Thursday, Sep 24, 2020
In recognition, University names residence hall in honor of Dennis Longstreet ’69
by Diane Cornell
Rider University has announced a $1 million commitment from Dennis Longstreet ’69 to support the recently completed renovation and future maintenance of Ridge House, one of the University’s student residence buildings.
In gratitude and recognition of the gift, the University held an outdoor ceremony on Sept. 24 to formally name the building Longstreet House in his honor.
Longstreet, a retired Johnson & Johnson executive and a longtime Rider supporter, is a former University Trustee, serving a total of 14 years on the board. His remarkable 36-year career at Johnson & Johnson began immediately after his studies at Rider - after he attended a campus job fair. As Longstreet describes it, he lined up six interviews back-to-back, and was running behind schedule when he was supposed to meet with a Johnson & Johnson recruiter.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to that interview, or just skip it and go ahead to the next one,” he recalls. His decision to meet with the Johnson & Johnson representative was fortuitous and set the course for his entire career.
Longstreet quickly rose through the ranks of the company, starting as a sales representative in Newburgh, N.Y., before being promoted through various sales management positions to vice president of sales and marketing and then president of the company’s biotechology business. By the time of his retirement in 2005, he had become the worldwide chairman of the company’s four medical devices division, overseeing 16,000 employees and $4 billion in sales.
He credits his upbringing with instilling in him the value of hard work and giving him the opportunity to learn responsibility and leadership, values he found were highly prized as he made his way in the corporate world.
Longstreet grew up working on his family’s 300-acre farm in Chesterfield, NJ, helping his family grow vegetables both there and on 150 more acres that they rented nearby. The farm provided tomatoes, sweet corn and peppers to Campbell’s Soup Co. and area supermarkets.
The second oldest of six children, Longstreet was the first in his family to attend college.
“My thinking was that I didn’t want to have a career where I had to work seven days a week and depend on the weather,” he says.
He first enrolled in Ursinus College with the idea of becoming a veterinarian. But after two years he found his interest in the sciences lagging and decided to make a switch to the fields of marketing and advertising. Since Ursinus didn’t have those programs, his uncle, Frederick R. Coleman ’42, encouraged him to transfer to Rider.
“I went to Rider and I kind of blossomed there,” he says. While Longstreet gave his gift in support of a residence hall, he was, in fact, a commuter when he attended Rider.
“I lived in an off-campus apartment and was focused on my studies and paying my way through school,” he says. “Most of the time I was taking classes, or in the library, or on my way home. I was pretty focused by the time I transferred to Rider to get a degree. I was driven to do well and then move on to a career.”
Part of the reason for his intense focus on the next stage of his life was his discovery that his high school sweetheart, Linda Dresher, was also a student at Rider. The couple reconnected, and during Longstreet’s senior year, they married.
“She wasn’t the reason that I went to Rider,” he says, “but I remember sitting next to her in accounting class and talking to her so much that the professor asked me to sit in the back of the room.” The couple has been married for 52 years.
After his retirement from Johnson & Johnson, Longstreet served as chairman of the AdvaMed medical device trade association; became a senior advisor to RoundTable Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm focused exclusively on the healthcare industry; and was an independent director of Pall Corporation, a global supplier of high-tech filtration, separation and purification products. He and Linda are now fully retired and spend most of the year in Florida.
Since 2017, the University has worked to renovate its residence halls as part of a comprehensive plan. In addition to Longstreet House, Rider has renovated Gee, Hill, Ziegler, Wright, Kroner, Lake House and the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority house.
“Residence halls are a huge part of the student life on campus,” says Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. “We are incredibly grateful to Dennis for his support in improving the residential life experience for our students. We know that they appreciate and enjoy the results of these efforts.”
Longstreet’s gift contributes toward renovations recently completed at Longstreet House and also provides a source of funds for its future upkeep as well as the upkeep of other residence halls. The $1.4 million facelift of Longstreet House added new flooring, lighting, paint, bathroom fixtures and finishes, along with infrastructure improvements to the building. In addition to being a residence hall, the offices of The Rider News, the University’s student newspaper, are also located there.
This semester, because of social distancing restrictions, 20 students in the Communication and Journalism Learning Community are living in Longstreet House; normally the residence hall would house 36 students.
“I really appreciated Rider,” Longstreet says. “An education helps round you out, it matures people. Rider pointed me in the right direction. I had a very successful career, and I want others to have a similar experience.”