Honoring a Dear Friend
Feinberg and Hover met early in the first semester of their freshman year. Hover’s musical prowess immediately stood out to Feinberg.
“She was just a beautiful pianist,” Feinberg said. “I still have memories of her from the early ’70s playing classical music and, believe it or not, Scott Joplin”—music that enjoyed a public revival with the 1973 Best Picture-winning movie The Sting.
While Hover may have come from a luminous, privileged background—her father, Herman Hover, owned the famed Hollywood nightclub Ciro’s, and Ellen counted Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as her godfathers—Feinberg said you’d never know it.
“She always said ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and she never arrived at my mom’s house without a gift,” said Feinberg, who still has one of them: salt and pepper shakers. “She was just so pleasant and kind and sweet. Ellen demonstrated every ideal that someone would want to be in the 1970s, and even today.”
The two remained friends after Feinberg transferred to Brooklyn College to be closer to her future husband, Sandy, who had a low military draft number. When Feinberg got married, Hover was there. When she had her first child, Hover was there.
After Feinberg had her second child in the summer of 1977, Hover planned to stay with her and help her settle in with two children under the age of two. That’s when she disappeared.
“I’ll never forget it,” said Feinberg. “I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother and father. Ellen’s mother called and asked, ‘Have you seen Ellen? Have you heard from her?’ No one could find her.”
Hover’s body was found 11 months later. She had been murdered by Rodney Alcala, a serial killer sentenced to death for five murders committed in California between 1977 and 1979. In 2012, he pled guilty to the murders of Hover and Cornelia Crilley, a Trans World Airlines flight attendant, in New York. Feinberg—who, along with Sandy, had split their time between Long Island and West Palm Beach before moving to the latter full time—had been in touch with the district attorneys working on both cases, and she flew to New York in 2013 to see Alcala’s sentencing.
Feinberg had been donating to Arcadia for years; her first gift, in 1976, was for $1. Still, she wanted to do more for Arcadia, and she didn’t want Hover’s name to be forgotten.
With classmate Teresa Williams Defilippis ’74 and Hover’s former boyfriend Bruce Ditmes, Feinberg established the Ellen Jane Hover Memorial Fund at Arcadia in 2010. As a current-use fund, it was awarded to students minoring in Music.
Aashika Suseendran ’15, who received the 2014-15 award and recently graduated with a doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University, sees music as an integral part of her life.
“Being part of the arts is more than just entertainment or performance,” said Suseendran, who performed Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” piano composition as part of her award. “It’s truly a way of mindfully engaging with the spirit of all human beings.
“Ellen lives on through this fund,” Suseendran continued.
“She touches community members in a way that’s very unique because people don’t just see the fund and hear about the recipient. They get to experience the fund through the performance of an Arcadia student.”
This year, the fund is evolving into the Ellen Jane Hover Memorial Grant for Piano Study. Like its predecessor, the endowed fund will be awarded to Arcadia Music minors. But endowed funds “are extraordinarily important for any institution,” said Brigette A. Bryant, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations at Arcadia.
Not only does it reflect a donor’s confidence in the future of the University, but it also means that the fund—and Hover’s name—will live on in perpetuity at Arcadia.
“Many years from now, this endowed fund will still be providing awards for students, just as the donors intended,” said Bryant. “And Ellen’s essence, spirit, and energy, which were so vibrant in her lifetime, will live on as well through the donor’s philanthropy.”
This longevity is important to Feinberg, who has felt the loss of her friend for more than four decades.
“Ellen was missed at every life cycle event,” Feinberg said.
“She should have lit candles on my daughters’ Bat Mitzvah cakes, celebrated graduations, danced at their weddings, and attended their sons’ bris ceremonies. The most joyous times in my life had a little hole in them, left by Ellen’s absence.”
Feinberg sees this endowed fund as a step to help future generations of Arcadia students, but also one that can help in her own grieving process.
“It’s taken me many, many years to do something positive to encourage my own healing,” Feinberg said. After Alcala’s sentencing, she and some college friends went to Hover’s burial site and, in the Jewish tradition, put stones on her grave.
“Putting the stones on her grave was something I had to do to heal,” said Feinberg. “And now, more than 40 years later, I’m so glad that I could give Ellen new life through every student who receives the grant that bears her name.”
Jen A. Miller is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Runner’s World, SELF, and BuzzFeed, among other outlets.