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This is Clifton Cox interviewer for the Teaneck Library History Project. This morning I am interviewing Dr. Bernie Cheo.
(I) Dr. Cheo, you are a professor of physics?
(N) Electrical engineering.
(I) Tell me, you're from what, you are a person from China.
(N) Yes, I was born in China, mainland China in Nanking. At that time, it was the capital of China, the first Chinese republic. That was after the 1911 revolution which overthrew the Ching Dynasty and then during World War II when I, with my family, went to Chunking, that then was the wartime capital. My father was with the government. After the war, then again went back to Nanking. Then in 48/49 thereabouts, the Chinese Civil War whichever you want to call it, the communistic revolution, began. Then I again, I was a teenager then, and a college student and with my family went to Taiwan.
(I) This was in 1911 when the. .
(N) No, no. 1911 was the Republican Revolution which overthrew the Ching Dynasty. 1948 is the Communist Revolution. It lasted for a few years. You may say it began sometime before that and in 49 it was about over. So in 49 we went to Taiwan and I finished my college education there in Taiwan. Then I came to the states as a graduate student in 1954 and I've been here since then and now I'm a U.S. citizen.
(I) Taiwan is where you met Mrs. Cheo.
(N) Yes, she (Aria) and I were schoolmates. She was among the few students studying electrical engineering, women students studying electrical engineering. And that's where I met her and she was born in Taiwan. Her ancestors went to Taiwan about 300 years ago. It was the beginning of the Ching Dynasty, from mainland China. That was when Ching Dynasty was Manchurian Dynasty, took over the mainland China, many Chinese didn't want to live under a "foreign rule" because Manchurians ethnically are different from Chinese. After the few hundred years they ruled China, they became assimilated so now there is no difference. You could see. You could even tell. Chinese has many ethnic groups. Chinese is a very broad term. The majority of the Chinese are the Han Chinese, there were the Manchurians, the Mongolians, the Moslems and so forth and so on. The little ones were called tribes and the large ones they called the ethnic but the majority is the Han Chinese so she is also a Han Chinese but went to Taiwan, her ancestors went to Taiwan about 300 years ago. And I met her there and courted her for a while and decided that it was right for us so I came here first and studied.
(I) What year was that?
(N) 1954 I came to the United States so I studied at the University of Notre Dame.
(I) Oh, yes. In Gary, Indiana.
(N) No, not Gary. South Bend.
(I) Right. I am sorry.
(N) On a fellowship. Then after two years, she came over and we got married. So we have been married for quite a while now. We got married in 1957. She came and she studied for a year and then we, after I got my masters degree, I went to Berkeley, California. That's where I finished. .
(I) Oh, that's the University of California, isn't it?
(N) Yes. CAL. So that's, so I got my degree officially in 1961, the degree was conferred but I finished all the work in the fall of 1960.
(I) This is when you got your doctorate.
(N) That's when I got my Ph.D., right. And she got her masters so we both carne to the east. We had been in the middle west and in the west in California, then we came here in New Jersey and we, each of us, both have a job offer from the Bell Telephone Laboratory and I worked there for two years.
(I) What town was that?
(N) At Murray Hill.
(I) OK. I am familiar with that. That's right near Plainfield there. Up north Plainfield vicinity, uh huh.
(N) I worked there for two years and she did for three years. In the meantime, while we were still graduate students at Berkeley, both our kids were born so she was working on her masters degree, masters thesis, laboratory, she had to put Louise that was a new-born baby. .
(I) Louise is the oldest?
(N) Louise is the older and she has a younger brother Wayne who was born in 1960, just a few months before I got my Ph.D. We came to Summit, New Jersey. As I mentioned, we worked at the Bell Telephone laboratories and then in 1962 I joined the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department at N.Y.U. Then Aria began to pursue her doctorate degree in mathematics also at N.Y.U., the Institute of Mathematical Science. Then after that I worked there for a number of years then I got my tenure.
(I) Why did you come to Teaneck. What was your. .
(N) I am getting there right now. I got my tenure. So when I was working at the Bell Laboratories, we owned a home in Summit, NJ and as you know in the Universities, there is one critical time that is when a faculty member gets his tenure which means that they decided they are going to keep me, or keep the person.
