|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.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||May 18, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (1/20/1985)|
This afternoon, Friday, May 18th
(I) Jo, how long have you been in Teaneck?
(N) 57 years.
(I) Jo, what brought you to Teaneck?
(N) Well we bought some property on Rutland Avenue 57 years ago and my husband was a builder and we decided to build some houses up there which we did. It was completely undeveloped, all dirt roads, no facilities. We had to have the electric poles put in, had to have the sewers dug and all that sort of stuff. And we bought two houses out there. We had contacted Hornsey (?) from New York who was a developer and he built some houses for Hornsey. That's what brought us here.
(I) That's what brought you to Teaneck.
(N) We came from Rutherford.
(I) But I see you live on De Mott Avenue. What brought you to De Mott?
(N) Oh, my first husband died and I knew Lou Morten who had been one of the first council. His wife had died. And so we got married.
(I) How old were you at that time?
(N) Oh my gosh. In my 50s.
(I) And how long?
(N) I was married to Lou for 19 years and then he died.
(I) So you had two successful marriages.
(N) Very successful. Beautiful.
(I) Now what was Teaneck like when you first came here?
(N) It was country. It was beautiful. Cedar Lane was cobblestone. There was no high school, there were trees there. Where we lived on Rutland Avenue had been part of a farm and you could go out in the woods and pick the little flowers and we had pheasants and deer and goose and Fred Andres owned the property on River Road where the Andres Park is now and we got acquainted with him. And it was just beautiful. We were the first house on the block.
(I) On this block?
(N) No, no. On Rutland Avenue.
(I) Oh, you lived on Rutland Avenue first. And then you moved here.
(N) No, then we lived on Laurelton Parkway.
(I) Oh , you've been all around Teaneck.
(N) You are not kidding. My son was born during the repression, you know and things are bad.
(I) Were they bad for you?
(N) Yes, it was bad for us. Well, there was no money. And in those days, these perfectly wonderful men would come to the house and beg for a sandwich. It was really the depression and I am not fooling.
(I) Where did you shop when you first came.
(N) Englewood, and you know what we used to do? We used to go Old New Bridge Road. Now this was Old New Bridge Road to Packards in Hackensack. At that time, Packards had a wooden floor, it was nothing like it is now, but it was really a very lovely store and on River Road, just before you got to New Bridge Road, there was an old slave house and we saw the old man walking who had been a slave. We would go shopping in Packards once a week and for $5, you could get enough food for the week. Then I would walk to West Englewood down under the railroad through the passageway which is now closed because it isn't safe, and before they built that, you would cross the railroad tracks and I would end up pushing the baby carriage across there to shop on West Englewood Avenue just west of Queen Anne Road.
(I) You don't mean across the tracks, you mean through the overpass.
(N) No, across the tracks.
(I) You weren't afraid.
(N) Not afraid, no.
(I) You say you were on New Bridge Road there was the slave house
(N) No, it was on Teaneck Road almost facing New Bridge Road.
(I) Oh that's where it was. Not near the Hackensack River.
(I) I heard that near the Hackensack River off New Bridge Road there used to be old Indian houses. Did you ever hear anything about that?
(I) I heard that had been an Indian spot.
(N) No, I hadn't heard that. But we did see the old slave. Frizzled haired, big man.
(I) How old do you think he was?
(N) Oh, he must have been in his 70s. It was beautiful.
(I) What changes have you seen come in Teaneck?
(N) Oh, for heaven sake. The first thing that changed was when they built the high school. They cut down the trees, the townspeople cut down the trees, and they built the high school. And then as soon as Route 4 was constructed, forget it. Then the population began to grow and grow and maybe I shouldn't say this but when we first came to Teaneck, there were no black people except for that black slave.
(I) And how had it effected you, these changes?
(N) I love it.
(I) Did your children go to school here? You raised your children
(N) I had one son. He was born on Rutland Avenue and he went all through schools in Teaneck and it was beautiful. We had wonderful schools.
(I) What year was that when he started going to school. Can you remember?
(N) I think we came here in 1927. And first he went to kindergarten over in School #4.
(I) Which is that. What is it called now?
(N) On West Englewood Avenue.
(I) That's the Whittier School.
(N) No, Whittier School is over there on Teaneck Road, isn't it? Well then it was Whittier.
(I) Then they called it I guess by number. You didn't have names like today.
(N) I wonder if that was school #4. I really don't remember.
(I) It was on West Englewood Avenue.
