|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:||Not Indicated|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (11/24/1984)|
(I) Who gives the lectures?
(N) I used to give the lectures. Now there is others giving it. The group leaders give the lectures, demonstrate how to take care of, how to propagate, then plants are sold to these children at a lower rate and they all go home with plants. In addition to that, some of us give lectures in the classroom. I know I give about four or five lectures every year.
(I) Different schools?
(N) Different schools. In the classroom. Mostly to younger children.
(I) How do the younger children take to this?
(N) They love it. I have a knack, I think, of dealing with the younger children and I like being with them and usually I teach them something about the plant, how to take care of some plants, the biology of the plant in language they can understand and usually sometimes they even bring in plants, seedlings, that are raised for that purpose, let them cut it up and they have something to take home with them. So it works out very well. But one of the other features of the greenhouse was that the fact that they raised money, they refused to take part in the township activities, community service, which has been changed. Now they contribute to the scholarship fund and occasionally other activities along that line. At the present time, we have a black woman who is director of the greenhouse. So the situation in the greenhouse and the Garden Club has changed considerably.
(I) You are a start upper, aren’t you?
(N) Well that is the fun of life. The council I don’t think is so happy with it but… as a matter of fact, one of the A.A.R.P. meetings, very interestingly the last meeting we had the candidate for the Board of Education and somebody had got up in the back and said that I should act as the devils advocate for the chapter and I said I’ve been trying to act as the devils advocate, but the council regards me as a devil. When I retired, I naturally looked for things to do. The first thing I did was walk up to the Senior Center and looked around there and the director came out and asked if she could do anything and I said, that’s not what I came up for. I want to see what I can do for you. I think she was taken completely aback.
There is a different director there now. Because it didn’t take me very long to realize that the whole concept of treatment for the elderly is very poor, from the country in general and especially in the senior centers and senior citizen housing, they have a senior center, all the money comes practically from federal money. There is some private money raised, with a board of directors. Who sets up the board of directors? A group of people got together, they set themselves up as the board of directors. They did it for a very good reason. And they are very good people. But they have almost contempt for the people that they serve. They regard them as people that can’t handle themselves or do anything. They have elections every year. Elections are not participated in by the people within the center. Only the board of directors elects who shall be on the board of directors.
When I raised the question with the director, she said, those people should vote? You know. And I said, those people elect the president of the United States, they elect our congressmen, they even elect the council we have here and they can’t elect a board of directors? I said at least, you don’t make it a complete election, you make it 50/50. Let these people vote half and you can put on the half you got. Of course that was rejected completely as being incompetent. The same thing is true in the senior citizens housing. The one we have here which is not governed. Again, a group of people get together, they make themselves the board of directors. They will take a token of one person or two persons either from the Senior Center to put on it or from the housing but they’ll not permit these people to play a role and the role and the important thing is, what happens to the dignity of these people? If they permitted them to vote, (gap in tape) by permitting them to vote, look at the dignity they’d raise among these people. They’d make them feel that they’re something. Now they make them feel like they’re nothing, that they are living off society even though they’ve contributed so much of their life to the development of the society as it is today.
