|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:||Mrs. Betty Wiker|
|INTERVIEWER:||Virginia L. Stilles|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 8, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (4/23/1984)|
Do we have your permission to use this in our Oral History Program? Yes, you do.
(I) Now, Betty, what motivated you to move to Teaneck?
(N) Well, it is kind of a long story but I think an interesting one. I was in the military service until 1952. I was married and my husband and I were living in New York, in Flushing, Queens. And I was able to get out of the service and we decided we were going to settle down and have a home and raise a family. So I had heard about Teaneck from a sergeant in my office. She had came and gone each day from Teaneck and it sounded like a rather fascinating name of a town. But it didn't make much of an impression on me until we started looking for houses and, of course, we looked in New York and Queens and Long Island and State Island and so forth and finally one day we didn't find anything we liked and so we came across the Hudson River and started down Route 4 and remembered a beautiful stretch of Route 4 that we had noticed when we had gone ice boating and it was through the town of Teaneck. So we had always admired this particular section because it didn't have any commercialism, it didn't have any gas stations and signboards and so forth so we decided to stop in there and found a real estate agent who showed us a few homes in Teaneck and finally we got to the one at 1331 Taft Road and my husband took one look at it and went through it really quickly and he said, 'that's the house we are going to buy.' We were so impressed with not only the location but the whole atmosphere in the neighborhood. There were some young boys playing basketball and with great discipline and professionalism and we enjoyed watching that and then we went over for lunch, and had lunch at the Red Robin which was on Queen Anne Road just off West Englewood Avenue. And we were impressed with the friendliness of the people and the customers and the whole area just seemed to be very conductive to the type of living that we were looking forward to in our married life, so we bought the house that we are in now and that was thirty one years ago and we have been happy with it ever since. We feel that we have made a wise choice.
(I) How did you feel about moving to a town that was mainly a farming area and then turned into a suburban area?
(N) Well at that time, I don't think we thought about it in those terms. We were just looking for a nice house where we could settle down and raise a family. And kind of enjoy the good life. And we didn't realize at that time, I guess, that it had gone through this change. It just looked like a great town even in the dead of winter. It was in January when we actually moved in. It still looked like a nice town and it was easily accessible to everything. It had bus transportation at the corner, my husband had to go into New York each day, and it had stores, shopping, post office, bank, hospital in town. It had schools nearby and everything that we wanted. it was very convenient. Plus the beauty of the place.
(I) You moved into Teaneck at a time just before we began dealing with integration in the schools in the township. How did you feel about that?
(N) Well, we didn't have to deal with it when we first moved in because we had no children but it developed when our children were in school. The integration of the township came about through the central sixth grade school where all of the course, went there. It was a very difficult time for the township. There were pros and cons of the integration movement and we were in favor, of course, of having children go to their neighborhood schools because that was the way we were brought up and having come from Chicago, our history was that there was no difference in children. Children were children and whether they were black or white or Hindu or Catholic or Protestant or Italian or what they were, and that it would be easy enough to go to their neighborhood schools but that was not the way it was to be and we had to be able to adjust our thinking to the point where integration meant black and white and it had to be integrated to the point where there was a ratio of black to white. And the fact that good education could take place in any situation, depending on what kind of teachers and instruction you had. We found that out in Sunday School when we didn't have a fine Sunday School class and we had to take kids down in the boiler room and they still got a good education.
(I) Did the people of Teaneck become full committed to the integration?
(N) Yes, eventually they did but at first, of course, it was very divisive. It was brother against brother, it was a very, very difficult time as I recall. Now it had faded somewhat from my memory but as I recall, it was very, very difficult. People were adamant in their beliefs and it didn't go away overnight. It took a while but here we are, what, twenty years later and it is so accepted that no one even bats an eyelash at it now. As it turned out, it was all for the good and I still don't believe in all this busing that we have. I think far too much money has been spent on busing. I would like to see children do more walking to school and put some of that money into good teachers and equipment and enriched programs and things that is spent on gas and oil and car and big buses going down the street with a handful of children in them. I just can't quite cope with that yet but I guess that is something that we are going to have to live with too.
(I) Can you think of any other problems that arose out of the situation?
(N) Not really. Not for us anyhow. Once the law was mandated and the board made a decision, why we as a family of course went along with it. I would imagine there were problems in town but not for us personally. it was the law and we followed it and both of our children went to the central sixth grade school and did very, very well. No problems.
(I) Now that your children are no longer in school, you have become a community person. Suppose you tell us about some of the community work you do?
