All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Orra Davage
INTERVIEWER: June Kapell
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    April 18, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (1/7/1985)

(I) Orra, you've been in town since the end of the 50s. Would you tell us how you chose Teaneck?

(N) I didn't choose it. My husband did. And it was one of those things where we well we were at a state college where Penn State is. My husband had been teaching there for going on two years in their Psychology Department and then he got a position at Hunter College. But we had no place to live and he had to do the, he had to report for work before we had a place to live and there was still time on our lease in the faculty housing at Penn State so I stayed there with the baby while he took off for New York to househunt and to start his new job at the Psychology Department at Hunter. So he, well, searched on both sides of the river I found out and I would get these letters back, they would want to know what my qualifications were and I had no idea about problems about where to move except that my criterion was two bathrooms and that was it. If it had two bathrooms, then OK. So he apparently searched on both sides of the river and ended up with three houses on this side, one in Englewood and two in Teaneck. I don't remember where they were but he described them to me with little diagrams and we decided on where we live now on Summit Avenue which I subsequently have found that that was one of the furthest places that, or closest to Teaneck Road that blacks had moved into in town at that time. But my husband is a stickler for finding out as much as he can about a place where he goes or about any situation so he apparently had found out that there were problems, insisted on being shown where he could go. He knew that there was more than just this northeast section of Teaneck and of course we had a money problem. There were only certain places we could look at that we could afford so he ended up, we ended up here but he knew that there were other places around and he insisted on being shown around but for where we live, access to New York was, this was really ideal for our situation and it has turned out to be very ideally located. So that's how we got here in this particular spot.

(I) And you've been very active in town since you came here. What was it, 1959?

(N) Yes it was in December. I'll never forget that big snowstorm when we moved in. A week before Christmas. Wow!

(I) What were your earliest involvements? What was the first thing you do when you get to a town?

(N) Well, you know, we are used to, I grew up in a university town. Southern university town. Hampton, Virginia where Hampton Institute is and we lived on a campus and moved to Washington which was university-like because that's where I went to school and we got involved with that and then went to Ann Arbor which was a university town, and then went to Penn State which was a university town. So you get kind of clickish between you move around like that, you find out how to find out what is going on where you are going and one of the things that I learned was to join the League of Women Voters to find out about the makeup of the town and where, what the facilities were and usually at that time the League of Women Voters had a welcome division where they had little packets of information that they would go to newcomers, you know, when you made your, you made it known to them that you were a newcomer, they would come and tell you about the community services and stuff like that. So that's how I found out about what was going on here in Teaneck. One of the ways. One of the main ways of finding out about your community. And then of course I had loved reading from very early on and libraries are a passion with me so I will find out where the public library is wherever I am. Even if it is just visiting for two weeks. So that was the other place that I came into Teaneck so those were my first two involvements in town. The League and it turned out it involved the whole town.

(I) And these were involvements that lead on later to PTA, when your children got to school. Would you tell us about your children?

(N) Yeah. I've got two boys who were practically babies, no I can't say that. Steve will kill me. He was, well I guess they were what, three and two, three and one or almost or anyhow they were pre-school age, let's put it that way, when we moved into town and one of them, the older one, was nursery school age and even through the League I found out about a cooperative nursery school and so I got involved into that. So that's how the older one got into a cooperative nursery school. Of course by the time I finished co-oping with him, the other one I decided I wasn't going to co-op and just put him in a nursery school so I mean you get fed up. But we lived in the Washington Irving school district and it was a neighborhood school so that's where my boys went to school and my really first involvement was with PTA which was very educational experience.

(I) In what way?

(N) Well I remember the first PTA meeting I went to and I came in and you know how they have the opening with this and that and then they have the Treasurer's report and this was the first meeting of the year and they had the listing of the budget and all sort of other things and I thought, not bad, that's interesting and I made the mistake of asking a question. I wanted to know what they meant by something on this thing. You know, what did you spend the money for? Where do you get your money? Things like that. So the next thing you know, you are a PTA lady, you are a committee. But I soon found out that a lot of that was, a lot of PTA work was just busy work and I decided I didn't want busy work but I would, you know, give me a job and I'd do it as long as they didn't have me going around and drinking tea and coffee and eating cake all the time.

(I) What were some of your first jobs? What did you do for the PTA?

(N) Well, I don't know, somehow or other I got roped into Recording Secretary because you know I kept asking questions and they figured so I finally worked my way out of that into a Vice Presidency. I think they had first, second and third vice presidents and I was helping with the, we had to have a, I was interested in the libraries and things like that so I was working on trying to get libraries organized, I organized the book fairs, that's what I did. Those were our fund raisers and I used the book fairs

(I) You mentioned working, trying to get elementary school libraries. Was this just in your school or was this is all the schools?

