lumnus JOHN MANGELI, BS’64 (M), overcame racism, was the first black African to attend FDU’s College at Florham campus, had a career with a major pharmaceutical company that spanned several nations and then started his own entrepreneurial effort. A native of Kenya, Mangeli came to America in September 1960 as part of a program created by Kenyan nationalist leader Tom Mboya to send Kenyan students, including Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., to the United States.
However, racial tensions in America were on the rise; and Mangeli landed right in the middle of it. He was sent to Tuskegee University, a traditionally black institution in Alabama. Founding principal Booker T. Washington and the school had a mission of equal education for blacks in the U.S. South; but the surrounding community was not as welcoming.
Mangeli soon became frustrated with the area’s segregated public transit, businesses, public restrooms and even drinking fountains. He decided to hitch a ride North with a fellow student who was going to protest in Washington, D.C. But Mangeli’s goal was not to protest. It was to continue on to New York City and the African-American Students Foundation office so he could ask to return home.
When he finally reached the office, aided by New York University students who befriended him, the foundation denied his request. Instead, it worked to place Mangeli in a different university.
Enter FDU President Peter Sammartino. Since founding FDU, Sammartino encouraged young students from abroad to study on the University’s three New Jersey campuses. He was a strong believer in a culturally diverse educational environment, and went as far as hand selecting students from abroad, escorting them to the U.S. and, with his wife Sylvia’s support, even boarding some of them in his own home. Mangeli’s case was an opportunity for FDU to bring its first Black African student to its campus in Madison, N.J. “Not only did I get a full scholarship,” he recalls, “but also wonderful peace throughout the time I was a student.”
He boarded with a local family, not far from campus. Fellow students were welcoming, bringing him to see local highlights, and he was a founding member of the campus’s soccer team.
Soon Mangeli was joined on campus by another Kenyan student, Isaac Macharia, and 11 other Africans. As part of its practice of bringing international dignitaries to campus, FDU invited Mboya, founder of the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), to speak on campus. Mangeli and Macharia were hosts. “I sincerely thank our first president, Peter Sammartino, and Dean Samuel Pratt … for inviting … Mboya to address the student body on the Florham campus,” Mangeli says.
In 1964, when Mangeli graduated with a BS in biological sciences, he joined Colgate Palmolive in New York City. He subsequently transferred to the company’s East African unit. Between 1966 and 1975, as head of the production and technical department, he helped open plants in nations including Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Malaysia and Singapore.
With a wife, Phyllis, and four small children, Mangeli decided in 1979 to return to Nairobi, Kenya, where he founded NOVA Industries for the distribution and manufacturing of agricultural chemicals. In addition to fertilizers and insecticides, the firm has expanded its product line to include cement and processed diatomite, which is used in a variety of products ranging from toothpaste to metal polishes.
“My family has been encouraged go on to universities in the USA,” Mangeli says, and three of his children followed in his footsteps. Daughter Eve graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL), now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Son Mulwa earned three degrees from USL, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Amberton University in Garland, Texas. And, son Philip graduated from USL and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Both sons continue to live and work in America.
When he visits his sons, Mangeli makes it a point to come back to the College at Florham. He is pleased with the progress the University has made over the years, and happy to see many African students in attendance. And, he appreciates the curiosity of current students who want to know what FDU was like 40 years ago.
He is proud that FDU’s Division I soccer team is “one of the teams to reckon with on the East Coast.” He remembers, “my team defeated a few teams around New Jersey, but I could not have imagined what I have read in your magazine about both women’s and men’s soccer.”
Mangeli hopes that a third generation of his family will benefit from a global education. His eldest granddaughter, Laurie, hopes to come to the U.S. to study pharmacy — perhaps even returning to her grandfather’s campus to attend FDU’s new School of Pharmacy.