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Brett Park Named for Township Leader
(This is the third in a series of articles describing the lives of the persons for whom Teaneck's parks are named. The 10-acre park on River Road near Winthrop Road honors Clarence W. Brett.)
By Tricia Duffy, Staff Writer
In 1918, when Clarence W. Brett moved from Massachusetts to Teaneck, he had no idea he would be recruited into a group of founding fathers second to none in Bergen County. The man who loved fishing and was known as a quiet conservative was instrumental in establishing the present manager-council form of government, and was among those- who literally swung axes to clear ground for 'Teaneck High School's first football field.
On August 6, 1968, Clarence "Jim" Brett was honored for his long and distinguished service to the community in a formal dinner at Temple Emeth on what the town proclaimed "Clarence W. Brett Day." The podium was shared by Mayor Thomas J. Costa, Peter Wilhelm, Duncan E. Hill, Dr. A. Milton Bell, Deputy Mayor Max A. Hasse., Jr., and Charles L. Steel, Jr.
After a toast front Dean Marinus C. Galanti, the group celebrated Brett's retirement with proclamations and presents and announced the formal dedication of the new Brett Park. Since Brett had played such an active role in the establishment of a park system throughout Teaneck, the council had indeed found it appropriate to name the 10-acre Park, located on River Road near Winthrop Road, after him).
Brett, whose family name originated in Brittany, France, during the Crusades, was a true New Englander, born in North Arlington, Mass. on Saint Patrick's Day in 1891. Brett graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1913 with a degree in civil engineering. While in college, he was one of three students who formed a fraternity which later became part of Kappa Sigma National. Brett accepted a job with the Dodge Corporation in New York City in 1918, and moved to Teaneck with his wife, Verdi, and his two daughters Marion and Clara. His son, William, was born in l925 in Englewood Hospital.
Still a resident of Teaneck, Bill Brett reminisced on his father's accomplishments in town, saying the man who was so active in the development of Teaneck, was a sensitive father with a dry New England wit.
"He was a reserved man with blond hair and sparkling blue eves, and he loved Teaneck. In those days there was perhaps 2,000 or 3,000 residents here, and everything was done by a very small group of people. Paul Volcker, the town first township manager, was my father's closest friend. They would vacation together, and they loved to fish, I still have photographs of Volcker's son Bud and myself catching fish when we were just boys," Brett said. "The men in Town decided where the school would be and where the athletic field would be. They held a big picnic, where the men cut down the trees and the women were in charge of food. It was like a town party. That's the way things used to be here."
Brett became active in many facets of the new government. He was an officer in the old West Englewood Park Civic Association that owned the Station Park in West Englewood, which was later presented to the township as a gift.
In addition, he was a member of the board of education from 1929 to 1935 and served as its president for three years. Brett laid the cornerstones for the Lowell School in 1920 and the first addition to the high school.
Active in his church, Brett sang in the choir of Christ Church and served as vestryman and warden. It was a member of the church who decided "Jim" was a more suitable name for Brett then Clarence. The nickname stuck and in later years Brett answered to both.
In 1942, Brett was elected to the township council for three consecutive terms and was elected mayor in his second term. During his term on the council, Overpeck Park was turned over to the county and the town acquired Andreas Park. While mayor, Brett laid the cornerstone at the fire headquarters on Teaneck Road, and helped found the local Community Chest, for which, he served as president in 1954.
In addition to his township responsibilities, Brett was a member of the board of directors of the YMCA in Hackensack from 1951 to 1961 and was its president for four years.
Described by his son as an over-acheiver, Brett's energetic interests extended into every facet of life.
He did everything. He loved to paint, paper, build cabinets. He could really work with his hands. After he retired to Arizona and he was in his late 70's, he became interested in the planning board there. We used to send tapes cross-country instead of letters. He had acquired a number of friends in Scottsdale, Arizona who were on the council and planning board," Bill Brett said. "He served as a special consultant to the planning board there. He came back to Teaneck when they gave him the testimonial dinner and named the park after him, but he really did like Arizona."
Jim Brett is best remembered for his 22 years as a member of the Teaneck Planning Board. During that time the town prepared a master plan and a zoning ordinance to govern the town's future growth. Serving as board chairman for seven years, Brett urged town officials to purchase parkland along the Hackensack River.
Clarence Brett was married three times. His first wife Verdi died at the age of 62, after 35 years of marriage. His second wife, Ruth died in Arizona shortly after the couple moved there. At the age of 78, Brett married his third wife, Garnett, who survived him. Clarencm "Jim" Brett died in Arizona on January 2 1974, just hours before his daughter Marion and son Bill could reach him.
Jim Brett's daughter Clara died at the age of 26 from Hopkins Disease. His daughter Marion, son-in-law Bill, and granddaughter Verdi Lou are residents of Moores Corner, Massachusetts where the family farm is located. Bill Brett and wife Gloria are residents of Teaneck and, carrying on the Brett, tradition are very involved in town affairs. They have one daughter, Patricia and a new baby grandson, Brett C. Shupnik.
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