|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:||July 10, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (2/17/1985)|
This is Lou Schwartz interviewing Dick Rodda at his home in Teaneck at 1810 Hudson Avenue, July 10, Tuesday, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
(I) Dick, you are not a native of Teaneck, are you?
(N) No, I am not.
(I) What brought you to Teaneck?
(N) Well there was a position open with the, in the formation of a Recreation Department in the township and it was one of three that I had heard about and it was recommended to me by a man who was the district representative of the National Recreation Association on the basis of a fine local government and he felt it was a very progressive community, very much alive and felt that there was a lot that could be done in terms of recreation and parks and I ought to at least go for the interview.
(I) What was his name?
(N) His name was Jacob Ufaust and he lived in, actually he lived in East Orange and he covered New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Mary land, New Jersey.
(I) And when was this?
(N) This was in 1943, in early 43 he'd heard about this and I wrote at that point and inquired about it and received a letter from the town manager at the time who was Paul Volcker and I was included among those who were interviewing for the position.
(I) And did you find it that progressive a community?
(N) Yes. Actually it was, well I had been working in an industrial city in Pennsylvania that operated on the ward system and so that the, to come to a small community in Teaneck at the time it was about 15,000 people, with no politics at all, it was about as sterile as, and the contrast was, to say it was marked would be the understatement of the day and so that it was, I did find it to be everything that Mr. Faust had said it was going to be. As a matter of fact, after the interview and so on, when the offer was made and it wasn't really anything more than I was making, as a matter of fact, I think it was a little less, with the understanding that I would establish residence in the community within three months and the, any permanent appointment would be based on the completion of a Civil Service examination within the top three and then reviewed by the manager before a decision were made so I had a brother who was living in West New York at the time and I lived with him for a couple of months until I found a place to live and I rented a room up on 489 Grenville Avenue as a matter of fact. Lived with the Fredericks there, Frank Fredericks and Optie Fredericks for a couple of years. As a matter of fact, Optie Fredericks worked for Joo Gratzil in Gratzil's Bakery on Cedar Lane and Frank was a music transcriber who had done work for Paul Whiteman and Freddie Grofay who lived in Teaneck over on Queen Anne Road and Frank used to do some of his transcribing as well. Very interesting. lovely people.
(I) You say Teaneck was no politics. I can't imagine that.
(N) No. Not in the republican/democrat sense of the word. Of course there was politics. There was the Taxpayers league and there were groups that had particular interests in the community but for the most part, they seemed to be positive in their approach to things. Not necessarily all in the same thing but whatever they are interested in seemed to take a positive approach to things.
(I) You mean the politics wasn't that petty?
(N) No. Not really, no. It didn't, no. If they were republican or democrat didn't make any difference. Whatever their particular interest was, Taxpayers League that defines itself pretty much and there were watchdogs in the community and first of all with a manager as conservative as Paul Volcker, there wasn't hardly any place for them to go.
(I) So this was after the government, the form of government changed to a manager councilor was that before?
(N) No, that was after. That changed at or about 1931. Paul came here in 1932 from Cape May actually and the council manager form of government was introduced. The town at the tine was $5,000,000 in debt, had some really severe financial problems as you might well imagine so that it needed really a conservative administration which it got to say the least.
(I) Now what kind of a recreation department did you find here?
(N) Well there had been recreation programs on a seasonal basis conducted on a temporary basis by a fellow named Ray Wilde whom I don't really know but who worked in Public works. Sal Salerno ran some of the summer things and Sal was a physical education teacher in the junior/senior high school. And Art Degritt, Art was in the physical education in Bloomfield I think and lived in town and I got to know Art very, very well in the years following. As a matter of fact, he was one of my biggest supporters.
(I) Was he the Degritt that went to the big leagues?
(N) That was his father. Yes. Mike went with the Chicago White Sox and Art was Mike's father. Art was a phys ed man initially and then he went into the milk business.
