J. Alan Ferner, 82, of Cape May Court House and Bradenton, Fla., a longtime educator in South Jersey, died Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Cape Regional Medical Center, one day shy of his 83rd birthday. The cause of death was complications from multiple myeloma, said his wife, Michele K. Ferner.
Mr. Ferner was born to John Arthur and Mildred Spencer Ferner in Camden. He told his family he had an idyllic childhood in Collingswood with a host of friends known by nicknames such as “RJL,” “Oogie,” “Port Chop,” and "Lamb Chop.”
While attending Collingswood High School, he played football, baseball, and basketball. He was named to the New Jersey All-State basketball team in his senior year.
He told his family he learned much from legendary coach Jack McCloskey, who played in the NBA for the Philadelphia Warriors in the 1952-53 season, was head basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania from 1956 to 1966, and later was an NBA coach.
“Jack coached at Collingswood High School,” his wife said. “Jack tried to get him to go to Penn, but his hero was Tom Gola, who was playing at La Salle at that time.”
Mr. Ferner earned a scholarship to La Salle, where he was captain of the basketball team. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English.
His wife said he participated in the NBA draft as a senior in college, but decided not to pursue a basketball career because he was way down in the draft and at 6-foot-5 was considered small for an NBA player.
Later, he earned a master’s degree from Rutgers University and a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Mr. Lerner taught at various schools in South Jersey, including in the Riverside district, before becoming a basketball coach at East Carolina, Charleston Southern, and Pennsylvania State Universities.
He served as a school superintendent in Delaware and elsewhere in New Jersey but ultimately returned to Riverside, where he served as high school principal, assistant superintendent, and, finally, superintendent. His wife said that of all the jobs he held, the last was his favorite. He retired in 2002.
In 1986, Mr. Lerner was inducted into the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame. The honorary designation was created by Al Carino, founder of the Basketball Club of South Jersey.
In 1993, he was inducted into the Collingswood High School Athletic Hall of Fame, organized by school officials to honor distinguished athletes and coaches. He went in at that time as a basketball player. He had been inducted earlier as a member of a championship team his senior year.
In retirement, he served as interim superintendent in the Riverside, Rancocas Valley, and Folsom school districts. He enjoyed travel, the beach at the Shore, reading, crossword puzzles, rooting for the Phillies and Eagles, and getting everyone to try his version of a Manhattan.
He served on three condo boards, two of them in Florida. He was the founding board member and president of Four Seasons at Stone Harbor, a 55-and-older townhouse community in Cape May County.
His quick wit, telling observations, and dry sense of humor were on display until the end. "He was a funny, funny man,” his wife said. Among his last words were the hope that he had helped many students.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Sandy; a daughter, Elizabeth Branin; a stepdaughter, Sarah Whitley; and two grandchildren. He was formerly married to Angela Arena. They divorced, she survives.
A visitation starting at 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 25, will be followed by a noon memorial service at the Lechner Funeral Home, 24 N. Main St., Medford. Burial is private.