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: David S. Kapell
INTERVIEWER: Dick Rodda
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    December 9, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (11/1986)

I am talking with Dave Kapell, an active person in the community of Teaneck for many, many years; former member of the Board of Education, among many other fine organizations. Dave, we want to get your views on certain facets of the township as they are reflected over a period of years and I would like, do we have your permission to use this material in oral or written form that comes out of this interview?

(N) By all means.

(I) Teaneck, as you know as well as anyone, has grown from the farm community to the suburban community and has gone through a lot of transition. Sometimes defined as growing pains I suppose. You've been in the cat/bird seat to have seen a good bit of this from different perspectives. I wonder if a good approach might be for us to take the perspective of a Board of Education member in this growing process, if you will, of the township in terms of its, the growth in terms of size, in terms of the diverging ethnic groups as they became a part of the community life of Teaneck. Any differences in, any cultural differences that may have developed over this period of time that you might want to refer to.

(N) Is that a question?

(I) That's a question. Just your views, your thoughts on this.

(N) When we moved into this community in 1958, it was a nice quiet community and there was a nice quiet school system, a nice quiet Board of Education and then came on the period of the 60s and the 70s and the Board of Education the constituted that time realized it had to make and face up to some changes. Some of them were found to be formidable obstacles in the view of the Board of Education. With the advent of Harvey Scribner, the community became enlightened and all kinds of different things happened.

(I) Now Harvey was the superintendent of schools at that time, was he?

(N) Not when we came. I don't remember the name of the gentleman who was the superintendent of schools at the time. Harvey Scribner became the superintendent of schools in the early 60s. I shouldn't leave you in the lurch that way. It is my fault.

(I) I'm just wondering, in terms of public policies that may have had an impact or an effect in any direction in terms of the integration of the community.

(N) Well shortly after we arrived, we became involved in the school system because our children were immediately involved in the school system as well. And our activities concentrated themselves initially at the Lowell School. I became a member of the Lowell School P.T.A. as did June and both of us became officers in the P.T.A. We attended Board of Education meetings at that time which were held in the high school and they, those Board of Education meetings were not open to the public per se and no questions were permitted to be asked. We observed and listened to the Board of Education act and a number of us felt that, well this was not the way a Board of Education is to be responsive to the community and then efforts were exerted to have a more responsive Board of Education. There was one man on the Board of Education particularly who I admired, Larson, I can't remember his first name ... 

(I) George Larson.

(N) And he recognized this immediately that in the late 50s or early 60s, the community was changing and he encouraged his colleagues on the Board of Education to open the Board of Ed to meetings. Although he didn't fare too well but at least he made the initial effort and I believe he was responsible primarily for having opened Boards of Education meetings.

(I) Interesting. That was, let's see, George served with probably Anthony DeGennaro was probably on that Board, Frank Burr

(N) Frank Burr was. I don't remember too well the names of his colleagues. I think Catherine Cohen and some others, I don't recall. But I do remember that George was a forceful person trying to get the Board to be responsive to the community.

(I) Did you feel at that time that the citizens of the community generally speaking were sympathetic to the movement that George was, that you had mentioned ...

(N) I believe so. And I think George also initiated the effort of the Board of Education meeting in local schools. For example, the Board of Education would meet at Lowell; they would meet at the Hawthorne School; and other schools. They made the rounds. Like a circuit court judge riding the circuit.

(I) That was a dual edge sword then. I suppose it provided an opportunity for Board members to have a closer affiliation with the facilities as well as the ...

(N) Right, and to entertain questions from various segments of the community. I always admired George for initiating that policy.

(I) Very effective. And then the policy really became an outgrowth of that. Did you feel that to be so?

(N) I believe so, yes.

(I) And as a result then, the commitment followed the policy or was reflected in it.

(N) It is hard to tell but, yes, he was and I believe George, in my estimation anyway, George was a fine representative of the community on the Board of Education.

(I) Well he apparently, obviously, must have had colleagues who were likewise sympathetic in order to bring about the ...

(N) Yes, and I am embarrassed to say I just don't recall their names.

