GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — In 1961, Dean C. Pappas heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Dickinson College.

King’s message to take risks and do the right thing in life inspired him to change his plans to enter the Navy, returning home instead to help run the then-struggling family food-processing business, Clement Pappas, in Salem County.

On Monday, Pappas listened as former Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor inspired students and guests at Richard Stockton College as the first guest speaker in the Dean C. and Zoe S. Pappas Visiting Scholars program.

The Pappases awarded a $1 million endowment for the scholars program to Stockton in 2012 as a way to bring noteworthy speakers to the campus and community. O’Connor, the first invitee, met with two law classes Monday before her free public talk in the Athletic Center, attended by almost 3,000 people.

“One of the intentions is to have them interact with the students,” said Zoe Pappas, who at one time taught government at Vineland High School.

Dean Pappas has served on the Stockton Board of Trustees since 2006 and is currently vice chairman. He is retired as chairman and CEO of Clement Pappas & Co., in Salem County, a national supplier of cranberry sauces and beverages, which in 2011 became a subsidiary of Lassonde Industries.

The Pappas family has had a long connection with Stockton. Dean’s mother, Helen, was friends with professor emeritus Demetrios Constantelos, and the family has also made donations to support scholarships and Greek studies on campus. Pappas’ father first settled in the township, growing and processing fruits and vegetables.

Dean Pappas said they leave the choice of visiting scholar to a college committee, but they do want the person to spend some time interacting with students and involving the community.

“I hope they find the kind of people who will serve as an inspiration,” Pappas said. He said future visiting scholars could spend a week or even a semester on campus.

Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp said for now, the school may host a visiting scholar every two years to give the endowment time to grow. O’Connor herself does not get paid for her visit, but a donation may be made to a project she supports. She is the founder of iCivics, a nonprofit online education program to teach civics and government. Stockton officials are looking into possibly bringing that program to area schools.

“(O’Connor) really feels that it matters that high school students understand the operations of government,” Zoe Pappas said.

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241