(I) What changes have taken place and of course the role you played in the period that you served as the recreation director?
(N) Oh gee, Lou, there were so many changes. A tremendous number of changes. For instance, when I lived on 489 Grenville Avenue which is just up the street from here, up the top of this hill, I could look out my back window and it was all open territory. There wasn't a house there and interestingly enough, my office at the time was on the second, on the top floor of the municipal building and next to my office was the office of Ed Young who at the time was the town assessor and I had, I was working seven days a week and really didn't have a chance to spend very much money. Not that there was much to spend. But I asked Ed at that time how much those lots were going to be sold for and he said they'll go for about $1,100 for a lot. Now today I suppose those lots are considerably more than that for sure. But there was, this was built in 1937, several of the homes on this block including this one but there were a whole gang of them on behind, south of Grenville Avenue near the top of the hill, practically down to Forest that there were hardly any homes at all at that point in time. So that the growth of the community was marked. It was rear in mind that the Depression wasn't long before that and West Englewood Avenue was known as Mortgage Hill as you probably know. And a lot of the properties, as a matter of fact, a lot of the park properties were bought up on tax title liens from people who had bought property and just couldn't make it because of the Mortgage and they were taken by the banks and the town took it from tax title liens, put packages together and swapped them which is how we have Sagamore Park and we've got Tryon Park and a few more and so that it, they were very difficult times but they were getting better all the time and the growth in the community was constant. Other changes, it was a relatively homogeneous community in the sense that residents were by and large, well in terms of religious institutions, St. Anastasia, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, I guess Christ Church on Maitland was about what there was.
(I) Were there any Jewish organizations then?
(N) No. Not at all. None. No Jewish organizations at all.
(I) When did they start coming in?
(N) They started coming in I'd say in the 40s, 46, 47, thereabouts. Barney Bookstaver was the health officer in town and I think was initiated what became the Jewish Community Center. Barney was very active in town not only as a health officer which he was but in so many other organizations and was truly loved and here was a man who was Father Quigley thought the sun rose and set on Barney Bookstaver for instance. And there weren't many people that Father Quigley felt that way about outside of his parish I'll tell you that.
(I) And he was here quite some time before you.
(N) He was here before I was. Yes he was. I don't know how long before but I know when Paul and the council appointed him health officer, they certainly knew what they were doing.
(I) Was he appointed before you?
(N) Yes, I believe he was. But he did the health checks on every child in public school and in St. Anastasia too as a matter of fact.
(I) You mean schools didn't have their own nurses?
(N) They may have had their nurses but when it came time to do the health check, Barney Bookstaver did it. He taught the health lesson for the junior high and to the children in the, at the time it was a combination junior/senior high. They were on split session. They went from the seventh to the twelfth grade. And that was rather a bone of contention.
(I) Was that the present high school?
(N) That was the present high school, yes. There was an addition. Let's see, it would be the north wing would be the junior high wing of the school and they are separated so to speak and yet the hallway, and a lot of educators were not very comfortable with seventh grade young people in the same building with the senior high young people.
(I) Was there any cause for it as far as you could see? Any cause why they were not comfortable?
(N) Well at that time the thinking was, the educators seemed to me as I recall, were promoting the six, three, three plan so to speak. Six grade elementary school, three junior high and three senior high. But the social associations between junior and senior high were frowned upon. They felt the junior high people were being exposed to the things perhaps that they would get later on when they were better able to handle it. There may be some validity to it, I don't know, I am not qualified to evaluate it but that was the thinking at the time as I recall.
(I) Let's come back to the Director of Recreation now. You come in and what did you find?
(N) Well one of the things that when I first came it was said that they were very concerned about the young people hanging out on Cedar Lane. Well that hasn't changed in forty years. But they had had some problems in the movies for instance. The kids were cutting the seats, some youngster had gone in there with a pistol and had gone up finally on the roof and fired the pistol and they were afraid somebody was going to get hurt.
