As Rowan College of Burlington County reviewed the college’s 50-year history, it learned so much from current and former students, faculty and members of the community.
One story that has given a glimpse of the college at its inception was submitted by adjunct chemistry professor Bret Reburn. His story spans three generations of his family and begins in 1968 in San Bernardino, California.
Reburn’s father, Norbert, dedicated his life to education. He taught elementary school for the first 15 years of his career in a challenging district in San Bernardino. Beyond that, he spent his evenings teaching adult basic education throughout the school year. He would come home after school, take a nap to recharge and then drive a half hour to teach adults how to read and write English.
Those experiences laid the groundwork for Norbert’s eventual career advancement. Although he found his early opportunities fulfilling, in the back of his mind, he always wanted to secure a teaching position at a community college. As he put it, he wanted to teach students to read at the “13th grade level.” He also wanted his children to have the opportunity to attend college without being saddled with debt.
When Norbert was offered a fellowship to earn a master’s degree in the specialty of reading, he didn’t hesitate to move his family to Dubuque, Iowa, so that he could attend Clark College. The fellowship, which was part of a literacy initiative proposed during the Kennedy administration, sought to flood the country with highly-qualified reading specialists.
Following the completion of his masters degree, Norbert interviewed in Illinois for a job at a newly-planned community college, known as Burlington County College. (Representatives traveled across the country seeking a diverse group of professors for their new school.) It was the only job offer Norbert received, but he only needed one.
Shortly thereafter, he and his family relocated to New Jersey so he could embark on his new career as the first reading professor at BCC. Construction of the school was not completed, so classes were held at Lenape High School.
At that time, numerous veterans were returning from Vietnam; they had their GI Bills, but some could not read at the “13th grade level.” Norbert did his best to correct that and loved every minute of it. He fondly remembered his service in the military during WWII and was able to relate to his students on that level. He eventually earned the title of Professor Emeritus at RCBC and helped to launch an extension program at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Norbert worked hard to ensure that his children could attend college. He was proud to see his oldest son, Scott, graduate as a member of the college’s first class. His other children Eric, Bret and Nina followed suit. Additionally, Bret continued Norbert’s legacy and currently works as an adjunct chemistry instructor at RCBC.
“I taught a Chemistry 107 lecture during the last summer of classes at the Pemberton campus,” Bret said. “That class ended at 8 p.m., and boy was the Parker Center empty at that time at night. On that night, I observed the emptiness and thought, ‘Well Dad, you opened it up, and here I am closing it down.’ It was a pretty cool moment.”
The Reburn RCBC tradition doesn’t just end at Norbert’s children. In fact, Bret’s entire family pursued their educations at RCBC. His wife, Diane, graduated with a degree in education, and their children Zachary and Mallory earned degrees in psychology and environmental science, respectively. Zachary’s education has led him to work for a large consulting firm in Chicago, while Mallory plans to pursue a higher degree in geoscience.
“I think my father would be very proud of what our school has become,” Bret said. “RCBC now has a beautiful modern campus that is accessible from all surrounding areas. We have continued the legacy set by all of the faculty and staff that started this institution 50 years ago; Provide a high quality education at an affordable price.”