(N) On West Englewood Avenue. It is still there.
(I) It is still there. That is, I think, the Whittier School. So in other words, there are a number of schools in town then.
(N) Oh yes. We had that school and we had the old school over there on Teaneck Road and we had school #1 over
(I) Lowell School.
(N) No, we didn't have Lowell School.
(N) That was it, Longfellow way over there on can't think of the name of the street.
(I) Oakdene Street.
(N) No, that was Kitty Keeter School on Oakdene, wasn't it?
(I) Longfellow is on Oakdene Street and Teaneck Road.
(N) That's where I first began to substitute. See during the depression, I substituted.
(I) You substituted in Teaneck?
(N) Oh sure.
(I) Did you teach in Teaneck?
(N) Thirty one years.
(I) Where did you teach?
(N) Well, I substituted over there at Oakdene and then the principal of School #2 became very ill and I went over there to finish out the year and then I applied for a permanent position. I am trying to remember. I know that I put in some time in kindergarten over in Kitty Keeter School, that's over there on Bell Blvd. isn't it?
(I) I don't know that name, Kitty Keeter School.
(N) Well Kitty Keeter, she was a character. Well, she was a very independent woman. And it was a six room school at that time. And I went in, I substituted with Kitty in the kindergarten and as I remember, do you want to hear this?
(N) Well, there was a little boy there, can't remember his name, but it was kindergarten so he didn't know how to manipulate his pants, you know, and I can remember helping him and years later, this big six foot boy, and then I got a job in the junior high.
(I) Which one?
(N) Well it was in the high school then. And I was teaching English and Math and Social Studies and then one year, I taught Reading and in the meantime I was taking courses in Paterson for special education so when they opened up the special education classes, I got the job and I did that for a few years and then I would go back to straight teaching because that's very
(I) Was the kindergarten a full day of school?
(N) No, it was a half day.
(I) Have we ever really had a full day kindergarten in Teaneck?
(N) No, I don't know whether they have it now or not.
(I) No, they are talking about it that's why I asked you.
(N) Well, I don't know. I guess it is because so many of the mothers work.
(I) I was going to ask you, did your son go through the high school here?
(N) Oh yes. Honor student.
(I) How big were your classes then when you were teaching junior high school?
(N) Would you believe sometimes I had more than 40.
(I) And did they learn?
(N) I think they learned better than they do today. And do you know what? One year when I was in the junior high school, I had seven periods a day with 20 minutes off for lunch.
(I) Seven periods. How many classes did you have?
(N) I had seven classes. I didn't have any . . . I think they were trying to ruin me. And then when they built Ben Franklin, I had written a little book, the Teaneck History, and it is in the cornerstone at Ben Franklin.
(I) And was that the first junior high school or was TJ?
(N) No, that was the first one. And then they built TJ and I was teaching in Ben Franklin for a while and then I think it was Roshay asked Ire to go down to Ben Franklin but most of my years, I, oh then I had a class of obstreperous boys in the high school.
(I) Special class.
(N) Well they weren't called special classes. They were called obstreperous and this I have to tell you. Mr. Steel was the principal, a wonderful principal, absolutely wonderful.
(I) Was he the first high school principal?
(N) No, no he wasn't. He was the first one for me. But anyhow went to school in September and the teachers all got programs and mine was perfectly blank. In other words, you are on your own kid. Well I remember one day, Mr. Steel walked into the room. He walked around and out and two months later he could tell me everything that was going on. Would you believe that? He was a superb principal, absolutely. Then I had a special class of boys in Washington Irving and I taught shop and I taught them cooking and Dr. Newman came one day and asked me if I knew anything about the government subsidy which I didn't know but then I could apply and they would send flour and sugar and things of that description and potatoes and we would cook. I loved it. They were all boys.
(I) And none of them objected.
(N) No, they loved it.
(I) What year would that be about?
(N) That would be in the 30s.
(I) Because that was long before the Women's Liberation movement.
(N) As a matter of fact, I remember this one boy whose father had a hardware store over in the lower end of town there. I met him on Cedar Lane several years later. My name then was Mrs. Zepel, my first husband was Zepel. And he met me on Cedar Lane and he said, "Miss Zepel, do you remember how we used to cook them potatoes?" Oh, I love it. Love it. And then I had boys who became firemen and Policemen.
(I) In town here?
(N) Oh sure. Before I got a regular job and I was substituting, I was called to substitute in the high school one day, a class of seniors, and it was advanced mathematics. Now Fitzgerald who was our chief of Police was in there.
