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(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)February 24, 2003

Vernon W. Hill, II, Lawrence R. Inserra, Jr., Joseph M. Leone and Carolyn M. Merkel are Honorees

(Mahwah) – The Ramapo College Foundation’s 2003 Distinguished Citizens Award Dinner, to be held Saturday, March 8 at the Rockleigh Country Club, will honor four distinguished citizens for their leadership and commitment to higher education: Vernon W. Hill, II, chairman and president, Commerce Bancorp, Inc.; Lawrence R. Inserra, Jr., president of Inserra Supermarkets, Inc.; Joseph M. Leone, executive vice president and chief financial officer, CIT Group Inc.; and Carolyn M. Merkel ’78, executive director of ingredient technology, McNeil Nutritionals, a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. Additional highlights of the evening include entertainment by The Drifters and Soiree, and a silent auction, which will be open throughout the evening.

The annual benefit dinner raises funds for student scholarships, college programs and faculty research. The evening will begin with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by the dinner program, dancing and entertainment. Black tie is preferred. For more information, please contact Kathleen Austin at (201) 684-6834.

Vernon W. Hill II founded Commerce Bank, which was launched in 1973 with the opening of its first branch in Marlton, New Jersey. He has served as the chairman and president of Commerce Bancorp, Inc. since the bank’s inception, and was named Community Banker of the Year by American Banker for 2000. Hill is a graduate of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and is a resident of Moorestown.

As America’s Most Convenient Bank,” Commerce has developed a unique banking model in the tradition of America’s great retailers such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks. From its original office with nine employees to more than 220 offices in four states, with nearly 8,000 employees, Commerce Bank has become recognized as a true American growth story.

Commerce Bank has dedicated resources and enthusiasm to each community where a branch is opened. Scholarships are established at each local high school. A Super Saver program sponsored by Commerce Bank teaches young students and scouting troops the benefits of saving.

Local events are given high priority. Commerce Bank supports Ramapo College’s Summer Concert Series, last year bringing the sounds of Big Band, Celtic and Cajun to the College campus. Commerce employees attend every concert, greeting the community with prizes, smiles and a warm welcome. Mahwah Day and Ramsey Day also receive strong support from Commerce Bank.

Additional organizations supported by Commerce Bank include: Girl Scout Council of Bergen County, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, March of Dimes, and Children’s Aid and Family Services. Commerce Bank also maintains affiliations with Valley Hospital, Pascack Valley Hospital and the MS Society, and supports cultural venues such as the John Harms Center.

Lawrence R. Inserra, Jr. is the president of Inserra Supermarkets, Inc., which was founded in 1954 by his grandfather, Patsy Inserra. Inserra Supermarkets operates 22 ultra-modern stores, designed with the consumer and the educated shopper in mind. Proud to be a family business serving families,” the Inserra family stores have truly become an integral part of the fabric of each of the communities where they are located.

While attending high school, Inserra worked in the family ShopRite business. He then earned a B.S. in business and economics from Lehigh University.

In addition to his family business accomplishments, Inserra provides leadership to a number of community and other business organizations. He is an active member of the Greater Mahwah Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Board of Directors of the Wakefern Food Corporation, the Central Bergen Federal Credit Union, the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, the Hackensack University Medical Center and the Mahwah Education Foundation.

Inserra and Inserra Supermarkets, Inc. support: Ramapo College athletic and Foundation events, Mahwah High School Marching Band and homecoming dances, Ramapo Ridge Middle School Eighth Grade Promotions, Immaculate Conception Church Annual Holiday Craft Fair and the Center for Food Action.

Inserra has two children, Lindsey (18) and Lawrence (17), and currently resides in Ramsey.

Joseph M. Leone is executive vice president and chief financial officer of CIT Group Inc. As chief financial officer, Leone heads the Controller’s, Mergers and Acquisitions, Treasurer’s, and Investor Relations departments. He is responsible for CIT’s accounting, banking, and funding activities.

Leone began his career with CIT in 1986 as senior vice president and controller and was executive vice president of CIT’s sales financing unit. Prior to that, he was with Manufacturers Hanover where he served as vice president/deputy controller. Prior to this position, he was a senior audit manager.

Leone holds a B.B.A. from Baruch College of the City University of New York and attended the Harvard University Advanced Management Program. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the New York Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Financial Executives Institute.

Leone is vice chairman of Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation in Mountainside and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the Ramapo College Foundation. He resides in Franklin Lakes with his wife, Eileen and their daughters, Alissa, Jennifer and Samantha.

CIT is strongly committed to its role as a responsible corporate citizen, providing leadership and support to education and the arts. CIT supports education, starting at elementary school age, through an on-site tutoring program that serves more than 30 students each week. CIT also partners with non-profit educational groups to provide internships for college-bound students to prepare them for corporate and community leadership. In 1992, CIT developed a scholarship program that has provided more than $950,000 in academic scholarships to more than 75 students, at both the high school and college levels. In addition, CIT offers summer internships to these scholarship recipients.

Since 1999, CIT’s Minority Achievement Scholarship Program at Ramapo College has provided renewable scholarships to eight students. CIT also sponsors the Ramapo College Foundation’s Performing Arts and Dinner Series at the Berrie Center which raises funds for student scholarships, faculty research and development opportunities, and critical college projects.

Dr. Carolyn M. Merkel is a 1978 graduate of Ramapo College with a B.S. in chemistry with honors. After graduation from Ramapo, she earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University as well as a M.S. in technology management from New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Merkel also completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has numerous publications and patents in fields ranging from main group synthetic chemistry to taste attributes of sweeteners, and has been a member of Sigma Xi since 1984.

Merkel is the executive director of ingredient technology for McNeil Nutritionals, a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. She is responsible for technology development for nutritional products. In 1998, McNeil Specialty Products received approval to sell a new low-calorie sweetener, Splenda. Merkel successfully launched this product, the only low-calorie sweetener made from sugar.

She is a 1994 recipient of the YWCA Tribute to Women in Industry award. In addition to her industrial career, Merkel has been an assistant troop leader for the Girl Scouts. Merkel frequently visits Ramapo College to speak with students in the Chemistry Club. She received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Ramapo College in 1981.

Merkel resides in North Haledon with her husband, Larry Wilson, and three cats.


Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The College is ranked #1 among New Jersey public institutions by College Choice, has been named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and is recognized as a top college by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s, Princeton Review and Money magazine, among others. Ramapo College is also distinguished as a Career Development College of Distinction by, boasts the best campus housing in New Jersey on, and is designated a “Military Friendly College” in Victoria Media’s Guide to Military Friendly Schools.

Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Technology, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a post-master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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