Sokolow ’21: A Degree 31 Years in the Making

By Caitlin Burns | March 29, 2021

By Katherine Haines ’21

This spring, Marlene Sokolow ’21 will be among the hundreds of students earning degrees at Arcadia University’s Commencement in May. One difference is that Sokolow, who will receive a Bachelor of Arts in English, began her journey in 1990, at age 43, at Beaver College. 

“I always wanted to go back to school, but when I grew up, women weren’t necessarily thinking about college,” said Sokolow. “So, I went to work right away and eventually got a pretty high-profile job.”

After graduating from Northeast High School in Philadelphia in 1964, Sokolow attended the Paralegal Institute and went on to be a paralegal who met with different lawyers. Over the years, she accepted different job opportunities, each time for a better job and law firm. Eventually, Sokolow became an executive assistant for Harold Katz, founder of Nutrisystem and owner of the Philadelphia 76ers from 1982 to 1996, including when they won the NBA championship in 1983.

“I got to know all of the 76ers players, and we had a beautiful [Nutrisystem] office in Jenkintown, a former Bloomingdale’s building,” said Sokolow. “Every year, Harold would have each player come visit him, and I’d escort them down this long hallway. I enjoyed getting to know players such as Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, and Charles Barkley, to name a few.”  

Part of Sokolow’s job was making sure Katz’s plane was ready, which included managing the pilot and co-pilot and taking care of the maintenance when the plane was chartered out. She also communicated with the NBA on a regular basis to coordinate Katz’s meetings and committees. Katz’s 80th birthday party a couple of years ago allowed for a reunion of sorts with several of the players from that era, said Sokolow, who now works part-time for another attorney.

Sokolow’s original college plan was to take one course each year, but there were times when she was unable to due to personal challenges, such as the death of her father, mother, and nephew. She also battled pneumonia twice last year and had a stroke in her eye in 2019, which reduced her vision.

“We had a competition about who was going to graduate college first,” said Sokolow about the challenge her two grandsons gave her. “The only reason I was able to graduate first was because I took classes this summer.” 

Sokolow started out pursuing a business degree, but changed her major to English because she has always wanted to be an author and hopes to self-publish. Her hobby is writing children’s books—she even belongs to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attended conferences in New York.

In addition to the support from her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons, Sokolow credits the faculty and staff at Arcadia for continuing to drive her pursuit of a degree during difficult times.

“I don’t think I could have stuck it out anywhere else, because I had so much support from Arcadia’s faculty and staff,” said Sokolow. “I want to give them a tremendous amount of credit for helping me. I’m a firm believer in ‘do not give up,’ and I wear a lot of Nike clothes because I‘m still active, but I also like the saying ‘Just Do It.’ Now, I can say, ‘I just did it.’”

Sokolow points to individualized attention, mentoring, and support from Associate Professor and Chair of English Dr. Jo Ann Weiner, Professor of English Dr. Richard Wertime, Professor of Landman Library Michelle Reale, and Registrar Bill Elnick as assisting her to complete her goal. Now that she’s finished her degree, Sokolow looks forward to attending the in-person Commencement on May 21.

“I’ve been waiting for 30 years to put on that cap and gown and march to Pomp and Circumstance,” said Sokolow. “I’ve always visualized shaking hands with the president and getting that diploma—it would be the grand finale.”