Jordan Smart’s name is perfect for a scholar.
Or, for that matter, for the recipient of a scholarship.
A cerebral Sicklerville resident who plans to become a mechanical engineer, Smart, 23, is among four Camden County College students awarded $1,000 each from the Riletta T. Cream Scholarship Fund.
“I can’t thank [them] enough,” Smart says.
Cream, a longtime educator who served for 17 years as a Camden County freeholder, was married to Arnold Cream, the boxing champion better known as Jersey Joe Walcott.
She established the scholarship in 1988 by adding $4,000 of her own money to the $6,000 purse she received upon retirement as Camden High School’s principal; it has since grown to $100,000.
A Winslow Township resident, Cream previously lived in Cherry Hill but remains fiercely proud of her South Camden roots. She and a volunteer board ran the nonprofit scholarship until recently, when she decided to turn over its administration to the Camden County College Foundation, which oversees gifts from alumni and other donations.
The scholarship, formerly limited to graduates of public high schools in Camden, has been expanded to students who reside elsewhere in the county. The other recipients are Elizabeth Malony, a veterinary technology major from Haddonfield; Angelica Merlino of Bellmawr, a business administration major; and Victoria Quann, a nursing student from Camden. They and Smart were chosen from a pool of about 30 applicants; they must maintain at least a 2.75 grade-point average.
“When I graduated from Camden High and went to Glassboro State College, people helped me,” explains Cream, whose pastor gave her a ride to her college entrance exam. Her dad, a widower and a cement mason, paid her $36 monthly train fare between Camden and campus.
“Let me tell you, I received a lot of help,” Cream, 85, says.
The unmistakable voice on the phone is as precise, and strong, as when I first met Cream as a reporter in the early 1980s. She was about halfway through her 15-year reign as principal at Camden High, which she is credited with turning around after the racial turmoil and white flight of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The mere click-click of her signature high heels in the corridors of the “Castle on the Hill” was enough to get students to behave; Cream called her no-nonsense philosophy “discipline with love.”
She says she set up the scholarship because “I’ve always felt it’s important to give back and help somebody else.” And she adds that the college foundation was a good fit, given that she was the liaison to the college until leaving the freeholder board in 2011.
“Mrs. Cream has been a wonderful supporter of the college and its goals for many years,” college president Ray Yannuzzi says.
Freeholder Ian K. Leonard adds that “by transferring the assets to the foundation, [she] has ensured that her caring and her message ... will live on in the lives of students for years to come.”
Not that Cream plans on going anywhere, mind you — except the Bahamas, her current vacation destination.
Back on the Blackwood campus, I sit in a Connector Building lounge with Smart, who is 6-foot-5 and says he “absolutely” embraces the “nerd” label.
“I grew up wanting to be an astronaut,” he recalls.
“I’ve always been interested in anything involving a screwdriver,” he adds.
“There is a sort of mechanical logic in most systems. After all, they’re designed by people. And once you understand why people are doing what they’re doing, it’s much easier to engage them.”
A 2006 graduate of Timber Creek Regional High School in Gloucester Township, Smart studied physics at the University of North Carolina but left after three years due to a death in his immediate family.
After graduation next year, he hopes to continue his studies at either Rowan or Rutgers.
“The scholarship,” he says, “is a real help.”
Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists’ blog, “Blinq,” at www.phillynews.com/blinq.