What would it be today if these people weren’t there, hadn’t done the work? I find this true, of course, throughout the treatment of the elderly in the town, in the country. So when I retired, as I said, I looked around for an organization that is now dealing with the question of the elderly. And as I looked around, I found five senior citizen clubs in this town, all of them nothing but little social clubs in this town, all of them little social clubs that deal with nothing and look for handouts and are dealt with in that way. I also heard that there was a Gray Panther and I though, my god, that’s for me. I love to get involved in militant activity, that would be for me. But I also found out that it was practically nothing. It was a little group taking in the whole county. There is usually twenty or thirty at a meeting and they come up with good programs, good ideas, but nothing happens with them. One thing is, they are too small and too elitist. They regard themselves as the best of the best. They look down upon other senior clubs or whatever you call them, they go on trips, they have socials, well you have to have a well rounded program dealing with everything. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
There I found ten people from Teaneck in this chapter of the Grey Panthers. At that particular time, there was a struggle for more senior citizen housing. First of all, the main one we have now really hadn’t been built yet. Secondly, St. Anastasia was before the Board of Adjustment asking for to build something there which never came off and there was another before the board of adjustment, the Lutheran Church, Grace Lutheran Church. So I said to the ten that were there, ‘look, why don’t you make a chapter in this town and deal with township problems?’ The biggest township problem at the moment let’s say for the elderly is these particular applications before the Board of Adjustment. And I didn’t get a very good response from the people in town. They don’t mind being active, it didn’t effect them in the town these particular people because I guess they didn’t want to antagonize the powers that be or be looked upon I don’t know what way within town. So I finally succeeded in getting them to come together to have a meeting that was the same day that there appeared before the Board of Adjustments the St. Anastasias.
By that time also we had what was the name, the very nice priest, Father Joel. He was there. And I had had relations with Father Joel, very fine relations, had made him the chaplain of the Little League because his relations with the kids were great and he would be at our opening day ceremonies and deliver the whatever you want to call it, the sermon, the invocation, and he would and closely related enough his invocation would include certain things as appealing to the Lord not to let the rain come down on upon us. He can rain above us, but not upon us and other things along that line so we had a good working relationship and he had appealed to me to come to the Board of Adjustments. I had this meeting of the Grey Panther group in Teaneck, there was ten there, raised the question, and here’s something that can be done, very concrete, let’s go down to that Board of Adjustments in a group. It will have such a powerful effect. Couldn’t move them. And they were to busy meeting, see. And I said, ‘look I’m going. I hope you are going to join me.’ ‘We’ll join you.’ Well I went down there, I was the only one there and I made a strong appeal for the
(I) Which one was this
(N) This was one was for St. Anastasia.
(I) That was turned down by the government.
(N) No, they never got the money. It was approved, turned down by the government yes, because a scandal developed around the architect at that time, Vince Bertolini. He had some problems in Lodi. He was their free architect too but that didn’t help the situation. But the Board of Adjustment finally voted for it and Father Joel attributed it mostly to my speech there.
(I) I thought it would be a very good place for it.
(N) Yeah, any place. That would be a good place sure. It is near shopping, it is near bus lines.
(I) And there are people around all over the place.
(N) Yes. It is not an isolated place. I appealed to it on the grounds that most of the Board of Adjustment people on it kept saying that they are there to protect the interests of the people of Teaneck. I raised the question that there were two types of people in Teaneck – those that have and those that don’t have and unfortunately none of the don’t haves are on the Board of Adjustment. And it was a close vote but they did vote for it. But that convinced me I was going to get nowhere with the Gray Panthers. And at that point in time also I, through the Garden Club activity and reaching the blacks that had left, I had met this Marie deYampert. She told me she was active in the A.A.R.P. in Bergenfield. I was interested in something in the town and she was in charge of the tours and trips and invited me on one of the tours and trips which I went and then she said she was very interested in organizing tours and trips. She said, why don’t we organize an A.A.R.P. chapter in this town?
(end of tape 1 – side b – begin tape 2)
So I wrote the national organization, told them I would like to organize a chapter here. I had been a member like most other people for about five years or so, always felt it was too conservative for me to be active in anyway and stood away from it. But I wrote this letter to the national organization and I asked them, would you please give me a list of people that belong to the A.A.R.P. in Teaneck and I’ll go after it. Well they answered back that they don’t do it that way. They don’t give any lists out. They told me whom to contact in the area, the Assistant State Director. By the way, the A.A.R.P., they are, in some respects very undemocratic and in other respects democratic organization. That is, they appoint all officials. There is a convention where officials are elected, but from that point on, all the other lower officers, they are State Director, Assistant State Director, are all appointed by the national organization. And they are organized along the lines of the Social Security, different areas correspond to all areas of Social Security. But within the chapters, they insist on a democracy which is very good. So the chapters more or less can do what they want.
