Essex County News

Parsippany Septuagenarian Becomes NJIT's Oldest Engineering Grad

c1d14c8a3da126e0650e_Chris_Antholis_2018Commencement-012.jpg
Chris Antholis 2018Commencement Credits: Tracey Regan
d8c8ca46f0034b691bdd_Antholis_at_awards_ceremony.jpg
Antholis at awards ceremony Credits: Tracey Regan
563102321c8acaabc4e2_Antholis_and_Dresnack.jpg
Antholis and Dresnack Credits: Tracey Regan
c1d14c8a3da126e0650e_Chris_Antholis_2018Commencement-012.jpg

NEWARK, NJ - It was about five minutes after Robert Dresnack’s Water Resources Engineering class had begun when a septuagenarian poked his head into the room at NJIT. Puzzled, the professor inquired, “May I help you?”

In fact, he could. “I’m a student in this class,” replied Chris Antholis, then 72, who was six years into his quest to earn a Bachelor of Science in civil and environmental engineering. The required course, on the increasingly urgent topic of water supply planning, had not yet been scratched off his list. He quickly took a seat at an empty desk.

A longtime building contractor who spent the past 15 years as a building and fire inspector for the town of Parsippany until retiring last year, Antholis well understood the rules and policies of his industry, but says he returned to school mostly to learn “the whys” behind his 50-year career: how engineers design foundations in flood zones and municipal planners forecast water needs a half a century into the future.

Sign Up for E-News

“I was exposed to this world for years and knew enough to do what was required, but I came back here to learn the reasons why,” noted Antholis, who earned an associate degree from Montgomery College in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. 50 years ago, but then dropped out of the University of Maryland’s engineering program after “not opening a book.”

On May 15, he could say “mission(s) accomplished.” As he took the stage at the 2018 Commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center, Antholis, at 74, was the oldest undergraduate to flip his mortarboard tassel to the left – indeed, the oldest ever in the history of the university, according to Michael Smullen, NJIT’s director of alumni relations.

“It was wonderful to see Chris on the stage,” Smullen said. “We are incredibly proud of him. He’s an inspiration to students of all ages. When you value education the way he does, there is not a moment in life you’re not learning.”

Antholis’s quest began in earnest more than a decade ago at the County College of Morris (CCM), where, like many county college and some NJIT students as well, he attended classes when he could fit them in while holding down a demanding job. Math was a bit of a struggle for about a month, but “it all came back” and he soon mastered several levels of calculus and linear algebra.

After earning his second associate degree, he applied to NJIT and “fought for my CCM Calculus 1 class” to be accepted. He failed a couple of courses along the way, but doggedly retook them and passed. Once he stayed up late and deleted half an essay on technology and politics, but no matter. He quickly rewrote it.

“I failed the midterm in my course on foundations, but I got an 90 on the final. I really studied for that class. Having been a building contractor for many years, I know how important foundations are, especially for big buildings. And in flood zones, high-level engineering is a must,” he said, adding “My professor, Vatsal Shah ('08, MS '09, PhD '14), was smart as a whip. Like so many of the nighttime instructors, he came back because he loves teaching and the school. I think these people are wonderful.”

Water Resources, as it turns out, was also one of his favorite courses.

After their awkward introduction, for which the professor notes that he “had no forewarning,” he and his senior student quickly bonded. Antholis took references to “my mature students” in stride. And Dresnack (left), now 75, in turn merely chuckled when Antholis observed that he was “my only professor older than I am.”

“We’re in this together, we two old-timers,” said Dresnack, who retired in January. Paying him the ultimate compliment, he added, “After a couple of weeks, he completely blended in with my other students. He really participated.”

“A lot of people my age don’t work their brains. It’s like riding a bicycle, the muscles are there, but you’ve got to put them to use,” he observed. “If you have a job, you often do the same thing over and over. Doing something different really wakes you up.”

At the Civil Engineering brunch after graduation, Antholis was surrounded by a sizeable fan club of professors and staff and about a dozen family members from all over the country: Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California. One is a noted cardiovascular surgeon, another an HBO executive and another a prominent academic at the University of Virginia.

“He’s my hero,” said his cousin Virginia Dematatis, who teaches homeless children in San Diego to read and often points to Chris as inspiration that anything is truly possible.

His influence is not limited to the West Coast.

Not long ago, Dresnack overheard a cashier at Costco telling the bagger that she wished she could return to school so that she could work with animals, but couldn’t imagine it in her 50s. He piped in.

“You’re just a babe at 53! I know someone in his 70s who just earned a degree,” he told her.

