NJIT Alum Turns 100

Written by: Julie Jacobs,
At NJIT's May 2017 commencement, Herman Blackman '38 (left) received a special award for "most senior alumnus" from Steven B. Saperstein ’84, a member of the NJIT Board of Overseers.

At 21 years old, Herman Blackman ’38 graduated from Newark College of Engineering (NCE) with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. At 100 years old, and as NJIT’s most senior living alum on record, he returned to his alma mater to march in the university’s 101st commencement this past May.

During the decades in between, Blackman served in World War II, started a family and launched a hardware and industrial supply business that is still in operation. The centenarian certainly has celebrated many milestones and made many memories over his lifetime. Part of his legacy is being among the student body of NCE before the expansion that would add four academic schools and an honors college and establish NJIT as one of the nation's leading public technological universities.

College and Career

The same year that Blackman graduated from NCE, the ballpoint pen was introduced, oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia and the first Superman comic was issued. At NCE, tuition was $180 a year and the campus consisted of just three buildings and a gravel area. Blackman paid his way through college working 20 hours a week in the school’s laboratories for 15 cents an hour.

He remembers choosing NCE for its cost value and location. “Newark College of Engineering was reasonable and accessible from my hometown of Bergenfield. I had a car and could commute to school,” said Blackman. “And since I had always done well in math and the sciences in high school, I thought I might like to study engineering.”

Herman Blackman '38 during his years at NCE.

After he finished school, the Great Depression lingered and jobs were scarce, so he began his career in sales. He moved on to the engineering division of a major property insurance company, and then landed a position with the Ruberoid Company, a roofing products manufacturer. There he used his engineering acumen in materials allocation. “I later found out that these materials were used in the Manhattan Project for developing the atomic bomb,” he said.

Blackman was then drafted by the Army during World War II as a private in the infantry division. He served for six months before transferring to the Navy as an engineering officer aboard ship, ultimately rising through the ranks to lieutenant. Following his discharge, he returned to Ruberoid and was assigned to the company’s New Jersey division.

A Good Life

In 1945, Blackman met his late wife, Anne, with whom he has two daughters, a son and five granddaughters. When entrepreneurship beckoned, he left the corporate world behind to establish Duncan Hardware in 1949. The Jersey City-based business and neighborhood staple is a family enterprise; Blackman’s son-in-law has helped run it since 1976.

So what’s Blackman’s secret for living a long life? “I have good genes, I was lucky,” he remarked, noting that longevity runs on his mother’s side, and adding that he has “rolled with whatever life dealt me.”

Blackman also attributes his desire to give back and his concern for the welfare of others to living a long life, as well as a fulfilling one. He has sponsored the Blackman Family Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to females living in Hudson County who are interested in becoming chemical engineers. And he has continually supported NJIT, regularly attending the university’s annual scholarship brunch that brings together donors and the recipients of their gifts.

Golden Highlanders Joseph Messina '47 (left) and Herman Blackman with President Joel S. Bloom.

Indeed, NJIT remains dear to this Golden Highlander. Attending NJIT’s commencement is “always a great thrill” for Blackman, who describes it as one of the highlights of his year. “At the ceremony I get to reconnect with other members of the Golden Highlanders who’ve graduated from NJIT. And each year the graduating class gets larger, and the breadth of the areas of study is amazing.”