Shaping Lives Through Education
Bernice Proctor Venable DC'62
Bernice Proctor Venable, Ed.D., DC’62 did not have the easiest start in life, having been orphaned by the age of 13. Despite her struggles at an early age, she went on to lead a distinguished career in public education.
Although Bernice says she “would not have had the opportunity to attend Douglass had it not been for an entire village of people – my community, my church, and teachers” she gives special recognition to two women – her foster mother and the last Evelyn Sermons Field DC’49. Her foster mother encouraged her to study hard and set goals. And the late Evelyn Sermons Field DC’49 was Bernice’s favorite mentor and a life-long friend. It was on the advice of Mrs. Field that Bernice decided to attend Douglass.
While a student at Douglass, Bernice took the opportunity to experience the many activities, groups, and causes offered at Douglass. She participated in student government, worked as a waitress of waitresses, and served as House Chair of Jameson C-2. She was a member of the Rutgers University Choir and performed with the greats like Leonard Bernstein at Carnegie Hall, and Eugene Ormandy at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. These activities helped to strengthen her character and instilled a sense of “I can do it.” She has such fond memories of her time at Douglass, from wearing her white gloves to important events, to attending Voorhees Chapel and the Sacred Path Ceremony. Most importantly, she cherished the long-time friends she made at Douglass, Doris Dunne Young (’62), Carolyn Coles Thornburg (’62), as well as Linda Stamato (’62) and, later, Roberta Kanarick (’64) who worked with her in the Elizabeth School District.
After Douglass, Bernice went on to have a very distinguished career in public education. She was the first African-American woman to become Superintendent in both Irvington and Trenton, NJ, and served as the first African-American principal in her hometown of Somerville, NJ. After retiring from public education, Bernice became Co-Owner and Vice President of AlphaGraphics in Edison, NJ, where she oversaw marketing and sales development in a 20-year career, only retiring this past March.
Bernice graduated from Douglass with a degree in Spanish, and went on to earn several advanced degrees including M.A. in Spanish from Rutgers Graduate School New Brunswick; M.A. in Guidance & Counseling from Rider University; Ed.D. in Educational Administration from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. She also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Trenton State College, now The College of New Jersey. Bernice is a member emerita of Rutgers University Foundation’s Board of Overseers, served on the Douglass 75th Anniversary Campaign Committee, and was a charter member of Rutgers’ Women and Philanthropy Advisory Council. Bernice was inducted into the Douglass Society in 1977.
Bernice has been active in numerous civic organizations, including local and regional chambers of commerce, the Middlesex Chapter of the American Cancer Society, and the Middlesex County Workforce Development Board. She has received many honors, including the 2017 Public Service Award from the Garden State Employment and Training Association, and the 2006 Rutgers Alumni Meritorious Service Award.
Bernice and her husband, Carl (Rutgers MBA ‘70) have been generous givers to Douglass and Rutgers for over 30 years. They have also made planned gifts through Charitable Gift Annuities that will support the Douglass Excellence Fund. These funds provide the Dean of Douglass with much-needed support for key initiatives at the college, including summer scientific research stipends for Douglass students, Global Village programs, and the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering. Bernice says “giving back to Douglass and to Rutgers is part of my DNA”. She went on to say, “I encourage all alums who are still thinking about giving to Douglass to take a look back and give back. There are just so many young people, across all ethnic groups and socio-economic status, who could use the help. Gifts of all amounts to the college are needed for Douglass students.”