(N) Well, I guess I got the nickname of the professional volunteer. In fact, the Girl Scout Council has a card made up that we carry and it says professional volunteer. It actually does say that. But I was very active while the children were growing up in the PTAs, all of the PTAs in each of the schools that our children went to from Whittier to Bryant School to Ben Franklin to the high school and over in the vocational school that our son went to. Very active in PTA council. I was the president at one point. And, at the same time, all the other activities that were child-related, the Girl Scouts, I was very active in Girl Scouts. Being Service Teaneck Chairman for the entire town, being a Cadel Troop Leader with the brownies, with the Juniors and my husband was a Scout Cub Master with a Boy Scout troop for a while with our son. And then church work, of course, very heavily involved in the church work with the Teaneck Methodist Church. Taught Sunday school. All of our activities while the children were at home and growing up were child related. Everything that we did, both Kenneth and I, were child related. We spent a good deal of time with them and enjoyed it very much because we figured we'd have them only with us for about eighteen years and once they go off to college, of course, that's it. They leave home. So we enjoyed those first eighteen years with them in doing all these things and now, of course, our interests go out into other areas. We've graduated to the AARP (American Association for Retired People) we are active in that. I am active in it, not Kenneth. Then Starfish of Teaneck, of course. Active in that and been on the board and am on the board. The Teaneck Community Chest, active there and on the board of directors. The YWCA of Hackensack with services a lot of Teaneck, I am a trip leader for all of their trips that they take. In the township, of course, I have worked on the Patriotic Advisory Board, the Environmental Committee, was a member of the Community Relations Conference that they had at the time of integration. I've been on the Police Department's Community Alert Program - that was a while ago. The Teaneck Bicentennial Committee, Senior Citizens Advisory Board, I am currently serving on that. I was on the Teaneck Housing Center Board for a while until I had some conflict of time interest there, I couldn't make the meetings. I am currently very active on the Citizens Task Force on Litter control. This is one of my pet projects at the moment. Also with the American Red Cross, Multiple Sclerosis, Heart Fund, Mothers' March on Polio and you know all those odds and ends of the things.
(I) I think you might also consider yourself a professional mimeographer.
(N) Oh yes. The old Mimeographer machine comes in handy for a lot of different groups and a lot of different things and, as I said before, being a professional volunteer is one of those jobs that if you didn't like it, you wouldn't do it. since you are not on a payroll, you can always say no but I never seem to say no. I obviously enjoy what I am doing or I wouldn't be doing it and as long as God gives me the strength and the health to keep going, I am going to. I am working on a very big project now down at the church, which I think I mentioned to you, the stained glass windows, putting in all stained glass windows. It is a tremendous project but I am enjoying it because I am looking forward to the day when we have the dedication and I can sit there in our church that I've been with for over thirty years and look at those windows and say, gee, I did something to make that come true. But it is a sense of satisfaction that you get out of the volunteerism and I'm not ready for the rocking chair yet.
(I) I don't think you are. You said you belong to, that you did a lot of ice boating.
(N) Oh the ice boating. Yes, yes. Well, that basically is my husband's favorite sport but you know we got involved in it as a family when the children were young and at home of course. We went as a family. Ice boating is a winter sport that not too many people know about but it is very exciting and very thrilling. We had our own racing boat years ago and kind of would race and win trophies with that. And the children were ice boating or sitting in ice boats, getting a ride before they were able to walk so they kind of grew up on it. I got involved as the secretary of the Eastern Ice Yachting Association. I did some sailing myself but since we only had one boat, and Kenneth loved it so much, he did most of the sailing but I did the paper work for the whole east coast and we would sail on any body of ice that was safe enough to sail and then when. You know, you get a little bit older and it is harder to flex the bones and the muscles, why we sold the bigger racing boat and we have a smaller boat now. It is called the DN class boat and the name of it is Ice Chip. We named it the ice Chip. and Kenneth still sails that. We go, our home lake or the base that we work from, is Orange Lake which is outside of Newburgh. But we have sailed on Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong, Muskaneck on Budd Lake and even Kenneth has sailed on the Hudson River and Franklin Roosevelt has his ice boat in the museum up there. It is a huge great big stern steer boat that he used to sail on the Hudson river many years ago. But we are kind of slowing down on it now. The one thing that keeps you slowed down is weather conditions. You know, you have to have very cold weather, number one, to form thick enough ice to put your boat on. Then you have to have wind at the same time and then you have to have clear ice. Not a lot of snow. So to get those combinations together is rather difficult at any one time and when Kenneth, before he retired of course, he'd only have Saturday and/or Sunday and the possibilities of those things coming together on Saturday and Sunday were remote. Now, of course, that he is retired, he can go off any day in the week when he finds those three conditions put together. But even at that, now this year he only was able to sail five times through the whole winter. And that was a good season, that was a good season. You get all the way up to the lake there after driving an hour drive with the boat on the car and it would be beautiful black ice, just magnificent, not a breath of wind, and you can't sail because you have to have the wind. Or you'll get up there and it will be blowing lake a gale and everything will be fine, and there will be six inches of snow on the ice so you can't sail through that. So it is difficult but once you do get into sailing, it is great. So that's what we do in the wintertime.