(I) No, that is not, ... neither one of us, I am sure, could recall all of the names of the people that ... what about the relationship of the Board at that time with, you've identified its relationship with the community as being an open and responsive relationship. How about its relationship with the other policy making groups in town, particularly the municipal council for instance?

(N) Well, there was always a push and pull kind of relationship there. Particularly when the tax considerations came up, increasing the budget requirements of the Board of Education; the township was growing tremendously in population and more needs had to be served. The teaching staff had to be increased and the school facilities were being taxed to their limit. There was a time when I served on the Board in the early 70s, when the Board of Education was considering building a new high school and several programs had been attempted, defeated by the populace at referendums. As it turned out, it may well have been to the benefit of the township only because the prognosis of the, not prognosis but the projection of population changes and the dynamics of the

(I) Demographics

(N) Demographics, right. And the board that I had been serving on at that time in the early 70s was led to believe that there would be an enormous explosion of student population and that we had to think in terms of a new high school and as it turned out, shortly after, by the time of 75, 76, 77, the township experienced a decline in student enrollment in the high school. And in the schools in general. For whatever reasons.

(I) Well I suppose that baby boom was, hadn't fully impacted I guess at that time or it had and had gone through it.

(N) Probably. And then too there was an influx of people in the community who declined to send their children, for one reason or another, to the public school itself. Not necessarily religious groups but or racial groups but there was just a feeling for whatever reason that their children were not going to go to the public school. There was a desire for private school education that, there were a number of schools in Bergen County that met that need for those people.

(I) I suppose that that had always been true to a more or less degree and I suppose it also, would you agree that as a suburban community, as we developed from the farm community to the suburban community, that we became probably more of a transient community as well. That is people reflecting the 500 companies were transferred to here and from here to other locations and

(N) That was a major factor as well. In the early 70s, and before the high tech movement and the computer programming expertise people were, this was a solid community in having professional people involved in universities, etc. and it was, we did have a solid base. But then beginning with the middle 70s, and the advent of the computer and advanced technology and other influences, these people found themselves going elsewhere and out of the community and they were replaced by, for the most part, people who wanted a stable type of education for their children. They weren't to that degree interested in any revolutionary types of educational programs in the schools so we had a difficult situation.

(I) That became then, it had to be a relatively serious challenge to the various boards to come up with policies that would provide a stability for a changing population from the homogeneous community that you had mentioned initially to the heterogeneity that was developing.

(N) That's right. And it was particularly characterized by the establishment eventually of the alternative school at the high school giving people, young people, a chance to engage in educational programs out of the mainstream of what had heretofore been seen as, this is the way a high school or a school program is going to be. There were innovative programs established at the alternative school and the demand for admission or entrance into the alternative school was tremendous.

(I) There again, it is a matter of the Board being responsive to the community needs.

(N) That was, and I think that is to the great credit of the people who were on the Board of Education at the time, community leaders as well, in accepting the necessity for that alternative school as it was established and run at that time. I think it served an extremely useful purpose and if memory serves me, I think Teaneck was the originator of the concept of the alternative school which subsequently became adopted in other communities in Bergen County and within the state of New Jersey.

(I) It became the, the education team with the administration and the staff, has persistently and consistently enjoyed really an enviable reputation in terms of quality and maintaining standards and so on which undoubtedly came from the time when, and even to this day, I think

(N) And filtered down even to this very day, I think that, I recall writing or saying something at the time when I retired from the Board of Education in 1973 that the quality of a school system is determined not so much by the members of its Board of Education as it is by the teaching staff and administrators and I still say that is a primary concern for any school system but I think it was to the credit of the then Board of Education and members to accept the concept of the alternative school and the other learning procedures that followed later. The concept of daycare for elementary schools after the kids get out of school. At that time, there were numerous parents, both mother and father, both of whom working and there was a need to develop a program to take care of the kids after school and so these after-school programs became developed and the administration captured the concept and advanced its function.

(I) Dave, let's go back for a minute if we can. The, prior to coming to Teaneck, what was it about this community that attracted the Kapells.