(I) They can elect their own officials
(N) Oh yes, they elect, they must elect, not only must they elect their own officers but no officer can stay in office two years. At first I thought that bad and I’ve come to realize it is a good thing. Then no one can grab a hold of it and strain it. But to get back to organizing the chapter, I contacted the Assistant State Director by the name of Gladys Morse who informed me that she would not waste her time unless she could be assured that 16 people will be there. And I told her that I can only give you one assurance – one and another one. More than that, I cannot give you. I just put a notice in the paper and our very first meeting 66 people came down from Teaneck and these were mostly the people that don’t like to belong to a senior citizens club.
(I) What was the date – do you remember that?
(N) Five years ago. The chapter is about five years old. This Mrs. Morse came down, told us what the chapter is supposed to be like and from that point on we just ran ahead. The first meeting I think was 56, the next meeting 80 or 90 and in no time all we had a chapter of 500. 500 just from Teaneck. And from the start, most chapters don’t exist that way, they take them in from any town. At the beginning, I thought I didn’t know how many would come in, we’d take them in from all over but very quickly when we saw people were coming in, we limited it to Teaneck only. And needless to say, it has become one of the most powerful organizations that Teaneck has had.
(I) It has really?
(N) Well it has 500 members, we participate in every activity that takes place in Teaneck, we participate in all the elections which is unusual for most chapters by the way. Two meetings a year are devoted to lectures. The March meeting is always devoted to the School Board elections. The candidates come down there. The October meeting, before the November election, we often have a debate between the candidates of what we consider at the time the most important election. Three years ago we had the congressional candidates although one didn’t show up. The debate was there with the empty chair. Last year we had the freeholders. And don’t forget when we have these forums or debates, we’ll have anywhere from 150 to 200 people there. Where would you get a meeting in Teaneck with 200 people?
(I) Tell me, how much influence do you think you have on the politics of the town?
(N) I think we have considerable influence on the politics of the town. I monitor, of course, now the council meetings and the Board of Education meetings in the name of the A.A.R.P. Many of the things that we’ve requested were followed through. We are resented by some of the council people and Board of Ed. I think we have the biggest influence now in electing Anne Mersereau.
(I) Yeah. The reason I asked is that I noticed that in the last Board of Ed election, only 15% voted.
(N) Well, anyway, let me tell you what got us interested in the Board of Ed. Well we organized the A.A.R.P. chapter and it was going to be based upon the principles of the A.A.R.P. which is to improve the quality of life for the elderly and we added to improve the quality of life for the elderly in this town and we take on almost every issue that effects the elderly in this town and the council recognizes very much, so much so that half the council belong to the chapter. Better they joined it. So if they didn’t think it meant anything, they would not be there. One of the first things we took up with the council was the senior citizens housing. How they were going to select the people. Didn’t succeed because the council had no courage. You know the council has a lease with that senior citizens housing. That is township land that was given. And I had raised, when they started selecting the tenants, how would they select them? And I had proposed they select them by lottery. Which they didn’t do. The council just had no courage whatsoever. They had promised the council and then they had raised the fact that even after they’ve selected all these people, there should be a published list so that people can see if anybody sneaks in or where they stand. The council requested it because they had the power. Never carried through to see that it was done and it was never done. To give you an idea of the council anyway and their should we say courage. The biggest thing is that we hope is that you raise the dignity of elderly people and they feel that they have a
(I) Well they don’t have to be raised. It just doesn’t have to be destroyed.