(I) He was one of the students?
(N) Yeah. Tommy Costa.
(I) So he was raised here. Our former mayor?
(N) Yeah. And I don't recall some of the others and they were having log rhythms and I said, I don't know a thing about it and that made it. Because they would have crucified me if I tried to fake it. I told them the truth.
(I) And you had some good students.
(N) We had some of the finest students in Teaneck. We had a few, you know, but that's par for the course. But those boys, they were all football players and you'd call the role and one would answer for the other, you know, and I would laugh.
(I) You knew they were doing it?
(N) I knew they were doing it because a substitute's life is tough and if you try to fake it to the kids, forget it. You can't do that. I love those kids.
(I) You just had a few schools in town then. Was there any busing?
(N) Oh no. Of course not.
(I) How far did the kids have to walk?
(N) Well there were neighborhood schools. They are all neighborhood schools. We lived on Rutland Avenue and West Englewood Avenue was about say four or five blocks.
(I) Because you know I interviewed Julia Downs. She's been here a long time too. And she was telling me that in her part of the town, the eastern part, that you had two schools. You had the Longfellow where the Town House is and the kids would have to walk from way up there
(N) Longfellow's not where the Town House is.
(I) No, there is one at the Town House and there is one at Longfellow. And they'd have quite lengthy walks.
(N) Well School #4 was there when I came to town.
(I) Yeah. Well that would be a different part of town.
(N) Emerson was there.
(I) That's the western part of the town. Because she said she could remember her mother putting her up on her shoulder and trudging through the snow to the school. Now what form of township government did we have then?
(N) Well I will tell you, the reason why we have the city manager form of government is because at that time the government was rather corrupt. My first husband was living then and a group of men, there was Lou Morten and Al Jeshurun and Don Washey and Kile Van Wagoner, I can't think of the others who were all civic minded and maybe somebody could tell you and they got together to put in the city manager form of government. We would have the town meetings. People would go. And we would go to the town meetings
(I) You mean not like today. When nobody goes.
(N) No, it was beautiful. It really was beautiful. And anyhow I don't know how I became involved in it because my son was quite young at that time but somebody got me to go to this town meeting which I enjoyed very much and I was president of the Women's Auxiliary
(I) Of what?
(N) Of the Teaneck Taxpayers League. That was the beginning of the Teaneck Taxpayers League.
(I) Tell me something about the Taxpayers League. What did they do?
(N) Well in the first place, we put in a correct form of government.
(I) When was this, about what year?
(N) I would say, don't quote me, but I would say it was in the early 30s because my son was quite young then. And I know Lou Morten paid the town a couple of hundred thousand dollars. I don't remember exactly what it was but something about mortgages or whatever because he was a lawyer, you see. Paquin was a journalist from Hearst Publications, Don Washey was a lawyer. I don't know what Kile Van Wagoner did because the Depression ruined him. But they were a fine group.
(I) When you say Taxpayers League, was there anybody in Teaneck that weren't taxpayers?
(N) Say that again.
(I) When you say Taxpayers League, were there anybody in Teaneck other, than Taxpayers? You didn't have any multiple family dwellings then, did you?
(N) Well there were apartments.
(I) There were apartments.
(N) There were apartments.
(I) But not many?
(I) So, generally a Taxpayers League would be almost anybody living in town?
(N) Well I would assume so. Yeah. But we did have a very fine type of people. I have to say that.
(I) What do you mean by a fine type of people?
(N) They were civic minded, shall I say it that way?
(I) Well, I was just wondering what you mean by it?
(N) Yeah, they were civic minded people.
(I) You mean not too selfish.
(N) No, no. And we had some very fine people on the Board of Education.
(I) Did we have elections to the Board of Education then?
(N) Yeah. We didn't have the 6, 3, 3 either. It was eighth grade and high school and it was during the time that I was working in the junior high that they put in the 6, 3, 3. I wasn't in favor of that because I was educated in New Haven and we went to the eighth grade and then the four years of high school.
(I) What do you mean by 6, 3, 3?
(N) Well the sixth grade, then three years in the junior high
(I) And then three years of high school?
(I) And you feel that wasn't an advantage?
(N) No, I think that it was an advantage.
(I) Because you know there was so much talk about reorganization today and they have different configurations entirely.
(N) Well when you went to school, didn't you go to the eighth grade and then to high school?
(I) When I went to school, to the eighth grade and then to high school.
(N) Well sure.