When it comes to the vast world of education, few have made the impact that Ms. Jacqueline Wexler has, not only on the CUNY system but also the education system as a whole.
While Wexler was a pioneer, she was a fighter above all and was both lauded and despised for her spirit.
As an ex-nun who eventually challenged the church, she was as fearless as she was kind. The 85-year-old passed away on January 19, 2012, at her home in Orlando, Florida.
Born Jean Grennan in 1926, Wexler spent her formative years on a farm in Rock Falls, Ill. She went on to receive her bachelor's degree from Webster College, a school founded by the Sisters of Loretto, an order of Catholic nuns.
Wexler joined that order in 1948 under the name Jacqueline in memory of her brother, Jack, who had died at the age of 21.
During her time there, Wexler became a revolutionary figure. She was affectionately known as "Sister J" during that time. Wexler went on to teach high-school math and English in El Paso, Texas, and St. Louis, before returning to Webster where she eventually rose to the ranks of college president in 1965.
She remained there for four years during a time of much social revolution.
However, a major turning point in her life occurred during this time.
While at Webster, "Sister J" was informed by church leaders to fire some faculty members whose theology they did not agree with.
It was then that she realized the school could no longer be "controlled by the hierarchical church."
Although she was initially subjected to much criticism and backlash, especially from the Catholic leaders who resisted heavily at first in 1967, the Vatican approved the transfer of the school's governance to a lay board of trustees.
Many have referred to this as the "great turning of Webster College."
"Webster College was the first Catholic institution to recognize the potential for growth and the quality of education as a secular institution," said Webster's president, Elizabeth Stroble, in a message to the university.
"At Webster (Mrs. Wexler) emancipated the curriculum, raised development funds and built the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts and developed academic programs."
After leaving the sisterhood in 1967 she married Paul Wexler two years later, a music-industry executive from New York City.
Eventually Wexler moved to New York and from 1970-79 served as president of Hunter.
Wexler's appointment in 1970 coincided with a turbulent year in its history, however.
Students were riled up by a combination of antiwar protests and local tensions caused by rising fees and a new university-wide open admissions policy and thus, held demonstrations that shut down the campus repeatedly that spring.
However, Wexler remained focused always moving forward.
Current Hunter President, Jennifer J. Raab, was gracious in her praise for Wexler, remembering her well from her own days as a student.
"I will be forever grateful for her mentorship, just as all of us at Hunter are grateful for her lasting impact on the College," Raab said.
Karen Luebbert, originally hired as the school's librarian in 1967 recently said that Mrs. Wexler's decision to cut ties with the church boiled down to an issue of control.
"She believed in independent women and she believed in an independent institution," Luebbert said.
Luebbert also praised Wexler for her gumption.
"As a religious woman, to take the moves that she took, to stand in the face of such opposition from so many, and to persist in what she believed was right for the college was extraordinary," said Luebbert.
Never one to be put down in life, Wexler took on new challenges later on.
In the 1980s, as president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, she spoke frequently on interfaith issues in hopes of encouraging mutual respect among religions, her daughter said.
After retiring in 1990, Wexler and her husband moved to Orlando where she tutored math for several years.
She also remained active during her later years, serving on several boards, including the board of directors for United Technologies Corp.
"Her indomitable spirit lives on at Hunter. We are proud to have a Wexler still grace our halls, Jacqueline's grandson, David, Hunter College student," said Raab in an email to the entire Hunter community.
Along with her husband and daughter Wendy, she is survived by her son Wayne who lives New York City; her sisters, Sue Brock who reside in Indiana and Rita Burrows in Bothell,Washington.
She is also survived by her four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.