Published September 23, 2020
By Scott Fogdall
Graduating from Rutgers more than a century ago, one alumnus made a pledge that is still transforming lives—on the football field and beyond.
Bold decisions make history, but they are shaped by their present moment. Thomas Turner Barr could never have imagined the issues we struggle with today—or the fact that 2020 would see the postponement of the Big Ten® football season. Likewise, from our current perspective, his motives might be difficult to identify with. Even so, he was a visionary.
Barr RC1913 began attending Rutgers College in 1909. A devotee of Rutgers football, he was judged too small to play himself—a major disappointment, it can be safely assumed. In his senior year he became the team manager.
After graduating, Barr achieved success on Wall Street and eventually made one of the boldest choices anyone can make: he bequeathed his fortune to his alma mater. His stated intention was to fund football scholarships, but his specific purpose, it is said, was to help Rutgers fare better on the gridiron against rival Princeton.
He succeeded—and then some. Now valued at around $13 million, the Barr trust produces about $500,000 annually for scholarships. It has enabled a wide range of talented student-athletes to pursue and achieve their academic goals, and to build lives and careers that change the world for the better.
Hundreds of student-athletes have received Thomas Turner Barr Football Scholarships since the first recipients were named in 1967. In that first year, the scholarships all went to first-year students who showed promise on and off the field.
Murray Bakst, named All-County, All-State, and All-American in Teaneck, New Jersey, was among them. “My father was a carpenter for Broadway theaters and TV soap operas, and he worked all the time,” says Bakst AG’71. “I knew I wanted to go to a school of high academic caliber. I got offers from Ivy League schools, but I would have had to pay to attend.”
The Barr scholarship was, in Bakst’s words, “a lifesaver. It was a doorway for me to reach what I wanted to reach. It allowed me to pursue an avenue that would not have been open otherwise.”
Bakst earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and eventually a doctorate from the University of Georgia. During a nearly 40-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he carried out vital research in the physiology of poultry and endangered bird species. It is tempting to speculate about what would have made Thomas Barr prouder—Bakst’s distinguished scientific career, or the fact that, during the 1969 season commemorating the centennial of college football, Bakst and his teammates defeated Princeton 29–0.
Writing a new future
Although most early Barr recipients were agricultural science majors, Michael Pellowski took a different academic route and majored in human kinetics, following his own creative instincts. For him, the Rutgers liberal arts experience was a vibrant arena in which to hone his writing skills. But there were other challenges he had to overcome first.
“I was a poor kid from a broken family,” says Pellowski RC’71. “Neither of my parents went to high school. Playing football changed my life.” Drawing motivation from sports, Pellowski dramatically improved his grades as he progressed through high school—and colleges took notice.
“I seriously considered offers from Cornell, Brown, Duke, and Colorado State,” says Pellowski, but when Rutgers offered him the Barr scholarship, “I jumped at the chance since I could play football against teams like Army and Navy and still help my divorced mom raise my younger brother and sister. It also provided me with the opportunity to earn a top-notch degree.”
After going through NFL and Canadian Football League tryouts, followed by forays into teaching and coaching, Pellowski found his voice in entertainment and publishing. He is the author of more than 100 fiction and nonfiction books for children and adults, as well as thousands of articles, scripts, and comic books, including Marvel, DC, and Archie titles. He also wrote for major acts like Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller. “It was all made possible by the Barr scholarship,” says Pellowski.
Paying it forward
As the Scarlet Knights football program expanded, Barr’s scholarship continued making college accessible and transforming lives. Bob Davies RC’75 became a sought-after performance coach and motivational speaker. Omar Coley LC’91 went into broadcasting and is a technical manager with the Fox News channel in Philadelphia. Edward Jones RC’75 had a robust career in professional football, playing a season for the Buffalo Bills and then making his mark in Canada with the Edmonton Eskimos.
What Jones chose to do after his football career speaks volumes, not only about his character but about the values toward which so many Rutgers alumni gravitate. Jones, a New Jersey native, remained in Edmonton and began a second livelihood advocating for more affordable housing in the city.
“If you look at my whole career,” Jones told the Edmonton Journal in 2009, “it’s always been in positions where I could help people out, and that has been very rewarding.” Barr’s legacy may still be manifested through football, but it has evolved far beyond beating Princeton.
Education and excellence
Reggie Moultrie is a retired recreation and amusement industry consultant who attributes his success in business to a few factors: his family’s work ethic, his religious faith, and his Rutgers experience in the mid-1970s. He would not have had the latter without a Barr scholarship.
Growing up with four siblings in Pemberton, New Jersey, Moultrie says that if his father had been forced to pay for his tuition, “it would have been a tremendous strain.” Nevertheless, in a family as focused as his was on education and excellence, “not going to college was not an option.”
The process of deciding where to go was complicated for Moultrie, but he speaks fondly of the way Rutgers recruited him. He majored in sociology, which he values “because sociology deals with the motivation of groups of people. And no matter what endeavor you go into, you’re always going to have to deal with motivating people.”
That played out in an unexpected way. During the summers, Moultrie worked for Six Flags Great Adventure, and before he knew it, he was landing supervisor and manager roles there. Eventually he chose to work full time in the industry, and the result was a multi-decade career in management at the highest levels with Six Flags, Vari-Tech, Skee-Ball, and Dave & Busters.
Moultrie calls the Barr scholarship “beautiful—financially, emotionally. It meant a hell of a lot to a Black kid, in terms of self-esteem, in terms of proving that you’re worthy. It was prestigious. It lifted me up.”
Thomas Barr’s early gesture is still creating a brighter future with each new academic year. Although Barr himself may not have predicted that his alma mater would become a globally engaged research university—one that strives to better the world and improve the human condition on every front—his commitment was an extraordinary one. More than 70 years later, it still brings exceptional student-athletes to Rutgers and empowers them to build successful, consequential lives.
And for that, the one-time team manager will always hold a place of honor.