(N) Oh no. I was on a level for all of the elementary schools. Of course it started out early with us, we, 1 wanted more books for the kids and places for them to go but then with a PTA project, we thought it should be for the whole school system. I mean thinking for the district and so we wanted to organize through as much as we could to make our needs felt, we thought, at the Board of Education. That took a little doing but you know, we finally managed through the years and the cooperation of everybody.

(I) And you eventually did get libraries in all of the elementary schools. 

(N) Right. That's right. 

(I) Wonderful.

(N) Well now we don't have librarians to man them. But that's another story. 

(I) What else did you do with the PTA, primarily the libraries?,

(N) Yes that's primarily what I did. I really, you know, you can go to meetings and you can go to other meetings and I finally decided that I didn't particularly want to do much of anything except a job and not attending, even progressing through participation on the junior high school level and the high school level. I just was library assistant.

(I) Well I presume then that your library experience lead you on to the, to your work with the town, the public library.

(N) Oh yes. That was one of my first jobs in town too, you know, You change your registration, you know, so you can vote and you also get a library card so you can take books out and in there I met, I don't remember, I think Agnes Norton, was she the librarian when I first came into town. Anyway I came with the kids and sat them up on the main table and yakity-yaking and talked about how I had just came from Penn State which, at that time, was in the boondocks and how we had had League of Women Voters meetings there and had managed to open the first public library in the town and I was interested in, you know, that and the next thing I knew, I had net the other librarians and I met Olive Tamburelle and she was interested in my interest in the library. So we came pretty fast friends, you know. I would came in and I'd chat with her and then that's how I found out about the Board of Trustees. You know how the structure for running this particular public library was or the libraries in New Jersey and she said, so why don't you get on the Board of Trustees? I said how do you do that? So I found out that you have to be appointed by the mayor of the town and who was the mayor at that time? Oh dear. I don't really remember. Thomas Costa? No, Mayor Feldman. Matty Feldman. Anyhow, it wasn't until Frank Burr was the mayor that I finally got on the Board of Trustees. I kept pitching for it , you know, and for some reason or other, whenever a vacancy occurred, somebody else would get in and so finally I got in by being the mayor's alternate, you know, sort of like slid in that way. And then finally when the next vacancy occurred, I become on the board. But it was still fun. I still went to the library every day and I still do as often as I can.

(I) How many trustees are there?

(N) There are seven. Seven trustees. Five appointed by the mayor and the mayor is one and the superintendent of schools is one. This is by New Jersey state law. And because they are always so busy, these two municipal officials with their original duties, they are allowed to have alternates to come and attend the meetings and vote for them so that you know there are usually seven people there so I got in as the mayor's alternate, you know, was appointed as his alternate.

(I) Of the mayor's appointees, are there any advise and consent with the rest of the council or are they

(N) Usually not until, unless there is some confusion, but not until this last bruhaha with the new building, that is, you know the building fund that went down the drain. Then the council decided well we are going to have to look into who is on the board and we can't trust you to appoint anybody so you have to run your names by us. But I don't think it has made, yes I think it has made a difference in the last few people that have been suggested because before the mayors used to consult with the librarians, do you know people who might be an asset and what kind of people do you need on the board to fund your business and, you know, give me the names and I'll see. As of right now, we are in desperate need and we have been in need, always are in need of having a lawyer on the board. It is important that we have, and we've always had lawyers on the board and we have one now but George Heftler has moved out of town which is all right according to state law he can still be in there but he is sick. He is a sick man and eventually we know we are going to have to replace him so you know we are looking for somebody like that. We need people with business acumen and you need a broad base to help run the library because the library is a real business I found out. Boy did I find out. 

(I) Maybe you better tell us a little bit about this.

(N) Well you know there's always this business in every library, there is never enough space and even this new building, it is too small. Even when it opens. It is just like when you get a new book, it is out of print, a new textbook, it is out of print just by the time you buy it the material is old. So apparently for years Olive, who now at this time was director, Olive Tamburelle, had had a visions of a new building and there was, when I first moved in the town, a referendum for a new library building that was defeated by the town because it was too expensive. I remember because I was on that committee to help push for the referendum and it was defeated. And Olive was very disappointed and it, we did, of course she was interested in having the people get the best services for their money and the place was so cramped and crowded and so inefficient that a new building or some new kind of structure was needed so she decided, she said well if they won't build it with the public money, through a public referendum, then maybe we can get contributions to, you know, a building fund to support a new

(I) Privately

(N) Yeah, privately funded, and this was to be a bicentennial project. That's how it started out. And the township OK'd it because we had to run it by the council and the council ran it, started out doing with the bicentennial. This is why it is so funny. They act like they never heard of this before. Like whose idea was it? They were in it from the ground floor. But, so contributions began to come in slowly, you know, very small amounts, for one who knows about fund raising, I hate to ask people for money which is another reason why the League of Women Voters, I gradually, you know, because their way of getting money was to solicit funds. You get tired of people saying no to you. Anyway, the building fund idea took off and seemed to be going well. It was run by a special building fund committee which was made up of community representatives. This is aside from the Board of Trustees who did not belong to the building fund, the committee, and but were in communication with them because you had to talk about what you needed money for and how and whenever we were needed to ask people for money as members of the board of trustees, we tried to explain what our needs were. So we all were in there pitching in and finally we thought we had enough money to start everything and had hired architects and had mockups of buildings. In other words, ready groundbreaking.