(I) What movie was that? Was it the same movie we have?
(N) Sane movie on cedar Lane. And so my first assignment then was to organize a program for adolescents, the junior / senior high young people as they told me. That's really what they wanted. And I came here 24 January of 44. On the 15th of February I think it was of that year we, in the meantime we had organized by grade level every seventh grade home room had elected a home room representative to represent the seventh grade and the same for the eighth through the twelfth and then the seventh grade home room representatives got together and elected from themselves one boy and one girl. They were seventh grade representatives and the eighth grade did the same thing. We did the same thing through the senior high and that became a council, a teen council and we met once a week and talked about what we would do, what programs.
(I) This was after school?
(N) This was after school and on Friday nights we had, we opened Washington Irving School which was a relatively almost a spanking brand new school much to the consternation I am sure of some members at the time of the Board of Education. The superintendent of schools wasn't overjoyed with the idea but went along with it. And the principal of the school I am sure had same reservations but went along with it also and on the 15th of February I think it was we had Friday nights we had a dance, a teen dance. The kids decided that they wanted to call it the Little Brown Jug. We had a logo made, a contest for the logo, somebody designed it. We had paper made up in that kind of sign. And then we had people come in, volunteers who would come in to help chaperone these dances. Volunteer parents. And it was very difficult. Volunteers were not as constant as we'd like to think that they were. Of course I was at every one and we had soda and
(I) How big was the staff?
(N) There wasn't any staff. I was it. I had no clerk, I had nobody. I had nobody. We had, we averaged 700 a night. We had the junior high kids on Friday night. We had the senior high kids on Saturday night. And they had to dress or they it was a dress affair and I was under the opinion that most of us act a social functions the way we dress anyway and kids I think are no exception to that and then we had Barn Dances when they could come in old clothes so to speak in Washington Irving School. And then the Town House at the time was vacant. It had been some years before someone had suggested that perhaps it was unsafe. Well there was never any formal technical decision by anybody that could say without any equivocation that it was "technically unsafe" but the PTA gets a hold of something like that and no matter, from their point of view it is technically unsafe, it was abandoned.
(I) How long did it stay abandoned?
(N) It was abandoned enough for the new building to be built right next door to it. Washington Irving School was built, right adjacent to it, they bought a couple of homes, took some of the play yard and built that building. Well the old building was a mess to tell you the truth. It had been there for three or four years with nothing going on. Nobody was in it. And Paul and the members of the board got together and decided that if the board would give the town the Town House, they would do some renovation, take the kids to some extent out of Washington Irving and provide a place for the superintendent of schools and his staff. I think the rent was $1.00 a year for the board of education of the town. And that still exists to the best of my knowledge. And it could be used for school purposes as well as recreational purposes.
(I) So when did this take place about?
(N) That took place, it was opened in September of 46. And I think I don't know if Milt Votee or Jim Brett was mayor at that time.
(I) And the Board of Ed then moved into the
(N) The board moved, Dr. Newland and his staff moved into that south wing of where they are today. And the recreation department had the north wing and the center section from the basement to the second floor.
(I) Oh you had the whole second floor?
(N) We had the whole second floor from the rooms of the north wing at the south wing one row of rooms at the south wing. Everything else was recreation. And we had Rod & Gun Clubs, we had all kinds of local organizations that exist today only there seemed to me to be a lot more at the tome Lou. They met there. The crafts, we had model airplane club and there was something going on in that place it seemed to me very consistently.
(I) How did your department develop?
(N) Well there were just more programs as programs developed and we developed a lot of programs from athletic programs to social programs to cultural programs, it just became necessary. Initially I did my own clerical work, did my own releases and did my own reports and then Mr. Volcker put me with, in an office with Arthur Egan and we shared the services of a secretary.
(I) Who was Arthur Egan?
