Joshua Feldstein, 97, of Doylestown, president emeritus of Delaware Valley University, died Tuesday, June 19, of congestive heart failure at Pine Run Health Center.
Upon his arrival in the United States in 1939, Dr. Feldstein enrolled at Delaware Valley University, where he remained for more than 75 years, starting as a student and retiring as president. He was born in modern-day Belarus in 1921, but his family returned to their homeland of Lithuania the same year. There, Dr. Feldstein graduated from First Hebrew Private Gymnasium, where his father served as headmaster, in 1938 and went on to attend the University of Lithuania's school of engineering. But before graduating in 1939, fearing the rise of Nazism, his parents sent him alone through Germany by train to Paris, where he boarded the SS Normandie en route to the U.S.
Dr. Feldstein's father had a friend in the United States, Edward Chase, who served on the board of directors at the National Farm School, which became Delaware Valley University. Dr. Feldstein received a degree in horticulture in 1942, followed by a one year postgrad diploma in agricultural machinery.
While Dr. Feldstein was pursuing his education, the Nazis invaded Lithuania. "All correspondence with my family ceased in 1941, but I continued to hope that a miracle would occur and they would survive," he wrote in his book Evolution of a Unique Institution: Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture. "They did not. I was alone and utterly heartbroken."
However, Dr. Feldstein soon found his wife-to-be of more than 70 years, Miriam, on a blind double date with a friend in Doylestown, he notes in his book. They married two years later, on Christmas Eve 1944. Miriam passed away in 2015.
"She was the love of his life," said his son Ted. "They weren't just husband and wife. They were buddies."
Dr. Feldstein loved his family passionately, Ted Feldstein said, adding that Delaware Valley University was his other love. Since coming to the U.S., Dr. Feldstein never moved off the campus, his son added.
"It became his life's work. He would do anything for his alma mater," he said.
He joined the Farm School faculty as an instructor and assistant foreman upon his graduation in 1942. A decade later, he earned his bachelor's degree in horticulture from the Farm School, simultaneously serving as an instructor. In 1956, he received his master's from Rutgers University and in 1962, his doctorate in horticulture also from Rutgers — all while teaching at Delaware Valley.
Dr. Feldstein worked for his alma mater in many capacities: as an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, chairman of the horticulture department, chairman of the planet science division, associate dean and then dean of the college. Finally, In 1975, he was elected the university's president.
"Dr. Josh Feldstein was a legend at Delaware Valley University," said Majid Alsayegh, chairperson of Delaware Valley University's board of trustees. "Dr. Feldstein, like our founder, Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, was an immigrant to this country, arriving here with nothing other than hope and willingness to work hard."
Dr. Feldstein served as president for 12 years, until 1987, when he retired, but he was called upon to serve as interim president twice between 1994 and 1997.
"Dr. Feldstein was a genuine person, a tremendous advocate for students at DelVal, and a generous mentor to me and many others. He changed people's lives. What a beautiful legacy," said current president Maria Gallo.
"He made sure the first time I met him to say how proud he was of me for being the first woman president. That meant a great deal to me," she added.
In addition to his son Ted, Dr. Feldstein is survived by another son, Dan, and a granddaughter.