(I) Is that a three year period like the normal. .
(N) No. Longer. Six years. The three year tenure thing for public schools usually is because for the observation for a public school teacher is somewhat different than for a university. In public schools, all one has to prove is that the person is qualified to teach which can be decided upon rather quickly. At universities, the professional development covers a broader spectrum. Teaching is a necessity but usually professional development in research, professional reputations, these all come into the picture. So it would take longer. So that took six years. Then I got my tenure. Getting back, well in those six years without assurances of an eventual home base, I commuted between Summit and Teaneck and at that time, when my tenure was settled, decided to move closer to N.Y.U. Engineering School that was at that time the University Heights campus. I think most people know that was where the Hall of Fame is and so on. And then I continued to work there and then my wife got her doctorate degree. Then after a short period, she worked on the faculty at the New York Institute of Technology. Later on when the New Jersey William Patterson College had an opening, needed somebody to develop the computer science activities, so she was offered a position there. I think it was in 1972. I am not absolutely sure. It was a long time ago. Yeah, 1972 I think. So we moved into Teaneck in 1968 and we have been Teaneck residents ever since. So put together, you see, that I have lived in New Jersey, in the state of New Jersey, since 1960.
(I) What were some of the points that drew you to Teaneck specifically. What was the highlight or the. .
(N) Well it is very interesting. Actually we fixed on Teaneck before we made a move. We did not even consider the immediate towns like Englewood or New Milford and so on. Nor did we consider any place further inland. The immediate reason was convenience but this can be said equally about a number of other places around. Fort Lee for example is even more convenient to New York City. Mainly, it is because what we heard about Teaneck at that time about that this is a town of diversified backgrounds and we heard about many good things which the town had pioneered and one example was we heard that this is the first town which had busing and it was successful. And it was only one example, one further example, that this is a town many university professors live in here and I have a very good friend. He has since I believe retired and moved away. He was a professor at Columbia. Although I am a professor of electrical engineering, at the highest level of research work, a great deal of the topics are disciplinary so in my particular branch of interest which is gaseous electronics and the (plasma) physics and so on, fusing engineering, a great deal of a physicists work so I also know physicists so as a result that I heard that half of the physics department in Stevens live in Teaneck. Quite a few people on the faculty at N.Y.U. Engineering School at that time also lived in Teaneck and I heard that there are also people at Poly, right now there are five people in my department living in Teaneck including my previous department head. So this is, and also I heard that they are very interested in music, classical music. A great deal of a number of professional musicians who had lived in Teaneck and one very well known violinist, Rugerio Richie, he was a resident of Teaneck. After we bought our house in Teaneck, we further found out that there were many people who are members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, City Ballet and so on live within a block of me. So this is just the type of town which I could brag about.
(I) Well that is marvelous. Really great. So tell me something about the children. How did they like the schools in Teaneck?
(N) We have to know that Teaneck as well as the whole country had gone through a great deal during the late 1960s and the early 70s. Of course let me, since you addressed the problem of the schools, I have to add one more reason that we chose Teaneck was that we heard about the schools were excellent besides the other points that I mentioned about. The school district is not afraid to try new things although at this moment, I am not sure it is all a blessing and that one may have to pay a price for experimenting. At this moment, I could not say for sure. I would say that during that time, the country as a whole was like a going turmoil and not only the children, the adults, the leadership from the White House down all experienced great uncertainties about oneself and difficulties about oneself and we cannot be exceptions. And in particular vis a vis myself at that time, it was around 1973 or so, as I mentioned I was with the Electrical Engineering Department of New York University and for whatever reasons, the engineering field at that time was in bad shape. The Viet Nam War was going on and great deal of young people were against the war including some of us adults so the kids somewhat decided not to want to go into engineering field so most engineering schools have shrunk in size. At that time, the N.Y.U. had decided, had experienced great financial difficulties, to sell the uptown University Heights campus to the state of New York and merge the Engineering School with another institute called the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn which is a very well known Engineering Institute among the professionals but less known to laymen. To give an example about the status of that institute, in 1965 there was a national survey by the professors in each discipline to rate all the schools in the country and so the discipline, say for example the Department of English of all the universities, will be evaluated by the statistically chosen sample of the professors in English to evaluate each other. When the result was compiled and tabulated, then a ranking will be established. In the discipline of Electrical Engineering, the number one school was M.I.T., the number two school was Stanford, the number three school was University of California at Berkeley, four was Illinois, fifth was Cal Tech then number six was Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, normally shorted as Brooklyn Poly. So this is a school which is rather well known throughout the world in electrical engineering. So when we, at N.Y.U. which at that time was ranked about number fifteen or so, was merged into Brooklyn Poly, and in 1973 had assumed its present name, Polytechnic Institute of New York and so it is a very heavily research oriented private institute. It is not a state institute. You asked me the question at the beginning so I had not a chance to explain all of it about that school.