(N) Arthur was in charge of the, among other things, the fellows who were away in the service or the records of what things were to go on the plaque or that thing out front and other extraneous things that Paul had assigned to Arthur at any given time. An awfully nice guy and we shared and then it just got to be, as I moved up to the Town House, then we had to really get some full time help. We had something like 60 programs or something like that. We were still using volunteers, a lot of volunteers who were extraordinary in their talent and their willingness to help. As a matter of fact Bobby Bouton started as a volunteer in a lot of programs and then Bobby became a part of the department.
(I) Maybe you can give me a little history of some of the programs. For example, Little League.
(N) Well that's an interesting story as a matter of fact Lou. Little League and of course I know your association with it, there had been some Little League in this area. Red Garrity in Englewood was very active in the little league operations and Carl Stokes or Carl Williamsport had started this program as a neighborhood program and I had seen some material on it at one of the recreation conferences and I was very taken with it and I talked to a few friends just to get some feedback among those fellows were Tony Manna who was a big sports enthusiast, Bob Morrill Sr. who was a big sports enthusiast, Merrill Tucker who was an active baseball player, Bill Hardy who
(I) He was postmaster, wasn't he?
(N) Yeah, he was postmaster at the time. Bill Hardy who was a very athletic fellow. So we decided, let's call a meeting and see it Dave Toby, and see if there was sufficient interest and I sent out 81 cards. I'll never forget it. I sent out 81 postcards inviting guys to meet me in the basement of the public library and we could talk about this potential for a Little League program.
(I) These were men you invited?
(N) These were fellows that I thought would be, would reflect some of the views. Some were scout leaders, Some were active in their religious organizations, neighborhood groups, there were civic associations, there were a lot of civic associations then that we don't have now. Emerson School had that Emerson Civic Association. They did a lot of beautiful things down there. Right in the school and in their whole area and it was very nice. Anyway the result of the meeting after a vote would you believe, they decided that Teaneck didn't need a Little League program. That there were enough outlets for them. I couldn't believe this but
(I) Were there outlets?
(N) There were outlets. There were programs but not organized to the extent, on the same level as the Little League operation was and so I decided George Brushka was involved, George I think was writing sports for one of the New York papers and somebody else, we decided to hold another meeting. At another meeting we decided we'd try it. Bill Hardy, Tucker, Mike Robbins who was a scout leader and Tony Manna. Johnny (can't remember his last name) so we decided we'd try four teams. We'd play up behind the Bryant School. You had to have 15,000 so we said well we were just, we were maybe just a little over 15,000, not a whole lot, we had four teams. Alexander Summer sponsored a team; Bob Morrill Insurance I think sponsored a team; Mike Robbins was elected president; Tony Manna I guess Tony was the first president.
(I) That's not the Manna that was vice principal in the junior high school, is it?
(N) No. Joe Manna was there. Tony was an attorney, he was a partner of Tommy Costa's. It was Manna & Costa. And a big sports booster. And Tony was our president and I served as the secretary in contact with Williamsport and all. You know what that is. And we went up and built this field up behind Bryant School. We built it. Not the town. We did it. About a year later decided that became "the northern league". We decided we'd so the same thing in the Glenwood Avenue area and put a field down there. Well there was a field there where baseball had been played. Porky O'Shea ran baseball down there long before I came to town. That was full scale baseball. 90' field. That was in the county league. And they had some fine baseball there, but it had dwindled off. County baseball had dwindled off considerably and really it wasn't being used to the extent that it might and this seemed to be a good place to put the field down there so we did. Volcker sponsored a team down there and three other sponsors and they became the southern league. And then the school was going to put an addition on Bryant and the town said we could have the area adjacent to the skating rink on Votee Park which was Central Park at the time and we built that. As a matter of fact, the dugouts, this guy named Harley Hesson who was a volunteer, Gene Kilmurray who now is with Department of Public Works knew something about plastering came down, Tommy Costa came down and mixed cement with Bill Hardy and Tommy's daughter and a few more of us mixed the cement and poured the concrete for the footings on those dugouts. Gene plastered them and put the cement plaster up and so the labor was really done by people who were interested .
