The University celebrated the life of Eugene “Gene” Simko, Ph.D., in the Great Hall of Wilson Hall on Oct. 11 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Simko passed away on June 12, 2018.
Simko was a professor of the Leon Hess Business School and had a career that spanned for 40 years. He received tenure in 1984 and won the Distinguished Teacher Award shortly after in 1989. Simko was a multifaceted professional, serving on various committees including chair of the Faculty Council, Associate Provost, and the Roberts’ Teaching Award Committee. In 2018, Simko took on the role of faculty marshall for the Graduate Commencement ceremony.
“He (Simko) loved Monmouth, and a few times I’d jokingly call him Mr. Monmouth,” reminisced Scott Jeffrey, Ph.D., an associate professor of management and decision sciences. Jeffrey met Simko about eight years ago when he started at the University as a professor. They bonded over working in the same department and often had lunch together, quickly going from colleagues to life-long friends.
Jeffrey commented the first thing that came to mind when he thought of his friend and colleague was his voice. “You always heard his booming voice when he was talking to somebody,” remembered Jeffrey. Being an extremely well connected and an extrovert, it wasn’t uncommon to see Simko talking to faculty and students on campus.
Simko played a crucial role in the business school that is not being taken lightly by the business community. “On behalf of Beta Gamma Sigma (business honor society) and the students within the Leon Hess Business School, we would like to say that we are deeply saddened for the passing of Dr. Gene Simko,” stated Joe Firetto, a first year MBA student and president of Beta Gamma Sigma. “The cultural and academic impact he has made at our university is unparalleled with his 30+ years of experience teaching the business leaders of today and tomorrow.”
Celebrating the life of Gene Simko was an idea brought to the Provost Office by Simko’s family. “The Celebration of Life in Wilson Hall was the outcome of meeting with Gene’s children and his partner,” explained Laura Moriarty, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Lu-Ann Russell (Senior Director, Conference Services and Special Events at Monmouth University) was instrumental in working with the family and in planning and executing the Celebration of Life event.”
Moriarty knew Simko for his unprecedented three-semester term as chair of the Faculty Council as well as his role as a professor in the business school.
For the memorial, students and faculty spoke about their memories of Simko, along with sending quotes prior to the ceremony to be included in a photo montage that was played during the ceremony. It was an opportunity for the campus community to share their memories and say goodbye to a beloved professor, father, and friend.
Jeffrey commented on the turnout for the memorial. “So many people got up and spoke about their feelings for Gene,” he noted. “He (Simko) would have been so happy because he filled the place,” Jeffrey continued. “There were tons of people there which I think is a testament to his life.”
Simko was a professor that stood out in the eyes of his students. Allie Skibiak, a first year MBA student with a concentration in management, formed a close bond with Simko during her academic career. “I think the most important lesson to take away would be to be who I am and don’t let anyone or anything stand in my way of success,” noted Skibiak on what she took away from her relationship with Simko.
Skibiak said that she met Simko two years ago when she was speaking with Stuart Rosenberg, Ph.D., an associate professor of business management, and ended up chatting for a while. When he found out she was taking a strategic management class with another professor, he put her on his class list. Skiabiak almost had him for a strategic management class, however was unable to due to a professor changing her class. However, Skibiak maintained a close relationship with Simko regardless of her status as his student.
When asked about how Simko maintained the longevity of his career, Jeffrey mentioned that it is common for faculty members to have long-lasting careers. Jeffrey noted that Simko never went to administration because being a professor put him in a better postion to assist people. Simko’s passion was forevermore in the betterment of his students, which is evident in the lasting impression he made on them.
According to Marina Vujnovic, Ph.D., an associate professor of journalism and Chair of the Faculty Council, Simko left an impression on anyone that he met. “Gene would leave a mark on anything and anywhere, he was just such a strong personality,” explained Vujnovic.
Vujnovic met Simko while he was serving as chair of the Faculty Council. At the time, she was Vice Chair and she noted that they worked well together and became friends, sharing stories about their family history. “[We] bonded around our Eastern European heritage and we talked a lot about the things our grandmothers cooked, compared recipes and he always talked about how he would take me to a Polish kielbasa place in Trenton, NJ where he is from,” Vujnovic commented.
Skibiak argued that it was his presence outside of the classroom is what set him apart from other professors. “I think his personality outside of the classroom set him apart from many of the other professors here,” explained Skibiak. “Dr. Simko would sit with you for a while and talk about anything and everything; it felt like you were just hanging out with a friend who just happened to have really good advice.”
Vujnovic’s best memory of Simko is also her last. Simko spent his last day of his life at a lunch with the Faculty Council. The way she left him is the way she wants to remember him. “It was a beautiful summer day and as we were leaving the restaurant he walked to his car with this big smile on his face and said, “This is kind of a day when you have your top down.” He owned BMW convertible. That smile is what I remember most fondly,” Vujnovic stated.
Simko was a man that left his mark on the University, leaving behind memories and wise words for his students and colleagues. A tree memorializes his everlasting presence with a plaque located outside of Bey Hall, a simple testament to man who watched over the University and Business Program for his entire career.