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by Matt Kupec

May 25, 2020

This past weekend we lost a great one in Jim Fellman.

In our lives, we rarely come across an individual who will have a profound impact on our lives.  For sure, our parents.  Maybe a teacher, a coach or two, perhaps a faith leader or academic leader.  But it seems like we can only count a handful of people that truly influenced our lives.

For me, Jim was one.  He was my first real boss.  Jim hired me as the director of alumni relations at Hofstra University at the tender age of twenty-four years old when I was basically clueless.  Over the next ten years Jim he served as mentor, counselor, advisor, and friend.  He had a spirt of life, a spirit of of decency, and a spirit of making a difference.

Jim changed my life in so many positive ways.  As we celebrate Jim’s remarkable journey, I wanted to add my reflections to the moving tributes that have been shared on Facebook posts.

  • Loyalty and pride. Jim was feriously loyal.  To his family, to his employer and employees, and to his friends.  You could not ask of a friend better than Jim Fellman.  At the core, Jim was a former Marine and he loved the code of honor, “Semper Fidelis”, always faithful.
  • Be Yourself. Jim’s devotion to the Marines showed in his running.  Jim loved to run but his pace was not very fast.  Jim shuffled his feet about 4 inches forward as he swung his arms back and forth but it was technically running.  Jim also wore the old short, short Marine shorts.  In fairness, longer and baggier running shorts weren’t in during those times.  I’ll never forget the first time Jim and I ran.  We were in Florida on the beautiful board walk filled with people.  As we began to run Jim starts barking out “dedication, sacrifice, commitment,” as he listens to Marine music.  People would look at us like we were crazy but Jim didn’t care, we would repeat his chant throughout the entire run.  Jim didn’t care what others thought, he was going to be his own person true to himself.  What a valuable lesson to learn.
  • Organization and Building Team. I learned so much from Jim about teamwork and building team.  Jim taught me all about the military organizational structure.  I remember his weekly late afternoon meetings with Artie Sillman, Chuck Churchill, Bob Crowley, Larry Bloom, Margaret Shields, Richie Drury and others.  The sense of team and togetherness as we tackled the problems of the day in his Weller Hall office.  Jim inspired a shared vision and had the total buy-in, commitment and dedication of all on his team.
  • Attention to detail. Jim had a system of “yellow memos” when he come across an issue that needed attention or follow-up, he would write it down and send you a copy and keep a copy for himself.  Every so often, we would have a dreaded “yellow memo” meeting when Jim would follow-up back up with us to make sure we addressed the issue that he wrote about.  Sure technology has changed but the concept of following up and following through remains with me forever.
  • Perhaps more than any of his impressive characteristics was Jim’s passion.  Jim loved life and had a huge heart.  And Jim loved helping people.  He positively impacted thousands of people in his life.  He was genuine.  He was dedicated.  And he was so passionate.

I recently watched one of my all-time favorite movies, “What a Girl Wants.”  In the movie, a young woman is asked to conform to the English royalty ways of doing things but she ultimately struggles and must be true to herself.  At the advice of her friend, she is told that “you work so hard to fit in, when you were born to stand out.”

Jim Fellman, you were born to stand out.  And you did that as well as anybody I have ever known. You had such impact on my life and I know that you made such a difference with the lives of so many others.

Rest in peace, my friend.  And thank you for being you!!

About the Author

Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience. He has directed four major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership. He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit. He is currently serving as Senior In-House Fundraising Counsel for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, leading SIU’s recently extended campaign with an increased goal from $75 million to $200 million.

Matt is a former record-breaking four year starting quarterback for the UNC Tar Heels. During his career he set 19 season and career passing records. Two of which still stand — most consecutive games with a TD pass and most wins as a starting QB. Matt also set the ACC record for TD passes his senior year at UNC. Matt was named MVP of the 1977 Liberty Bowl and the 1979 Gator Bowl becoming the 1st player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to be named MVP of two bowl games.