(N) Well that’s what I mean. It isn’t there otherwise. The last thing I took up was the question of crossing guards. You know two years ago, besides never giving crossing guards a raise and everybody gets raises, two years ago they suddenly decided the crossing guards must buy their own uniforms. So we took it up. What we usually do, we take it up in the chapter and we send a letter to the council and then when the letter appears in communications, I speak on it. Well that was not (inaudible). Last year the question came up, everybody was going to get a raise but the crossing guards. It was raised and the crossing guards got a raise. This year, it was raised again but they were determined not to give it. I don’t know if you saw my letter in the paper but it was an interesting letter. I mentioned all the council members and I said shame on them for raising everybody’s except the crossing guards. They gave the manager a raise of over $3,000 but the crossing guards do not earn $3,000 the whole year. They were the only ones in the whole town that didn’t get a raise and I raised it from the point of view – is it because the crossing guards consist of elderly people and women, younger women? And I think no doubt it is because they are not organized. But I don’t think they’ll continue it again. I don’t think they liked the letter I wrote. Now we put out a monthly magazine, paper, I’ll give you a copy of it. It goes to 500 people in Teaneck. That’s where the influence is too. And it goes to all the council members and all the Board of Education. What got me interested in the Board of Education was when the council got money to build the senior center, to revamp the senior center which they messed up tremendously, wasted the money completely on an elevator, more than half the money was wasted on an elevator.
(I) Well I think that maybe a national regulation about barrier free.
(N) That’s right. Didn’t need the elevator for the barrier free. They are on one level. So in order to put the elevator in, they wanted one room on the second floor. That was required. So since they wanted a room on the second floor, the Board of Education has the whole second floor. So we set up a committee from the A.A.R.P. to discuss Aubrey Sher the superintendent and went to see Aubrey Sher and raised the question of the room above and Aubrey Sher in his wisdom said, ‘we have no room. We are too crowded.’ And there laying on his desk is a little bit of a report that I saw that I hadn’t been aware of that the school population had gone down from 8,000 to 5,000. And I said the population went down from 8,000 to 5,000? I said, how much less staff do you have? So he says we have one more than we had when we had 8,000. I said, you mean the population went down that much and you have more? He said yeah. So from that point on, we’ve been raising the whole question of unnecessary schools and especially the central administration, unnecessary staff.
And from that point on, we’ve been taking a sharp interest in it. I went to the Board of Ed and said, ‘your school population went down from 8,000 to 5,000 and you have no room?’ And who was then the president of the board? I forget now, the heavy one, and she said, no we have no room. Just amazing. The schools were 1/3 empty. And the central administration was loaded with people, completely loaded with people. So we’ve taken that interest because a lot of our people are worried about taxes. They’re being taxed out of their homes. With the average tax going up to almost $3,000 now in town and living on social security and you’ve lived there all your life in the house, you’re not anxious to get out, the dream was that if you pay off your mortgage, you live free, right? Cheap. It doesn’t work out that way. So the taxes play a big role and I’ve never voted against a budget in my life, a school budget. I had never up till then. But when this question came up – and the question we raised then was simply you are wasting our money and for the first time, I had voted against the school budget and felt very guilty about it, extremely guilty about it. And we almost defeated the budget. That was when Holtzman came in. When Holtzman came in, again they hired somebody at a higher rate and then after six months, they gave them a $5,000 raise.
