Lester W. Richens, Ed.D., a dedicated member of the Board of Trustees at Brookdale Community College, has a rich history of service and advocacy in education and community involvement. His extensive career, from his teaching days to his current role as a trustee, reflects a deep commitment to student success and the betterment of the community.

“So, my career, the Reader’s Digest version,” he said, “is History Teacher, 11-12 grade; Social Studies Teacher 7-8th grade; Principal; Superintendent; Executive County Superintendent for Burlington County; State Fiscal Monitor; Executive County Superintendent for Monmouth County.”

Richens embarked on his illustrious career in education as a history teacher at Freehold Regional. Starting with student teacher and completed the school year instructing juniors in U.S. history. His journey led him to Freehold Township, where he taught seventh and eighth-grade social studies from 1968 to March 1973. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Richens proactively founded baseball and basketball programs, persuasively approaching then-Superintendent Marshall W. Errickson with an offer to coach without compensation. In response, Errickson agreed to finance the teams’ uniforms and equipment, highlighting Richens’ commitment to enriching student life through athletics. Moreover, Richens’ dedication to creating an inclusive environment exemplifies his founding and leadership of a special needs Boy Scout troop, demonstrating his deep commitment to nurturing a compassionate and inclusive community.

Transitioning to Belmar Elementary School in March 1973, Richens assumed the role of principal, marking the beginning of a significant chapter in his career. Over the next 34 years, he molded young minds and played a pivotal role in shaping the education of multiple generations in Belmar. In 1979, after serving as principal, Richens assumed the role of Superintendent in Belmar, further solidifying his commitment to the district’s educational excellence. His dedication to his students was evident when he encountered a former student who had returned to pick up his grandchildren, highlighting the enduring impact of Richens’ influence.

“I had had the privilege of being involved in the education of a couple generations of kids in Belmar,” he said. “I one day said to a kid who had attended Belmar Elementary School hey, Billy, what are you doing here? He said, ‘I’m picking up my grandchildren,’ of course I remember him as a younger age student. Belmar was a great career experience.”

Following this tenure, his career expanded beyond Belmar when Governor Corzine appointed him the Executive County Superintendent of Schools in Burlington County, a position he held from 2008 to 2011. His contributions were recognized statewide because Governor Christy then appointed him to be the State Fiscal Monitor for Trenton, Garfield, Pleasantville, and Asbury Park. Then, in 2015, Governor Christy appointed Richens Interim Executive County Superintendent for Monmouth County on a part-time basis and Governor Murphy appointed him as the full-time Interim Executive County Superintendent for Monmouth County in 2018. That is how Richens became a member of the Brookdale Board of Trustees because the County Superintendent, by statute, is a member of the Board of Trustees.

“I’ve been part of several key initiatives during my tenure on the Board of Trustees, but one of the standout achievements was the selection of David M. Stout, Ph.D., as president,” he said. “It was a pivotal moment in my career as a trustee, and he was an excellent choice for the position. I have enjoyed developing a strong and positive relationship with President Stout.”

Dr. Richens has served on the Audit, Finance and Facilities, Governance, and Student Success committees. While serving on the Student Success committee, one of his primary focuses has been advocating for dual enrollment programs with local high schools.

“I believe in positioning Brookdale as the preferred higher education institution for our high schools,” he said. “This initiative gained momentum and became more aggressive with Dr. Stout at the helm. Brookdale boasts a robust dual enrollment program, reaching every high school in the area.”

Another critical aspect his committee addressed was to have higher institutions recognize and accept credits earned by students who graduate with an associate degree. This work is on-going to ensure that more colleges accept them, and all are transferable.

Diversity, inclusion, and equity have been significant focal points of his contributions to the Board. “I’m a vocal advocate for providing equal opportunities to all students, regardless of their background or academic history,” he said. Emphasizing the importance of equity in education, pushing for initiatives that allow students to choose advanced courses over remedial ones, ensuring fairness and equal access to educational opportunities.

Additionally, he actively encourages the recognition and promotion of the honors program at Brookdale, recognizing it as a vital resource for the best and brightest students and enhancing the visibility and accessibility of such valuable educational opportunities.

His extensive career, spanning 55 years, reflects his dedication to teaching and his adaptability to the evolving landscape of education. Richens emphasizes the changes he witnessed, from the absence of computers and calculators to the current era of e-books and laptops for every student. Despite these advancements, he underscores the timeless importance of education in shaping a forward-moving society and highlights the role of a teacher as a lifelong learner.

Richens’ advice to students is to get involved and make the most of their college experience. Drawing from his own experiences as a late bloomer in college, he emphasizes the importance of taking initiative, getting involved in activities, and building meaningful connections.

For Dr. Richens success is synonymous with job satisfaction, about feeling content and making a positive impact, especially in education. He believes that if you are not happy with your work, you cannot truly succeed. As he puts it, “If your job feels like work, it might be time for a change.” Enjoying what you do is key, he says. Throughout his career, Dr. Richens has focused on doing what is best for students, even if it means being innovative and ahead of the curve. He emphasizes that success is different for everyone, but as long as you are satisfied, giving your all, and doing what you believe is right, especially in education, you are on the right track.

Dr. Lester Richens wearing sunglasses and white t-shirt and his grandson who is wearing baseball gear.Away from his professional endeavors, Dr. Richens cherishes family time, notably supporting his grandson’s college baseball ambitions. His passion for baseball offers him a treasured escape, allowing him to enjoy the simple joys of family life.

His legacy, marked by advocacy, service, and a profound impact on education and community well-being, continues to evolve through his role on the Board of Trustees at Brookdale Community College, steering the institution towards greater inclusivity and excellence.

One of Dr. Richens’ most heartwarming contributions is initiating a “Jingle Bells” tradition during the December Board of Trustees meeting—a practice born during the pandemic to inject joy and unity into gatherings. This tradition, warmly embraced by colleagues and newcomers alike, symbolizes Dr. Richens’ flair for fostering camaraderie and laughter, turning the simple act of singing together into a powerful tool for building community.

Dr. Richens’ journey reflects his deep-seated belief in inclusivity, student success, and the importance of shared moments of joy. His leadership at Brookdale Community College has championed educational initiatives and cultivated an atmosphere brimming with laughter and solidarity. His approach to life and leadership, emphasizing unity and the significance of communal happiness, reveals a profound understanding of the human condition.

As he looks back on his distinguished path, it’s clear that Dr. Richens’ legacy is characterized by more than just his professional achievements; it is defined by his compassion, joyfulness, and unwavering dedication to enhancing the lives of others. His impact, symbolized by the communal singing of “Jingle Bells,” is a testament to his enduring commitment to enriching the world, one heartfelt note at a time.