The College lost a member of its family on Oct. 13 when Jessie R. Turk, professor emeritus, passed away at St. Barnabus Medical Center in Livingston at the age of 89.
Turk was a professor of geography at the College from 1947 until her retirement in 1982. She spent many years of her life living in Vailsburg, N.J. before moving to Maplewood, N.J. 10 years ago.
Leonard Tharney, a math and science major in the Class of 1954, remembered Turk as a professor and as a colleague. Tharney worked at the College from 1954 to 1992. “I knew her as someone with an extremely sharp wit, who knew where she stood on issues, and wasn’t afraid to stand up for those issues,” Tharney said.
Turk graduated at the head of her class at Montclair State Teachers College in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies and a minor in geography and geology. She then went on to get her master’s degree from Oberlin College, Ohio and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Turk achieved one of her greatest accomplishments when she fought for and won sabbaticals for state college faculty members as the College’s representative to the then-N.J. College Faculties Association. In 2006, a member of the Class of 1956 donated an anonymous gift to recognize three former professors of the Department of Geography. Turk was one of those three professors, along with Del Botts and Bernice Caspers. The College named three group study rooms in the New Library in their honor.
Phil Tumminia, a history major and a member of the Class of 1964, remembers having Turk for a political geography class.
“One thing I always valued was that I had a lot of influential professors, and Jessie Turk was one of them,” Tumminia said. He remembers that Turk was “very professional” and “sophisticated.” “It is very sad when anyone passes, but she had a strong intellectual impact on a lot of students that attended Trenton State College,” he said. Turk’s hard work and accomplishments were also recognized by the Class of 1968, who dedicated their yearbook to her. The dedication page says, “Who else could persuade us to believe that the Garden of Eden was located in Latin America and that passion fruit was a banana.”