As he stepped off the stage last week and began walking back up the aisle, Antholis said at least three or four people shook his hand. Of his milestone, he noted, “I felt so good about doing it. There are so many people with talent who should.”

And now, like thousands of graduates around the country, he’s contemplating his next move. “I’m relaxing for a bit, but then I’ll start looking – something to do with building.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Plainfield

Register Today for Summer Youth Courses Offered at Union County College

June 23, 2018

CRANFORD, NJ – This summer the Office of Continuing Education at Union County College is expanding its course offerings for youth ages 11-18. Classes are taught by NJ-certified teachers and subject matter experts that specialize in delivering high-quality youth programs. Classes begin the week of June 25 and run through August 23.

Classes offered include Introduction to Musical Theater, ...

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

June 9, 2018

Dear Editor:

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by ...

Murphy Signs Bill Ending Child Marriage Championed by Westfield’s Fraidy Reiss and Unchained at Last

June 23, 2018

WESTFIELD, NJ — Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday that bars individuals under the age of 18 from marrying or entering a civil union. It was a major win for Fraidy Reiss, founder Westfield-based Unchained At Last, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls in the US to escape or resist arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives.

This makes New Jersey the second ...

SRO'S - ENSEÑANDO POR EJEMPLO

June 17, 2018

Hay un grupo de oficiales de policía que les dan un servicio a nuestra comunidad de una manera notable. Todos los días estos hombres y mujeres se levantan, van al trabajo, y aseguran que nuestros hijos aprendan en un ambiente seguro. Los llamamos Oficiales de Recursos Escolares, pero son mucho más. 

Si llegas a la oficina de los Oficiales de Recursos Escolares en la ...

Empleando Nuestra Juventud 

Querido Plainfield, 

Todos esperan el verano; los días son más calientes y largos, y la madre tierra se pone su mejor vestido mientras las frutas se maduran en el sol y las flores ondean un alegre "hola". La gente comienzan los paseos de la playa o piscina, y las juntas de barbacoa en los patios son necesarios en los fines de semanas.

Aquí en la ciudad de ...

Meet Toran Smith: Union County All Star

June 18, 2018

Plainfield resident, Toran Smith, age 16, has been selected to play on the 2018 Union County underclassmen all star team.  On June 10th, the Union County All-Stars played against the Hudson County All-Stars at Kean University.  Smith played third baseman. 

Smith, a junior at Union County Vo-Tech magnet high school, is a Junior infielder on the Plainfield Cardinals Varsity ...

'Half Time' delivers with sterling cast

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other talents.

The musical centers on an effort to have seniors perform a dance number during ...

'Half Time' lights up Paper Mill stage

‘Half Time’ turns the tables on aging in gleeful production

By Liz Keill

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other ...

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (William Morrow, 2018)

 

A friend, whose opinion on literature I respect greatly, reported to me recently that she had just finished reading A.J. Finn's debut novel, The Woman in the Window. Of it she said, “I wish I hadn't finished it,” which I interpreted to mean, “It was so good I'm sorry that I finished it.” ...

When the Men Go Off to War by Victoria Kelly

When the Men Go Off to War by Victoria Kelly (Naval Institute Press, 2015)

Victoria Kelly's first published volume of poetry, When the Men Go Off to War, is a wonder in that poems can be written so beautifully about the subject of war. Each poem is a jewel, polished and colorful, glittering with elegant imagery, and rich in emotional wallop. The book, divided into three sections, ...

The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2005)

            The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani, a New York Times best selling author, was recommended to me by a young woman who actually came from the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, the place where the novel is set. “The author did such a wonderful job of describing how the town actually is,” said the young lady.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, 2018)

            What is the “final frontier” on the Earth's surface? Many people would say Alaska, the 49th state, which was added to the United States fifty years ago. Once one has traveled to that remote land, it is impossible to forget the magnificence of the terrain and beasts. Floating by ship in Glacier Bay, surrounded by ...

The Man in Room 306 at the Luna Stage, West Orange, NJ

            The Luna Stage, a Jersey theater gem, chose to revive its 1995 world premiere drama, The Man in Room 306, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Starring Jamil A.C. Mangan as Dr. King, this 90 minute production portrays Dr. King in the last hours of his life as he struggles to write a speech for the Poor ...

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, 2017)

 

I wanted to like Into the Water by Paula Hawkins because I had enjoyed her previous novel, The Girl on the Train, which was a suspenseful thriller. However, when I finished reading the first part of the Into the Water, I realized that I had not absorbed anything that was happening in the story. I blamed myself for not paying ...