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Alumni Bill and Helene Plank: Our Mercer Story
Reflections by Helene Plank


"Bill and I both enrolled at Mercer as Visual Arts students in the fall of 1975. We choose Mercer because it was convenient to home and very affordable. Bill was a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, his hometown, and I was a graduate of St. Anthony High School in Hamilton, where I grew up.

"We met during our very first semester. I remember seeing Bill before our Basic Design class. He was showing two of our classmates some very detailed line drawings, and I was so impressed, I went up and introduced myself. We became fast friends and shared many classes together – both art classes and general education courses.

"We took drawing and painting together with Mel Leipzig. Mel was a great teacher and encouraged us to pursue art careers. We also enjoyed our art classes with the late Jack Harris. At that time, Jack taught Art History and Printmaking. Bill had already decided to become an art teacher, and I was planning to pursue a fashion design career after Mercer.

"It didn't take long for us to realize how demanding our program was. Not only did we have the regular academic work of the first two years of college, we also had to find time to do our artwork. But we managed to have some down time and were active members of the MCCC Art Club, headed by Mel Leipzig.

"Our group of MCCC friends has done quite well since graduation. There are three engineers, a health inspector, and one friend who worked in a Fortune 500 corporation. Some of our college friends have since moved away – to Oregon, Alabama, West Virginia and Florida – and others, like Bill and me, are long-time Mercer County residents. Those of us still in the county keep in touch, and now have a new generation graduating from Mercer.

"Both Bill and I made the most of our opportunities at Mercer. We were very serious about our studies. In the spring of 1977, we earned our A.A. degrees in Visual Arts and transferred to Trenton State College, (now The College of New Jersey), with full junior status.

"In 1979, Bill earned his B.A. in Art Education, and I received my B.A. in Advertising Design. I attained a 4.0 average at both colleges, and upon graduation from Trenton State, I was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society. We were married the following year.

"After receiving his teaching certificate, Bill taught art in the Gifted and Talented program in the Ewing Township School District from 1980 to 1983, and then joined the teaching staff at Hightstown High School, where he taught Art Studio and Art History until his retirement in 2007. Bill says that his study of Art History at Mercer proved to be a great help to him as he taught others about the great artists who have shaped society over the centuries.

Helene and Bill Plank ('77, Visual Arts) at the MCCC Gallery. Since
retiring, both artists are pursuing their creative callings.
Helene Plank has joined Bill in a small business called Plank Art Designs. She is pictured here with a self-portrait made from close to 1,700 buttons. The piece was selected for two awards at the 2014 Mercer County Artists exhibit.
Cover art for Bill Plank's first venture as a published author. Setting out to create cover designs for a local publisher, Bill pitched an idea for a short story. The result is a sea-faring fantasy flash novel that will be published in June.

"Bill was a natural teacher and enjoyed sharing his knowledge and experience. He was well-liked by his students and colleagues. Twice in his career, his students dedicated their high school yearbook in his honor. Now through social media, he has been able to reconnect with some of his former students, several of whom have pursued art-related careers.

"My journey after college had more twists and turns. I began working as a graphic artist full time, and then did freelance graphics jobs while doing administrative work.  In 1984, I returned 'home' to MCCC as an employee, working in Admissions and Institutional Research.  As an employee, I was able to take classes tuition-free and completed the core courses of the Legal Assistant program. I also took a course in Computer Art, which did not exist when I first attended Mercer.

"To further my higher education career, Mercer again came to my aid and defrayed a percentage of my graduate studies at Rider College (now University). In 1992, I received an M.A. in Human Services Administration, a management program for non-profit organizations. This degree led to my promotion to professional status in the Office of Institutional Research and later to my position as Assistant Director of Financial Aid. I retired from full-time employment in 2007.

One of my most cherished memories as a Mercer employee was my role as advisor for MCCC's Alpha Theta Gamma chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) International Honor Society from 2002-2008.  When I was a Mercer student in the 1970s, the chapter had not yet been formed, but my GPA would have made me eligible to join. The PTK students realized this, and in 2003, I was awarded an honorary membership in the society. It was a great honor for me, and I continue to keep in touch with PTK students I advised. Like my husband, Facebook has helped me maintain my connection and follow their career and life paths.

"Bill and I have been as busy in retirement as in our working days, but now we are even more focused on our artistic roots. Bill continues to create art and has begun a small business called 'Plank Art Designs' to sell his paintings and prints of his work on various gift items such as notecards, mugs, and T-shirts. (The website will be ready soon.)

"Since retirement, I too have experienced a renewed creative energy and now produce creations for Plank Art Designs. I design and sell jewelry and have recently been developing a style of mosaics that are considered 'green art.' My artwork uses recycled materials, mostly buttons and beads that have been sitting in my home, or have been donated to me by family, friends and acquaintances.

"We currently have a two-person art show at the Lawrenceville Library through the end of May.

"Bill and I have also been involved in the community. Bill had long been a volunteer for the Lawrence Arts Council's annual art show and was instrumental in hanging several shows. I produced the program for the show for several years, and later designed the group's newsletter and handled publicity.

"We've both been active in the Mercer County Italian American Festival Association since 2009. Bill does photography and art-related displays for the festival association and the Italian Heritage Center in Hamilton. I designer the newsletter. The festival has been a terrific venue to display our artwork, and the association has been very supportive of all our artistic endeavors.

"For the past several years, Bill has been the go-to person to create backdrops and props to promote the children's summer reading program at the Lawrence Library. He sometimes includes me on some of the creative projects for the displays. It's always fun to see what he comes up with for each display, and the patrons and library staff seem to love the outcome. The library has featured Bill's artwork in several one-man exhibits and this year approved our husband-and-wife show, which gave us both the chance to show the community our work.

"It really is a blessing to share our lives with the things that make us happy -- being creative, both together and as individual artists. And it all began at Mercer."

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