When Joan Bansemer Ehren ’53 was elected editor in chief of the Wagnerian in February 1952, she was the second woman ever to serve solo in that role since the student newspaper was founded in 1934.
She didn’t give her unusual position much thought at the time. She just knew that she had found a home at Wagner and on the newspaper staff.
“When I arrived on the Wagner campus, a very confused 17-year-old commuter student, my safety net became the newspaper office,” she wrote in a 1993 reminiscence on her Wagner years.
She was a first-generation college student, from Staten Island. It was her pastor, Rev. Frederic Sutter, who guided her toward enrollment at Wagner. An 1894 Wagner graduate, Sutter was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Staten Island. He led the College’s relocation from Rochester to Staten Island and served on the Board of Trustees for decades.
Ehren’s “safety net” at the newspaper office, however, was not a quiet place. She remembers students arguing about the controversies and politics of the day. They needled the administration about what they considered to be uninspiring, male-dominated chapel services. She and her fellow Wagnerian staffers were intrigued by Norman Thomas, who was running for the U.S. presidency as a socialist. They even invited him to speak on campus — a plan that was crushed by the Wagner president.
They helped me, and many others, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, when we didn’t even have boots.
A history major, Ehren went on to earn a master’s in educational psychology from Columbia in 1955. In the 1960s, she worked for several years on a curriculum project of the Institute for Developmental Studies, focused on the “social and academic problems of environmentally disadvantaged children,” as she wrote at the time. That effort laid the groundwork for the federal government’s Head Start program, which provides support for the developmental needs of young children from low-income families.
Later, she changed her career focus, earning a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Denver. Her husband, Charles Ehren, was a professor of law at that university. He later served as dean of the law schools of Pace University and Valparaiso University, and Joan also went into higher education administration. She worked at Saint Xavier University in Chicago for 10 years as the director of the career center and associate dean for student life services.
The Ehrens retired to East Hampton, New York, and began a life of volunteer service. Joan has been president of several nonprofits and volunteer organizations, and Charles has served on committees for the East Hampton Town Board and other local causes.
Joan always stayed connected to Wagner as well, making annual gifts and becoming a member of the Inner Circle donor group. Most recently, the Ehrens joined the Heritage Society by designating a significant portion of their estate plan to Wagner College.
“Wagner gave me so much,” she explains. “They gave me the first steps to becoming a professional woman. I so appreciate Frederick Sutter’s belief in me and the support I received from the College. They helped me, and many others, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, when we didn’t even have boots. I want to give back to them, and hopefully that will help students now and in the future.”