(N) We were in the forthwith capacity, position rather, that my wife's sister and her husband and family were already in Teaneck and we would come here and listen to the arguments in their home of people who were then proposing the establishment of the Thomas Jefferson Junior High School on Teaneck Road and the great, huge battle that was going on in the community at that time. And we were impressed with the concerns of the people we met at our sister-in-law's home and they eventually succeeded in having the Thomas Jefferson Junior High School built and when it came time for us to look for a home, why Teaneck was the obvious choice.

(I) The educational system, I think, generally is a primary factor in selecting a home for many people.

(N) Certainly yes. At that time we were living in New York. We had a marvelous apartment in Stuyvesant Town. We had a two bedroom apartment and then the third child was coming and we couldn't mix the sexes in Stuyvesant Town at that time so since we had to look for a house, Teaneck was our first choice.

(I) So that the question was going to be, did you feel welcomed to the community. Well I am sure you did since you had relatives ...

(N) We were accepted long before we got here.

(I) Doors were open to you prior to having come here.

(N) And then there was a selfish interest on my part. Teaneck really, because commuting from Teaneck into the city at that time was relatively simple and easy as compared to today.

(I) Because of the volume of traffic for sure. I dare say that at the point you came, the county population was probably something around 300,000 and today it is probably just a little over one million and that is proportionate I am sure.

(N) And the bus fare from Teaneck into the city of New York at that time was only 25 ¢.

(I) Would you believe that? So your law practice is in Manhattan, Dave?

(N) Yes. I still commute by bus because I think, at least for people who live in Teaneck, I think it is the safest and sanest way and one certainly designed not to give you ulcers or a heart attack. When I ride the bus, we have the express bus lanes going in now, and I see these poor people, some I assume most of them have no choice but to drive, sitting in their cars, I can't see myself, I could not see myself doing this five days a week, coming and going anywhere. It would drive me bananas.

(I) I suppose also that there would have to be some positive side to the commutation as well in terms of meeting other residents and ...

(N) Absolutely. That's right.

(I) Discussing local situations on the way in.

(N) And we do a lot of politicking come election time. On the bus line and in the bus.

(I) That's great. That becomes a fair arena for ...

(N) I enjoy it. I think people who drive into New York from the Teaneck area have got to be out of their minds. Because we have a marvelous bus transportation system from this area at least.

(I) And of course years ago there was the train that used to be ... used to go down also.

(N) That was the, that thing ran for about two years after we moved in. I used it frequently. In the summertime, I loved it because you had that ferry ride across the river and it was just a delight especially in the summertime. At one time, there was a thought that, I think Frank Burr was responsible for initiating the possibility of opening up the railroad lanes that had been closed and making the bus transportation out of New York and then taking the ferry. There are these plans coming up along now that there might possibly be ferry service between Weehawken and 42nd Street again and Edgewater and 125th Street.

(I) Remember the old 125th Street ferry that used to be there? 

(N) They should never have discontinued it.

(I) It may come back Dave. It may come back. 

(N) We may come full cycle.

(I) How would you account for, would you agree that Teaneck has been relatively successful in the "integration" process from what is was to what it is, having made that transition. Would you say it has been successful.

(N) It was a turbulent time in the early 70s, particularly at the time when I was serving on the Board of Education. I think there has been a great deal of recognition within the community of the need to recognize the factor and how to address it and I think the community of Teaneck especially had addressed itself particularly well to that problem.

(I) What factors, what has Teaneck done, not all communities have been that successful in this immediate area, Dave.

(N) By taking bullish steps, and in particular what I can think of immediately is a effort on the part of the Board of Education to inculcate its teaching and administrative staff with the need to recognize that we are not all white, that we are not all on a social pattern that is unique just to us, and that we have to address our attitudes to those coming into the community and I think it served itself well because it is my understanding now, here in 1985, these waning days of 1985, that there are a fair number of Asian and other ethnic groups coming into the community and I think the background of the school system addressing itself to the needs of minority or other groups will serve itself well. And I think the Board of Education, even before I became a member of it, deserves a great deal of credit in addressing itself to that particular issue more rapidly than other communities in Bergen County.

(I) The fact then that it faced issues head on and didn't seek or turn its back or close its eyes or that sort of thing ... 

