportation planning and policy topics.
In honor of Mr. Voorhees’ own vision, civic engagement and service contributions, in 2011 the Voorhees family established the Ralph W. Voorhees Center for Civic Engagement at the Bloustein School. A collaborative effort of university faculty and students and community development actors, the center enhances educational opportunities, facilitates innovative research and engages with communities.
“The center builds on the existing educational programs at the Bloustein School and Rutgers University, and complements those activities by supporting a core group of undergraduate and graduate fellows,” said Hughes. “The Bloustein School is honored to further Ralph’s legacy to the Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and Highland Park communities through the work of the Ralph W. Voorhees Center.”
The center oversees The Ralph W. Voorhees Program in Public Service Fellowships, awarded annually to students who have chosen to focus their academic pursuits on civically-engaged learning through research projects in community development and planning, community-based education, entrepreneurship, housing, public transportation, public health or public policy. The program is open to undergraduate applicants from any major in any school at Rutgers. Students work on research projects in partnership with community organizations, simultaneously building community capacity and contributing to the intellectual life of the university.
A senior vice president for investments at Paine Webber, Mr. Voorhees was named to the prestigious Paine Webber Chairman’s Club and was selected by Registered Representative magazine as one of 20 outstanding brokers of 1983. He retired in 2001 after 45 years in the brokerage business. His civic involvement began in 1958 after he was elected a councilman in Highland Park, where he lived for most of his life. Mr. Voorhees’ community memberships have included serving as a member of ASA Holdings Inc.’s Board of Directors, and as chairman of the boards of the United Way of Central New Jersey, Family Counseling Services of Middlesex County, the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and the New Brunswick Cultural Center.
At Rutgers, he chaired the University Foundation’s Board of Overseers, served on the President’s Council Fundraising Committee, and co-chaired the 25th Anniversary of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum.
His efforts earned him widespread recognition both in New Jersey and nationwide. He was among the first to be honored by President Reagan with the U.S. Presidential Recognition Award for volunteerism in 1983. For his dedication to Rutgers, the Rutgers Alumni Association named him a Loyal Son in 1984, he was honored by the Rutgers University Alumni Federation with a Meritorious Service Award in 1994, and was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1996.
Mr. Voorhees also was a trustee of Voorhees College, a historically black college in Denmark, South Carolina, founded with seed money from his great uncle and great aunt, where he received the Keeper of the Flame Award for continuing his family’s legacy of supporting the college. He was the recipient of the Torch of Liberty Award for Community Service from the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, and the Distinguished Service award from the Melvyn H. Motolinsky Research Foundation, one of a few recipients outside the medical and scientific community.
Born in New Brunswick on May 4, 1926, Mr. Voorhees attended Rutgers College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Despite being blind in one eye from a childhood accident, he played football, baseball, and—for one season—basketball. For many decades, he was the only Rutgers pitcher to have beaten Princeton University twice in a season.
His wife, Barbara Beiser Voorhees, predeceases Mr. Voorhees. He is survived by a stepbrother, Fred Zimmerli of Telford, PA; four children, Judy Voorhees of Poolesville, MD, Mark Voorhees of South Orange, NJ, Jane Voorhees of Princeton, NJ, and Alan Voorhees of Madison, NJ; and 15 grandchildren, who all know “On the Banks of the Old Raritan.”