(I) What year was this?
(N) The year it started was 1952. That was the first year of operation. It turned out to be quite successful. Of course it grew as the town grew.
(I) But don't you find it was unfortunate. The divisions that were made then were so innocuous that it later became a
(N) Well initially when the Williamsport program, when Carl Stokes, no, it wasn't Stokes, Carl whatever his name, the fellow from Williamsport who started this did so in his neighborhood. That's how he started it. And he bought uniforms. Nobody had uniforms. So of course everybody wanted to be on Carl's team. Well he got enough for four teams. He said, you know, this is all I can really handle and that's how it turned out to be. And then when the rules were set up, that there had to be a minimum, a maximum of 15,000 and then you had to have, if you had 30,000 you had to have two leagues. And then the a tire company really took it over and moved the guy out and then it became really a whole big operation. But I think at that time and at that point in time it was probably OK but it grew with the growth came the need for changes that were inevitable and they were healthy I think. I think it is a fine experience. Of course it is like any other experience. Whether it is scouting or football or basketball. The leadership it gets is what becomes important. But
(I) The point I wanted to raise with you is that while making different leagues in different areas of the town was innocuous when the town was homogeneous. Once it was no longer homogeneous
(N) That's true. You know, you are right. As that point developed, there was not the total integration. Had it been a totally integrated community from the beginning, then it could have but it didn't work that way. Therefore the changes were absolutely necessary.
(I) What other programs now, you were involved with other programs too. Maybe you can give us a little history so that we can get on. For example, what about the football program? (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2, TAPE 1)
(N) ... was fathered if you will by the fellow who was my assistant at the time, a guy named Jack Armstrong. Jack has coached football and played at Columbia and coached at Columbia and coached at Teaneck High School, coached for Tenafly High School and was very, very much into it and did some officiating into the need for a football program and so we worked out what we thought were very common sense rules in terms of age/weight classifications and tight control, good equipment and regulated practice sessions and regulated game sessions. The naming of it of course because Jack had been a Columbia man, felt that it had to be Ivy Leagues so we said, well, then we will call it the Junior Ivy League.
(I) When was this started?
(N) It must have been, it was about 1955.
(I) A little after Little League.
(N) Yeah. 1955 or 56. And it was a very healthy but again the control, we felt, it was absolutely essential that very, very tight control be maintained by the recreation personnel over every aspect of that program. We did not feel that way about the Little League program.
(I) I was going to ask you that question - why?
(N) First, the physical contact and the potential for injury we felt in football and the knowledge of the game itself, there were more people who knew more about baseball or basketball for that matter, than would about football or wrestling or you know the contact activity and for that reason we felt that we had to retain very tight. . that wasn't always a popular thing as you might suspect but we did and we had control.
(I) Now whereas the Little League has held up more or less, I think. The Ivy League football has gone down considerably. How do you account for that?
(N) There were things that were, well first I think not only in this general area but in this general region, the tenets that are followed by Little League are basically the same now as they were then. That is your age classification generally in most communities goes from about eight to twelve. There are some that go lower and some, but in Little League that's about it. With the football programs, in the area, whether it is Edgewater or Cliffside Park or Elmwood Park or wherever, there seemed to be, there was not the tight control that we exercised and there were some changes that were being made that we did not feel I did not feel for one were necessarily in the best interest of a junior football program. I felt that they were getting to the point that the weight differential was too wide between the children, the age differential, everybody's looking for that fast running half back or the quarterback and so on and that really wasn't the intent of that junior Ivy League program at all. The intent was to provide an experience to a contact sport under the best leadership that we could find and if that was to be the quality of, the caliber of performance of the child was really secondary. And if he found that getting hit and hitting wasn't his bag, there wasn't anything wrong with that. You are entitled to do that. On the other hand, if you became a spectator, you had to show appreciation of what the game was all about. The intricacies of the game. So it was really as much a teaching thing as it was, we didn't, this wasn't a Junior Red Devil program or
(I) What's a Red Devil Program?