(I) Well who did the hiring of the architects

(N) Oh the Board of Trustees did. We did it. Oh sure. That's their business because they can build libraries. We are instructed to do that. We are empowered to do that. I guess that is the word - by the state. But the point was the council didn't care. They knew that we could do that. The building was going to belong to them anyway because the building was township property.

(I) Where was it going to be placed?

(N) It was going to be placed in the parking lot over in that corner over there where Eugene Field is. Right in the hill by the park and of course we got a tree-loving council person who was all upset about that but as long as everybody knew there was enough money there, then there was really no problem because the council's main concern was that they didn't have to spend any money for it you see. So we ran everything by them, including all what we thought were the proper papers and things and got everything

(I) How much did you think you had at that time?

(N) Oh, over $100 ,000 to start it with, you know, and you know once you start, and then commitments to go even more than that.

(I) Weren't there state commitments there?

(N) Thank you for reminding me. I had forgotten because I knew that we had gotten a what do you call it, federal grant, and that federal grant was really, Olive did that practically by herself, and it ain't easy when you have to fill in all those million and one forms and run back and forth to Philadelphia and phone calls and Washington. She did that practically single-handedly. Got the federal grant which was really seed money, that started it off and then once that, we got the federal grant and the Board of Education was in competition with us for the money, now I've forgotten how that was, no they waived their right to it, any money coming into the township deferred to the library project . Now I don't know how many people know that.

(I) I didn't.

(N) But they did. I can remember, now who was the, oh dear, the board secretary. You know

(I) Jac Gnirrep

(N) Jac Gnirrep, yeah. We were in close contact with him. We worked very closely together. As a matter of fact, they had similar problems that the library had about getting bills paid and working through the financial officer of the town who has his own ideas about how we should spend our money, you see. So he, Jac, cooperated with us in even helping us with the forms and everything and when it came through that the township of Teaneck was going to get the money and that they had already put in one for them when Olive was doing all of this and it turned out that we'd either have to split it which wouldn't help either one of us or one or the other, the board deferred to the library board so that we got the grant, you know, the bulk of the grant and the council was glad to accept it. And so we felt we were off and running. It turned out we weren't off and running. That some of the pledges that we had had, had not been pledged at all and it was very unfortunate because Olive was so sure, you know, she wanted it so much that it just became an obsession and when everything broke, well we had to recover, recoup as much as we could and we finally, after a lot of abuse, name calling and this, that and the other, did get the council to undertake a renovation of an old building and it has turned out to be fairly good except that you still don't have a permanent certificate of occupancy. Now you won't believe the kinds of things that they have put in our way and we told them this time, when they have it done, we said you do it. We are not going to do anything. You called us all kinds of names and said we should get out. Now you want, the people want this building renovated, you do it. And we told them it wasn't going to be easy.

(I) What was the last stumbling block? Why isn't there a certificate

(N) Well you see you've got to spend money to get decent help. The contractors they got to do it was the lowest bidder and by gum, he did the worst work I am sure. Shoddy work that had to be redone. As a matter of fact, they ended up withholding some of his money because the work, even I know, and I am not an architect, but you learn an awful lot when you see building a building and you read and you do this and you learn how to, we had an architect on our board, Jim Loring was the best there is, and he knew the kinds of pitfalls that you get and so we didn't have that problem with the new building but we learned that there are pitfalls we tried to tell the township. You know, this is a lot of, you know, you got to watch this and the main thing that you have to do, you got to have a you got to have somebody here to watch these people all the time. Make sure you don't get wrong things here, wrong things there. And when was the last time they built something here in Teaneck? That building down there on by Votee Park, that square thing, the recreation, I mean, this is the way they think. They think in square things with nothing, well needless to say, we've had problems and we still have problems. And the original problem or reason for having a new building that is the water problem. Do you know we still have it?

(I) What's the water problem?

(N) It floods because of the way the ancient plumbing hooked up the the township plumbing and we tried to get them to fix it and we said, you know, we really have, the drainage has never been right and the only solution is to move and to another site. No, we can solve that. Well, needless to say with all the rain we've had in the last few weeks, we still have water. How unsanitary.

(I) Well does this actually damage the books?

(N) Well it did until we finally got them to change a few of the plumbing stuff because the guy put in the wrong pumps and stuff and we were having, we really had problems so now, don't ask June.

(I) We've got to get off the library.

(N) Well I must say though the work we've had done so far, the renovation, it is nice. But it is still not enough room.  We are out of space already.  You know.

 

Continue on Next Page

Back to Teaneck Oral History (2)

Back to Township History Main Page