(I) So how does it feel now living in Teaneck, which is now a suburb of New York with the growth populations and changes of ethnic groups and things like that.
(N) Well, we still love it here. There have been an awful lot of changes in the thirty years we have been here. We've seen a proliferation of things like signs, for instance. That's one thing that I am going crazy on lately. Every time you turn around, there's another sign being put up. Bike routes or Stop Here or No Parking or Curb Your Dog or there's another one going up, Crime Watch, in town. Another I think I read twenty four sign going up. Although as I say, we still like it here very much because we have planted our roots here and we have our friends and all of the things that we've come to enjoy here but it's getting to be more of a big town. I am so concerned about this Pathmark that they want to put in, they want to put in, I wrote a letter tot he council and said please, don't let's have that because that will just bring more traffic and more congestion and more citified and I think that that's one of the charms of Teaneck that it is a suburban town and has such beautiful homes and lovely parks and if we could just keep them cleaned up. That's why I am on the Litter Control Task Force just to try and keep the town clean, free of debris and rubbish and papers and beer bottles and cans and all that sort of thing. So I would like to see the environment could be kept more rural. And we can't revert to what it was thirty years ago or even ten years ago, that's impossible. But we can, whatever we have here, we can at least keep it attractive and take away the blith that will creep in on us if we don't take control over it. So we came when it was pretty much of a urban community. It wasn't too rural when we came thirty years ago but there have been some changes. For instance, back here. This was all woods behind our house. Windsor Road was not in. Palisades Avenue was not in. You would go from our house right straight over to Queen Anne Road through woods. There was no school there. Ben Franklin school was not there. In fact, the real estate agent told us that we would never have to worry about that. That would always be woods because that was Girl Scout property. Where she dreamed that up, I'll never know. Because it was never Girl Scout property as far as I can ever find. But that would be wooded area. Well, we weren't here very long when the woods were thinned out and a school was built. And Windsor Road was put through and Palisades Avenue was put through. And frankly, even at that, we have a lovely view as you can see from back here. It's perfect. And they've kept enough trees so that it is park-like. In fact, we call our backyard Wiker Park.
(I) And the school playground doesn't even affect you.
(N) No, no. There's a ballgame and soccer games during season, you know, which get a little wild and wooly but it isn't consistent, morning, noon and night. The worst problem we have at this point is a dog down on the corner of West Englewood and Windsor Road that barks constantly and we've been trying to see if we can't do something about that but, other than that, the noise is spasmodic through, you know when they have baseball season, the kids will be playing baseball out here or soccer, they put up some soccer nets, but by and large, it's really nice. Nothing is perfect in this world, Virginia, you know that. Nothing is perfect. There is no such thing as absolute perfection. So you have to accommodate to things. This is as close as we probably will ever come and at this point in time in my life, I am not about to venture out and start looking for that ultimate perfection.
(I) Little to late for that. At the rate you're going, Betty, you'd have a long time to go.
(N) Well, I hope so.
(I) I thank you for this interview and you will be in the archives of Teaneck.
(N) Oh, I can't hardly wait. Well, we are Teaneck boosters. We've enjoyed our life here and we hope to have many more pleasant years here. We've met a lot of wonderful people here, yourself being one of them. Look, if we hadn't come to Teaneck, we wouldn't have met you. And worked together. We've enjoyed working together and opening new avenues with our AARP, that's something we got started in a few years ago. Five, six, seven years.
(I) Let's see. It started in 1978.
(N) Was it 78? That was a strange thing how I got started. I was taking a walk one day and it was such a beautiful day and I had read where a little squib in the paper said if you are interested in forming a chapter, come to the town house and I thought, well, it's a nice day, I'll just keep on walking and see what goes on. So I walked all the way over to the Town House and went downstairs in the basement and there was Lou Schwartz and a bunch a people and they were talking about forming a chapter and the first thing you know, they needed a secretary and I had been a secretary many, many years ago and I said, okay, I'll be your secretary and that's the way it started. And now with over 500 members, it's really gone great.