(N) Well, to get back to your first question about the children, we had going through that time, 1973, the merger because it is a traumatic thing for two major schools both having difficulties, financial difficulties, to be merged and there was the problem of survival so therefore that reflected part of the problem of the family in general. Fortunately, my wife had at that time had already had her tenure at William Patterson so we wouldn't have to go into the streets. But nevertheless it was a thing which was well known throughout the country about what happened in New York because we all know that there are difficulties in all the schools. Our children growing up during that time so inevitably the high schools in Teaneck could not avoid that problem. We all remember that, Teaneck residents all remember those days. The problems not only vis a vis the national issue of the war, there was also the ethnic pride of the blacks and the consequence of that involving to the racial problems of various kinds and black power movement and so on and that was also not too long after the 1967 Israeli war so lots of Jewish youngsters in this country took on a new dimension in their own self perception so in other words, various awakenings I think were very healthy and good awakenings of people began to understand that the melting pot is not necessarily the better thing. A goulash probably makes a better dish. So the various pieces in the goulash should assume its identity. Unfortunately for my family, my two kids who were two pieces of the spice in the goulash didn't amount to very much. So this of course had caused us some difficulties in their growing up times. But by and large, they had received an excellent education here and they went on to colleges and so on and
(I) And they both. . pretty good.
(N) Yeah. And
(I) Well, do you feel that the public schools are turning out a product as they should for the higher education since your are a professor of electrical engineering.
(N) Well I don't think I am the only one saying what I am going to say. It is recognized as a national problem about our education. It has been written that this 1984 became a presidential campaign issue and I think also that people in education or in the teachers education know about these problems long before, much more intimately than we do so when I say this, I am not addressing to Teaneck problem. I am actually talking about more a broader based problem. There is no question about that students are less prepared when they get into college. As a result, the level of the college education itself also had to suffer because of that. And some of the experimentation early in the 60s, close to Sputnik era, were regarded as good and it turned out to be not necessarily a blessing as I mentioned earlier. Example is the so-called new math. Teaneck was proud and I was proud to have that in our school system. As it turned out, it has its deep problems. This is no time to talk about what aspects of it had failed. Some of the traditional methods about teaching by rote and so on still is important for large majority of the students and for the best students probably you don't need to go into those details. On the other hand, on average I think Teaneck schools as compared to other schools in the area, in this I am including metropolitan New York City where most of our students came from, is as good as any in a better aspect.
(I) Very good. What do you think about the housing. When you first came to Teaneck, did you have any problems in finding housing? Were you received the way you think you should have been received?
(N) No, absolutely not. Maybe there were problems behind things which I didn't know about. But the broker when many times we looked at the advertising, we had only one broker showing us and we didn't give him too much of a choice because there is the price range and just only Teaneck, no place else, and we saw somewhere around 30 different houses allover the town from West Englewood in the north end to where we settled on Johnson Avenue and I did not feel at any time there was any reluctance on the seller or the broker to hesitate to, no hesitation in their willingness to make a deal and most of the time we did not find that the particular house that we looked at was suitable and so I really didn't think there was anything. However, when we moved into our new home, apparently our neighbors knew a great deal about us. I guess word got spread around who had moved into that house. Maybe the seller of the house did the selling and so we were very well received. Especially our immediate neighbors who are a couple a bit older than us and there was children in college and their youngest daughter was the same age of our daughter and they became very close friends. She was maid of honor at my daughter's wedding and this couple, the husband was a professor and the wife was a medical doctor (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2) They have been here for a long time.