(N) I will never forget the Board of Education at the time that I was on it, we imported professionals from Columbia and other places, people who had a degree of expertise in human relations, sociologists,

(I) Sensitivity program, that sort of thing.

(N) Correct. And a sensitivity program was established initially for the teachers and then integrated with parents in the community. Initially there was a great deal of resistance on the part of the teaching staff to this but I believe, I am sure, I know that they recognized the necessity for it and they accommodated it. Members of the teaching staff who were ironbound against this type of a sensitivity training eventually became the leaders in training other teachers to be more sensitive to the needs of children in the school system.

(I) Then the general concept is that any change is inevitably meets some resistance I suppose, it is held valid in this situation as well.

(N) There was a good philosophical basis for our program.

(I) It is interesting too that in terms of this adjustment that was planned and implemented, that the children became integrated before the adults on the basis of what we had said.

(N) I think it was a classic example of the children leading the adults. No question about it.

(I) And then eventually the local employment, the religious institutions, the Rotary Club and the service clubs ...

(N) And it was the school system and the, with the cooperation of the town council, the mayor and the members of the council, and the Recreation Department particularly, that played a major force in developing, when I say the Recreation Department, our kids were always interested in baseball and football and so we get to sign up period, Little League and so forth, and they noticed by this time they had made friends within the school system with people who (END OF SIDE I - BEGIN SIDE 2) but our kids would come back to us and say, Dad, so and so across the street, they didn't want to interview him for the Little League team. Why? Because his skin is different than ours or something like that? And so I inquired about that and there was some nice guys on the Little League at that time, Bob Montemauro, Mel Plack, if necessary I could always call Dick Rodda, but they made a conscious effort to reach out to the minority groups, to persuade them to participate in the programs and this is to their credit.

(I) I think the fact that the introduction of this to the classroom in non-academic activity carried over into the recreation programs in town, whether it was dance or athletics or ...

(N) Right. That was the major problem that the Board of Education faced and the P.T.A. groups and other interested community groups. You could integrate the kids in the black and white kids in the school programs but what do you do with them after school and I think the way the Recreation Department and Little Leagues operated was a major factor in developing an after-school social program for the kids.

(I) I think the fact also that it probably, the leadership, the adult leadership for many of those programs being of integrated leadership had some impact as far as the children were concerned as well as the parents.

(N) No doubt about it.

(I) I always felt we were extremely fortunate in having the quality of both white and black people who were available to provide leadership in specific areas.

(N) You are blowing your own horn, aren't you? And you should. And rightfully so.

(I) I think it was as much good luck as it was good management Dick. I've been lucky on those things.

(N) Well I will tell you Dick, at that time you had, we had some great people who weren't going to be taking loggerhead stands against one another. And they were in a receptive mood, receptive to each other's ideas and thoughts and there wasn't we all met together without thinking in terms of a confrontation. We didn't have the riots, we didn't have the battles. I think it was an acceptance of each other's thoughts, ideas, concepts and this was more than unique to this community.

(I) Well I think yes. I think that we were, the community was the fact that it was alert, the fact that it faced up to situations and found, like that very, very steep hill, once you get on the hill, it really isn't as steep as it seemed from the distance and that some of these things ...

(N) One of the great rallying points for this community as it turned out to be unfortunate for the country and all was the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the community organized a memorial benefit, not benefit but a memorial for Martin Luther King at the high school. Everybody just about from any kind of political spectrum, we were all upset that this had happened. And there was a general outpouring of the entire community and a bond was established at that time that I hope will perpetuate itself through the rest of the time of our years in Teaneck.

(I) Yes, it is unfortunate that it takes such a tragic incident to ... it probably would have developed at a slower pace ...

(N) I think that was a mental force in developing good inter-relationships in Teaneck at that time and that effort has carried through.

(I) The policies of the Board and policies of the council were to the sensitivity, to general sensitivity of the community which in their implementation probably, well not only probably, unquestionably lead to the cementing of positive relationships among differing ethnic groups and racial groups.