(I) In November, they will be celebrating their fifth year with the charter. It's been seven years in the making and functioning.
(N) Well, bigger and better things to come. I am sure that we will find something more to do.
(I) I hope so. (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) You worked with Starfish which is one of the Teaneck's top charitable organizations. Suppose you tell us about Starfish, what is does, its purpose in Teaneck and how long its being
(N) Well, let me see now, Starfish was organized originally in 1974 as I recall which would make it about ten years old. It hardly seems possible that it could be ten years old but it was started as a project by Isabel Letts who used to live in Teaneck. Rev. Letts' wife who was very active in church affairs. She wanted to started a fish organization. The fish being an acronym for Friend in Service Helping. This was a movement that came over from England, a one on one program of people helping people. It spread through the New England states and came down to our area and Isabel thought that it would be a magnificent thing for us to have here in Teaneck so she contacted a lot of the church groups and civic and fraternal groups and we had a meeting to organize a Fish unit here in Teaneck at that time. Since we have a large Jewish population in Teaneck, we tried to find a way in which the Jewish group could be represented and could relate to this organization because Fish was originally a Christian movement using the Fish symbol as their symbol for operation.
So to make a long story short, we came up with the name Starfish representing the Star of David and the Christian Fish. We asked one of the artists in town whose name escapes me at the moment to draw up a logo for our organization and he did and, of course, now we have the two fish symbols that are kind of curved so that there is an S in that. that is our logo. The offices were elected and the trustees at that time and, at this point, we have of the original group of officers and trustees, the people who continue to serve in those capacities are Howard Kaplan who has been the treasurer for all these years, Marie Burr who has been a trustee through the years and myself, having been a trustee from the inception of the organization. We've had a lot of volunteers and, of course, it is strictly a volunteer organization working over the years doing lots of things from doing some emergency babysitting to providing some meals to reading to the blind to taking people to the hospital and to laboratories and we are kind of, after ten years, we are, our volunteer staff has been considerably reduced and our main effort now is to take people to hospitals and labs. Perhaps maybe you would like to know something about how the operation works. Simply, it is an answering service. We have an answering service that is on call every day from 9 to 7 in the evening and people who need help, an individual who might need help, calls the answering service and asks for we will say a ride to Holy name Hospital. They have to go to the lab over there or a doctor's office. The volunteer officer of the day will call in to the answering service this morning on her day of duty and find out how many calls have came in and what they are for. She, in turn, calls her driver for the day and sets up the trips to the hospital or the doctors office or wherever the clients or the individuals want to go.
In other words, for every day in a week, Monday through Friday, we have an individual volunteer who is called people needing help and, in turn, schedules the driver of the day to make those calls or take those trips I should say. And therefore our volunteers commit themselves to one day a month to either be an officer of the day or a driver for the day. If for some reason there are too many trips for that driver to take, we have a backup list of substitute drivers who are on call for any time that there is a gap and a time when the regular driver is too busy to handle all the calls. That's what happened to me yesterday. I am a substitute driver as well as being an officer of the week and there were too many calls yesterday for one driver to handle so I took a gentlemen over to the Englewood Hospital and it was kind of interesting because he asked if his mother could go along and his mother looked to be about ninety years old and the poor fellow had had a stroke and he had had it about three weeks ago where his whole left side was paralyzed and he could just barely function but his dear old mama was with him and she helped him in and out of the car and I really felt good about taking that trip because here was a fellow that really needed help and it was such a shock for him not to be able to be up and around and a very active human being that he was prior to his stroke three weeks ago. But this is the kind of thing that we get out of being Starfish workers is there but for the grace of God go I and it's awfully nice to be able to help someone that needs just a little bit of assistance to get them over some rough spots sometimes. And so we find that the people that are in Starfish are very compassionate people, they are very warm people, they are very human people that are interested in helping someone else a little bit less fortunate. This is, of course, all volunteer. There is no money received for any of these trips. Our support comes from primarily from the Community Chest of Teaneck. The only expenses we have are for the answering service and the little postage for notifying people of meetings and, of course, our insurance. We are covered by insurance for all of our drivers and anyone that works in Starfish. So that's basically the story on Starfish and I am glad we have it in Teaneck and I think it has provided a very worthwhile service. We can always use more volunteers. If you know anybody who wants to volunteer.
(I) Yes we can. That's interesting. (END OF TAPE)