Ralph W. Voorhees
Ralph Whitaker Voorhees (87) of New Brunswick, died on November 4, 2013, at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Voorhees’s civic involvement began in 1958 after he was elected a councilman in Highland Park, where he lived for most of his life. 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.
Voorhees was chair of the board of the Rutgers University Foundation and also served on the Rutgers University Foundation’s Board of Overseers. Voorhees and his brother, Alan, established the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in the 1970s, named in honor of their mother, who raised three children during the Depression as a widow. 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, the former director.
In the 1990s, Voorhees helped found the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at the Bloustein School for Planning and Public Policy, named for his brother, who was an internationally renowned transportation planner.
Voorhees received the Loyal Son of Rutgers Award, the Rutgers University Medal for Philanthropic Excellence, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. He was a member of the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni. The Ralph W. Voorhees Center for Civic Engagement is named in his honor. He was instrumental in the founding of the Rutgers Football Hall of Fame. Voorhees was awarded the U.S. Presidential Recognition Award for volunteerism by President Reagan in 1983.
Voorhees was born in New Brunswick on May 4, 1926. His father was a stockbroker who died in 1929. Like his father and grandfather, Voorhees attended Rutgers College. 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. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948.
After graduation, Voorhees worked at the Peddie and Lawrenceville schools and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Against the wishes of his mother, he became a stockbroker in the 1950s, a career he continued until 2001, when he retired from UBS Financial Services at age 75.
Voorhees met his wife, Barbara Beiser Voorhees, on a blind date. It took him a year to call for a second date, a misstep he never fully lived down. They were married on November 27, 1954, at Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City and settled in Highland Park, the town where he grew up, in 1956. Mrs. Voorhees died in 2005.
Voorhees’s volunteer activities spanned education, health, urban renewal, local Democratic politics, and religion. He was a trustee of Voorhees College, a historically black college in Denmark, S.C., founded with seed money from his great uncle and great aunt. He also was chair of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where he was instrumental in the merger of Middlesex General Hospital and Rutgers Medical School. He was also chair of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick Cultural Center, and president of the United Way of Central New Jersey.
Voorhees received 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. He was an active member and leader of the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
During summer evenings in the 1960s and 1970s, Voorhees often organized pickup co-ed softball games at the old Hamilton School, the Highland Park school he attended as a child. Wearing work shoes, black socks, and Bermuda shorts—and sometimes smoking a cigar—he would pitch to both teams and umpire. In the winter, he would hang lights from a large evergreen in front of the Voorhees home on Lincoln Avenue.
His remained lifelong friends with John Heldrich, a retired Johnson & Johnson executive and civic leader. In recent years, Marina Jincharradze served ably and unfailingly as his caregiver.
Voorhees is survived by a stepbrother, Fred Zimmerli of Telford, Pennsylvania; four children, Judy Voorhees of Poolesville, Maryland, Mark Voorhees of South Orange, New Jersey, Jane Voorhees of Princeton, New Jersey, and Alan Voorhees of Madison, New Jersey; and 15 grandchildren, who all know “On the Banks of the Old Raritan.”
The family accepted visitors on November 10 at the Jaqui-Kuhn Funeral Home in Highland Park. The funeral was held on November 11 at the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Rutgers University or Voorhees College.