(N) There was a time when the Board of Education would meet with the town council particularly at budget times so that there could be some resolution of how much of an impact our budget was going to be on our taxes and the Board of Education met regularly with the town councils. We defended our own borders and our own frontiers but I think those were healthy meetings. I don't know whether they are going on now or not.

(I) It is interesting that you bring that up because that was the question came up at the dinner table at our house not that long ago and in fact it seemed to us it used to be the avenues of communication between the two groups were never entirely smooth I don't believe.

(N) Never.

(I) But they were wider open, it seemed to us, some years ago than what they have been in recent years. Why that is I don't know.

(N) I don't know what is happening today. But I always thought it was a very healthy practice. That whoever initiated this was extremely wise in having meetings between the town council and the Board particularly at budget fixing times so that the council would know what our intentions were and we would know what the town council was planning to do. I hope that something of this kind is continuing.

(I) It really is a prerequisite it seems to me to good government. It seems rather tragic that, to pick up the Suburbanite and see little barbs being thrown back and forth between individual and members of the two groups at one another. Nobody is a winner in this situation.

(N) It doesn't further anybody's interest. 

(I) Everybody is the loser.

(N) That's the kind of thing that really should be abandoned. The media loves that sort of thing. It is what sells newspapers.

(I) Well hopefully that may change in time and ... but it really must. I don't think it is optional.

(N) While you are thinking, I just want to say that one of the happiest periods of my life when I served on the Board of Education, I griped like hell about it at the time, but in retrospect, I wouldn't have missed serving the community for anything. I enjoyed those periods of time. I felt I was doing something. I would hope that more people in the community will come forward and say yes, I would like to do something. We all have our jobs, we all have our professional work to concern ourselves with and our families and all, but if you are living in a community and you want to do something for the community, you've just got to give up some of that time for ...

(I) There isn't any question about this. The fact is that the school system is recognized and has performing over a period of years most successfully no matter what criteria is used and that's not automatic. It is created and it is created because of the support that it gets from sound policy that's created and developed by people who care and people who have the great need to do it.

(N) People who serve in public office in the community don't always get hosannas but they have to receive the credit for at least giving of their time and effort. Where you may disagree with their points of view, you may disagree with their policies and all, nonetheless, they are giving of themselves and their time, time away from their own professions and their families, particularly, and they deserve a great deal of credit.

(I) Here again, it is always dangerous to get into names but just thinking generally in terms of the quality of the people over a period of years who have been willing to dedicate a healthy portion of time and energy and mental as well as physical in this direction, there have been really some very, very class people who have made extremely valuable contributions. 

(N) No question about that.

(I) Dave, I think we've focused primarily on the Board of Education. Not that we don't have to if there are other areas that you would like to address on this, I am sure that the ...

(N) Well only that there is a marvelous young lady in our community whose name is Phoebe Snow who, during the 60s, became almost a cult figure. She was a student at the high school. She was addressed, when I say addressed I mean her difficulties at that time, were approached by members of the faculty and staff in her particular situation, I think, it was an instance of an original brilliant person not being able to find herself within the conforming needs of a structured school system.

The experience of Phoebe Snow is what in actuality gave rise and led to the establishment of the alternative school. She was a particularly unique person and we had the pleasure of seeing and listening to her on television and radio where she acknowledged her misgivings and her misdeeds while a student here at the school. and had she, could she have done it over again, she would have done it otherwise but she doesn't regret any moment of what she did and she is right. And she is absolutely right. But this was a person who highlighted the need for the school and the community to change and in a way, she made a major contribution into this community. She may not be aware of it but it is a factor. Our discussions with respect to the A school, the alternative school, always somewhere along the line Phoebe's name came up. And the major problem that the Board of Education had in the early 70s was getting the staff the teaching staff to recognize this. We had people who were very conservative in their thinking, particularly up at the high school, very conservative in their thinking and you could not change them for H or high water. It meant that the Board of Education had to give support to its administration in reassigning people, teaching staff, this led to impacts with the Teachers' Association.