That’s where we came on again and we were the ones that raised it most sharply because, the needs for closing down schools that we don’t need. And making better use of the whole system. This last campaign when finally they voted to close three schools and Anne Mercereau was the deciding vote, it was obvious that the PTAs were going to concentrate on (inaudible) then I came out strongly for her and since she won by 50 votes, you can be sure those 50 votes were from the A.A.R.P. As a matter of fact, the day she voted for the closing of the three schools, she grabbed a hold of me and she said, you better support me now. Because she finally did something that we were after. And no doubt the PTA’s made an effort to destroy her and I’m glad to see that wasn’t done. I am glad they didn’t. Not that I cared that much for the way she had been voting on many issues. But I felt this was the decisive issue and everything else can be handled by itself. In that area that I speak on, I got active in the League of Women Voters primarily because they set up a committee on local government and I was, had been very much interested in our form of government. I felt all along that the manager has too much power and he doesn’t stand for office and there is no way of correcting anything he does and the council just goes along generally, puts on a front sometimes, but goes along. I joined the I think it is called the Local Government Committee and they have made a study of the forms of local government. We have a form of local government, the mayor/council form I believe it is called, I am not sure of the exact terminology
(I) City manager form it is called
(N) Not ours. Mayor/council. No, not mayor/council. Manager/council form of government. There are only eight in the whole 350 towns in New Jersey that have this form of government left. It was put in I understand originally because there was some corruption in town and it was felt this would clear it up but now we have a different problem that developed. You have a manager with all power, power for appointment of all people, all department heads, there is just a few areas that he doesn’t appoint. Does not have to get approval of the council. He simply has to announce to the council that he has made these appointments. Very few people are aware of it. It reminds you of the dictatorships in the, in South America, where you are elected for life. And he has a job for life. After three years, he has tenure and, as you well know, tenure means it is almost impossible to get rid of anybody unless they are so flagrant that he has to run on his own angle. And besides, when he makes an appointment to the head of a department especially, even an important appointment, the recreation director recently, the police chief, the fire chief, the health department, the building department that’s so vital to the town, to whom do they owe their loyalty? To the town or to the manager? He makes an appointment to start with they are on temporary only for about three months and at any point he can fire without reason. So to whom do they owe their loyalty? Secondly, his job is secure.
He is not even interested in new innovations. And generally tends to stop new innovations. It only increases his work for no reason whatsoever. And the council has no real control over him except when it comes time to give him a raise. And they’ve given him the raise no matter what took place. So we raised this question in this committee and I am hoping this can be the stimulation that will eventually make certain changes. At least some of the changes we’ve discussed there. For example, that as a major appointment, not the little appointments, the major appointments should have the approval of the council. Council shies away from it. They don’t want to have any responsibility and are not even looking for it. Look at even the government cabinet, the president, doesn’t make appointments for the cabinet without the approval of the advice and consent of the senate. That’s the least we can have. Then I think it is very bad for anybody to be in politics twenty five years. This is power. I think there should be a, and we feel the committee as a whole, not just my view, that there should be perhaps a contract, a five year contract, where there is a renewal and a restudy of what’s been going on and unfortunately I find that the League of Women Voters likes to discuss and do little. It is now almost three years that this committee has been in existence and nothing really, no steps have really been taken
(I) Well has a report been
(N) The report is going to be written up now for the second time. There was one report given a year ago and not very well accepted
(I) By whom?
(N) By the unit but of course in that discussion, another question came up. Should we have wards in the town or should it be (inaudible) In most cases, I’d say a small town you don’t need wards but when you have a situation where you have a black community, and that black community does not elect their representatives, because they don’t, their representatives are selected by the whites, not by the blacks, so that there is some merit. I was never too sure where I stand on it too but there is great merit and certainly my living in this area, I know there is strong feelings for having an opportunity to elect somebody that you want to elect to represent you. This was taken up at the unit
(I) And what did they turn it down?
(N) No action was ever taken but Gert Schwimmer was very strongly opposed to it, you know, and one of the reasons was that LaMar Jones had been espousing it and so have I very strongly to say, well, look who’s espousing it. (inaudible) so that I am hopeful that, still hopeful, that this can be the instrument to stimulate enough of a discussion in this town where eventually a change can be made.
(I) Well then, are you finished with this part?
(N) I am finished.
(I) Then I would like to say, 'how have you found it as a place to live at this point Lou?
(N) Well I find it very good because it is very stimulating and I find an interesting life one that is stimulating. And of course I go to most the council meetings and take part in it and in general I find it a stimulating town where people that you can discus with live.
(I) Thank you very much.