(N) The Red Devils was a football program, an adult football program, in Teaneck and when those guys built what is now Teaneck High School athletic field. They chopped down trees and built that whole field, Marshall Kilmurray can tell you about that and Johnny Stevenson who played up there and a lot of those guys.
(I) You mean they did it for their own playing football or for the high school?
(N) They did it for both. They were involved physically involved in the clearing of that land of trees for athletic purposes.
(I) What about the soccer program? How did it start?
(N) Bob really had as much to do with
(I) Bob who?
(N) Bob Bouton had as much to do with that as anyone. Of course, Bob is a soccer official, works the high school games and that sort of thing and did develop, as a matter of fact, Bob was very much involved with the Junior Ivy League Program as well and at the same time he developed the junior soccer program. And then there is a lot of volunteer interest and knowledge. Again soccer is not a game that is well known, the details of it are not as well known as baseball at least in this area. I am sure that will change as timee goes on because soccer interest is growing by leaps and bounds. It is here to stay.
(I) Is it really?
(N) Oh yes. Oh yes. No question about it.
(I) I thought it was taking a turn down.
(N) I don't think so Lou. I think all over the east, as you get around, you see more and more children soccer programs and more concern given to the academic, athletic programs including soccer and so on. I think it is here to stay.
(I) I think it is a better game than football just from the point of view of injuries.
(N) No, it is a fine game. Of course internationally it is the biggest game there is.
(I) That's the international game. Tell me something about the ice skating program?
(N) Skating, I always felt particularly partial to the skating area. It was a loosely organized and the objective, our objective was to provide that facility, to make it as aesthetically appealing as possible and to maintain it with whatever in any way we could in order that it would lend itself because here was an activity that served both boys and girls, children and adults, they had Asa Rogers down there who was well into his 80s and little tykes there with their two runner skates on and after school, I used to go down there after school from three to five on skates when there was skating. We are not far enough north geographically to have good skating.
(I) You mean natural ice skating?
(N) Natural ice. We are not far enough south not to have it. We are sort of betwixt and between so we have to take what we can get and provide as good as we can when it is here. I would say two years ago we probably had close to thirty days of skating which is considerable for this geographic region. Our average, I would say, over a period of twenty years probably didn't go much more than ten to fifteen days when the ice was safe. We used to skate down here at Wendell Place also and that was dangerous. I was very apprehensive about that. When Armstrong was with us, Jack was a guy about six five, about 270 or 280, and I'd take him down there in the morning and we'd walk on there and he often laughs about it. He said
(I) He never went down?
(N) Oh yes. We both went in but with the ice at Wendell Place which is along the Hackensack, that's brackish water. It is effected by the tide therefore it freezes slower than regular clearwater ice will and also around the circumference of that, the perimeter of that ice, is the last place to freeze because the ground retains the heat longer than everything else so if it is, if we are going to go in, let us go in on the edges and if we didn't go in on the edges, then we'd go out a little farther and then we'd drill down with a device that the Public Works guys made up for me and we'd stick this thing in the ice and it had to be down there, I'd want it 5-1/2 to 6 inches of ice before in answering the phone we would say it was safe. But at Central Park we'd say four inches. We'd even go with 3-1/2 and say that it was safe and the reason for that is that if someone calls and says is the ice safe at Wendell Place, if you tell them it is safe brother and they go in, never mind about getting wet. There wasn't that much water under there. There is only about 3-1/2 feet of water; however, there was another three feet of mud and if a child went in there and got his skates caught in that mud, you know, their school is over. So I was concerned about that.