We never had a strike in those days. We maintained a dialogue and we finally got our point across even though it led to the early retirement of some people who specifically had in mind that well it is about time that perhaps you would like to do something else. And the point got across and that is when Teaneck High School began to attract young people to move into the teaching profession and desirous of coming into a vibrant community that was ready to accept change and ready to do change, not for the sake of change, but hopefully that it would lead to a goal and the goal of teaching our children and getting our kids to communicate with one another, with their parents, and Bernie Shaw who was Director of Special Services at the time, he was a major force in the, getting this point across to the teaching staff. He along with the people that the Board of Education hired from Columbia to come in and do the teacher sensitivity training courses and this enabled the community to get over the hump on our on that emerging time.

Sure we had a sit-in at the high school if you recall about a specific teacher that the Board of Education wanted to get rid of for what we considered to be various and good reasons but there was a recognition too of what that particular teacher was about but the sit-in was a magnate for the change and if the sit-in accomplished what the children wanted to get us to understand and it led to the adults understanding and say hey listen, maybe we ought to take a step back and see what these kids are trying to tell us. So it wasn't a situation where we were going to get police in, evict them, throw them out and all. There was a dialogue. That was Joe Killory's introduction to the Teaneck school system at the time.

(I) Poor Joe.

(N) But he handled it beautifully and he had the support of the Board of Education, diverse as we were at that time, we were split in political, philosophical thinking, we were split, but on this effort, we joined together and we got behind Joe 100% and things worked out very nicely. And I think the heritage of that event has helped the kids today to recognize that no, we're not casting stone, unbending, unreflexive as is the ... and the town administration, town council is also not unbending or unreflexive as it goes. They were good experiences and I think everybody learned from it and I think it was, I would almost describe it as a catharsis for the town and this is what made the town better.

(I) Yes. It is alive. I always felt that Teaneck was, it is an alive town.

(N) Well you built the town.

(I) No,. I've had an opportunity to be in the cat/bird seat in several facets of it and one of the things that it seems to me is that it is not unresponsive. No matter the subject, on any given subject either of us could name, there is expertise in this town, Dave, and some of it is real. There is also a lot that is imagined. But all of it is willing to be shared which I think is critical. That's very important.

(N) I think this community is unique in that it has, even today, it has people on the municipal level, on the Board of Education level, people who are not fixed but willing to learn and willing to listen. This was not true in 1958 when we came to this community. In 1958, if you attempted to come to a Board of Education meeting, you were not permitted to enter. The meetings were not opened to the public. And ...

(I) You had to be invited to speak. You couldn't ... there was no ... I remember that.

(N) Correct. And those Board of Education meetings were held up at a particular room up at the high school and I remember that at my first attendance at one of those meetings, you had to keep quiet. You couldn't say a word. And so we've come a long way. For the better.

(I) Where do you see Teaneck going from here, Dave? 

(N) Upwards and onwards. No question about it. It's ideally located so far as business people are concerned. At least people who have to commute to the city. It has, from Teaneck one can go almost anywhere. The commuting facilities in my estimation are fine. Of course you will run into bus delays, car delays, whatever, and all that. But I think the opportunity to go to other communities is unparalleled. There are the cultural activities of course that take place in New York and now there are more originating art facilities and cultural facilities taking place in Bergen County too. Up here in Englewood at the Harms Theater or in Hackensack. And Montclair which is twenty minutes away. So there isn't the need for us to drive into the big city on a Saturday night and fight traffic and find parking prohibitive financially and to spend an exorbitant amount of money for concert, theater or show when we can get the same thing right here in Bergen County for a fraction of the cost.

And so far as the school system is concerned, I think they've surpassed a major situation in so far as leadership of the school system is concerned and I am convinced that the members of the Board are good people at heart and people who will want to do the kind of things that we wanted to do and they'll do well. And I think the community is going to attract more and more diverse people and it won't be as fractionalized as it was in the early, late 60s and early 70s. The late 60s and early 70s were terrible times if you were in Teaneck. You'd get two people together, you had two divergent points of view. And the opportunity to cooperate with one another was difficult at that time. We had the Viet Nam War going on at the time, it was a mess.

{I} That's true.

{END OF TAPE}

 

Back to Teaneck Oral History (2)

Back to Township History Main Page