Beloved Rider professor of biology passes from lung cancer on Oct. 29

By Tatyanna Carman

Professor of biology and the Faculty Director of the Health Studies Institute Jonathan Yavelow, 68, passed away on Oct. 29 from lung cancer, according to a release from the university and his colleagues.

Yavelow worked at Rider for 38 years and taught classes such as “From the Big Bang to the Origin of Life,” “Life Sciences: Cell and Genetic Emphasis” and “Cell and Molecular Biology and Lab,” according to the Rider University website.

The university announced his passing to faculty on Oct. 30. A virtual memorial service will be held for Yavelow on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m., according to a university-wide email sent out on Nov. 9.

Yavelow was also a member of the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research, according to Associate Professor Phillip Lowrey.

“He worked to develop a science advisory board at Rider University for many years,” Lowrey said. “He was assistant dean of science when that position still existed at Rider University. So he contributed in that way.”

Professor in the Department of Biology, Behavioral Neuroscience and Health Sciences James Riggs said that Yavelow hired him in 1991. Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Kelly Bidle said that Yavelow also hired her when Yavelow was the chair of the Department of Biology.

“Jonathan was the kind of person who no matter who you were, no matter how well he knew you, he always made you feel special, like he was paying attention to you, and that whatever was going on with you was just so important to him,” Bidle said. “You know, personally, I can’t tell you, he was an incredible mentor. I mean, honestly, I could never have asked for a better professional mentor in my life.” Riggs referred to Yavelow as a mentor as well.

“Even before I got here, he was preparing me for being a college professor. When I arrived on campus, he was a very strong and supportive mentor, always an advocate for students,” Riggs said. “If I had any kind of issues or things we would discuss things about students and [he was] just compassionate about students being successful, and not just the top of the line best students.”

After she found out that his lung cancer had returned in March, Bidle mobilized to put together an endowed scholarship called The Jonathan Yavelow Scholarship to honor him. Bidle said that Yavelow’s greatest legacy is that he built the sciences at Rider.

“He basically hired, at least in the Department of Biology, he hired almost all the faculty there up to a certain point and all the faculty he hired were prolific grant writers, they did research with students,” Bidle said. “He created a culture in the sciences that really rivaled that of some of the best liberal arts universities, just in terms of our productivity, our work with students and our research, he made that culture possible.”

Riggs said that Yavelow was the “personification of being student-centered.”

Lowrey added to this sentiment and said he was a beloved professor and said that Yavelow was not only a professor, but a true friend to his students. Lowrey described Yavelow as “very dynamic, outgoing, gregarious” and “just welcoming with open arms.”

Rider alumni Robert Major ‘99 said that Yavelow was his academic advisor and described him as “larger than life.” He also said that he owes his career to Yavelow because of his “mentorship and kindness.”

“He gave me opportunities to write fellowship applications with him and I traveled with him to scientific conferences to present the results of our research,” Major said. “My summer internship in New York City was the result of Dr. Yavelow establishing that connection for me and he drove up to visit me twice that summer to see how I was doing. He guided me in so many ways.”

Riggs said that Yavelow got a chance to see faculty from the department while he was in hospice at home in August and September.

“COVID made this all very challenging, because you know, you couldn’t get the hug,” Riggs shared. “You couldn’t come up close to him but he still wanted to see people, so he would sit on his porch and we would sit out in the yard and socially distance and interact. It’s hard for our department, we’re mourning his loss. And we can’t really get together and you know, share a beer and shed a tear and tell stories.”

Riggs also shared that Yavelow’s death was a “huge loss,” but the department is “getting through it.”

“So, I guess our grief reflects our love. The more you grieve, the more you love someone. So there’s a lot of sadness in the department right now,” Riggs said.

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