In Memoriam: John P. Hanley, MCCC’s Second President, Leaves Enduring Legacy of Excellence


WEST WINDSOR –  As Mercer County Community College (MCCC) recognizes the passing of former President John P. Hanley, who died on April 24, many in the college community are celebrating the life and contributions of this visionary leader. Colleagues remember him as a trailblazer who was known for pushing the bar and, by doing so, creating a blueprint for academic excellence.

When Hanley moved to central New Jersey in 1966 to begin work at the college in downtown Trenton, he found his life’s mission: to create educational opportunities for the county’s citizens and, in the process, enrich the entire community.

Hanley was hired by Dr. Richard Greenfield, MCCC’s first president, to create the college’s Business program curriculum. Just six years later, while Hanley was dean of planning and development, the college moved from Trenton to its present 292-acre campus in West Windsor. And, in 1975, when Greenfield stepped down, Hanley became the college’s second president. Hanley served in that role for 17 years, a pivotal time for MCCC and other New Jersey community colleges.

MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang said, “We are grateful for Mr. Hanley’s strong leadership and will continue to honor his legacy through our commitment to the success of current and future students.”

Board Chair Mark Matzen noted, “Mr. Hanley is an icon at MCCC. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we send our sympathies to his family and thank them for his service to the college and to every student who entered our halls.”

According to Dr. Thomas Wilfrid, who was Hanley’s executive assistant and then dean for student services, Hanley presided over the college during a period of tremendous growth, when community colleges were establishing their role in the higher education system.

“John was an advocate and strategist for Mercer. Community colleges across the state benefited from his advocacy,” he said. (Wilfrid retired from Mercer in 2008 after serving in multiple administrative roles including acting president and vice president for academic and student affairs.)

Wilfrid observes that Hanley was always thinking about ways to make Mercer better. “He was interested in the ideas of employees collegewide. If you brought him a proposal, he would almost always challenge you,” he said. “But if you really believed in something, he would give you the chance to run with it. He built respect and relationships that way.”

During Hanley’s tenure, the college’s degree programs continued to expand and, in the early 1970s, Mercer also began offering noncredit courses to help adult workers update their skills. The Center for Continuing Studies on the West Windsor Campus now serves thousands of adults each year with short-term professional and personal enrichment courses.

The college also made the community’s cultural enrichment a priority under Hanley. Kelsey Theatre, which opened in 1972, is home to ten regional theater companies and has become one of the area’s premier performing arts venues. In 1981 MCCC launched WWFM 89.1, a 24-hour classical radio station that now reaches listeners around the world via streaming services. In 1989 the MCCC Art Gallery opened to showcase works by student, faculty and community artists. The West Windsor Campus expanded with an addition to the Engineering Science building in 1990.

Former James Kerney Campus (JKC) Provost Dr. Beverly Richardson was hired by Hanley in 1981 as dean of student services at the West Windsor Campus. She recalls a family environment. “He knew every staff member and every faculty member. Everyone was on the same track trying to do the best they could for the college,” she said.

Richardson reflects on Hanley’s unique leadership style with fondness. “He would carry a piece of paper in his back pocket and write down ideas wherever he went. He would pull out his list at executive team meetings. He called it his strategic plan,” she said. (Richardson was vice president for college advancement when she retired from the college in 2009.)

Dr. Harrison Morson, who served as dean of student services from 1986 until his retirement in 2000, says that Hanley was all about taking ownership and responsibility. He recalls Hanley riding around the West Windsor Campus in a golf cart with members of the maintenance staff, pointing out things that needed to be done. “He used to say, ‘This is my house. I take care of it and others should too,’” Morson said.

While overseeing the growing West Windsor Campus, Hanley remained committed to the college’s educational mission in Trenton. With land donated by the James Kerney Foundation at North Broad and Academy streets, MCCC's James Kerney Center was dedicated in 1975 and in 1998 became the James Kerney Campus (JKC) that serves the city of Trenton today.

Hanley selected Richardson to become first dean and then provost at the Trenton Campus. “After five years at West Windsor, John told me, ‘I need some power downtown,’” she recalled.

“We made great strides at JKC under President Hanley,” Richardson continued. “He was supportive of my role, the campus, and the city.”

In addition to offering degree courses at JKC, the college launched the Career Training Institute, where students could enroll in short-term noncredit programs to prepare them for in-demand careers. Other programs were for students seeking their high school equivalency certificates and non-native speakers to improve their English language skills. Youth programs were established to prepare middle and high school students for college through tutoring and enrichment activities.

Morson observes that Hanley was driven by a powerful desire to improve students’ lives. After stepping down from the presidency, he taught Business courses as a tenured faculty member at JKC until 1999. “Especially in his role as a professor, he mentored individual students who were struggling. John’s heart was where students were,” he said.

Richardson vividly recalls those seven years when Hanley taught downtown. “John’s office was right down the hall from mine. He didn’t interfere. He just continued to be supportive and do his best for students,” she noted.

Richardson adds that she and numerous other MCCC colleagues remained in touch with Hanley until the end of his life. “I will miss him,” she said.

The John P. Hanley Student Center, located on the West Windsor Campus, was dedicated in his honor. As Mercer’s main student activity hub, it houses essential student services and makes immeasurable contributions to the college experience for MCCC students.

Born and raised in the Bronx, NY, Hanley was a proud member of a large Irish-American family. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Cecile Hanley, his sons Christopher and Ian and one granddaughter.

The college will host a remembrance event at a future date. More information will follow.



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Mercer County Community College (MCCC) recognizes the passing of former President John P. Hanley, who died on April 24, 2021. Many in the college community remember him as a trailblazer and a visionary leader during a pivotal time for MCCC and other New Jersey community colleges. He was known for pushing the bar and, by doing so, created a blueprint for academic excellence. MCCC plans to host a remembrance event at a future date.