(I) The family that their daughter was. . what was their names? (N) Weinberger.
(I) Oh yes. The Weinberger family.
(N) The wife is Dr. Ruth Zuckerman and that's her professional name. So my children call her Mrs. Weinberger. Harold Weinberger, Dr. Weinberger, the husband
(I) That's really nice. Now Wayne your son, he's attending N.Y.U. and what's he planning to do?
(N) He is studying to be a computer scientist.
(I) Computer scientist. That's something like his mother?
(N) Well I don't know. He is also talking about law school and geography and stuff but I don't know. You know children. I have no influence there. I think they should make their own decisions.
(I) How do you feel about Teaneck for the future as a permanent resident or final place to live after you fulfill your destiny as a professor and so forth?
(N) Well I find that Teaneck is a town which is very, has a great deal of vitality and one other think I like about Teaneck which I didn't know before I moved here is it's politically active and although being the history of being the first to integration, school integration and the town as whole integration and so on, one tends to think about that this may be a liberal town where the majority of the residents are politically liberal. But I tend to believe now that the meaning understood of liberal vs. conservative in the 60s has pretty much lost its significance and I don't personally subscribe to this kind of labeling any more. I think the issues are much more, each individual issue, social or political or otherwise, economical, requires its own particular attention addressing and then you will find that it is again another goulash of various kinds.
(I) Because a person might feel liberal in one thing and conservative in another.
(N) That's right. Things like this, the important thing is the political awareness of the citizenry so we find that such is in our church. It is a mixture of whenever any issue came up, you will find that there are two sides of it and arguing vividly and actively and on the other hand, another issue comes up then you will find the sides get mixed and so that I think this is a very wonderful thing. I think Teaneck is the same way. And I am glad about this because it was Glenpointe and some of the industry began to move into Teaneck. Which direction the town will move I don't know, I cannot foresee. And I hope it will not change too much. I don't want to see it becoming a heavily industrialized town. I like to see the houses, the buildings in Teaneck will not get any taller and Glenpointe hopefully is the last thing. I have nothing against the Glenpointe per se but I don't like to see this skyline of Teaneck be dotted with these tall buildings. I like to see our individual homes and these charming tudors and the tree-lined streets remain what they are.
(I) This lovely residential town.
(N) And this is a town which has its traditional charm as a residential area yet has the convenience of New York City. The transportation is extremely convenient so . .
(I) The airports. .
(N) The airports are nearby. Highways connect Route 80 going all the way to San Francisco and 95 goes all the way down south and then New England is more accessible to Teaneck than to Long Island or maybe even Queens.
(N) And so these are the advantages of Teaneck. Of course you can go upstate New York is just straight up. So these are the real good advantages of a Teaneck resident that one can appreciate. Just two or three towns in any other direction, you lose this advantage.
(I) Dr. Cheo, could we
(N) Why don't you call me by my first name? .
(I) Well Bernie, I know I call you Bernie because we are fellow Presbyterians and so forth but I am being a little professional I guess, but anyway, Bernie, let's go back to Taiwan and give us a little background, a little more background of your wife Aria and she has a brother that's high up in the Presbyterian. .
(N) Right. So I mentioned a little bit earlier about there's a great deal of confusion, I wouldn't call it confusion, misunderstanding, whatever, as I mentioned that she was a, she is a ethnic Chinese. Han Chinese was the ancestor. Went to Taiwan about 300 years ago and since then there have been continuous flow of immigration and emigration with the Chinese mainland and had become a province of Chinese mainland later on in the Ching Dynasty but for about 55 or 56 year period before the end of World War II, Taiwan was a Japanese colony. During that time, a couple of generations of people had been born and grown there. They were the Japanese subjects. They had received the Japanese education. So when war ended, it became province of China again. Owing to some political awareness and also the officials which first took, went to Taiwan, sent over by the nationalist government, were rather corrupt so there was a great deal of animosity between the so-called Taiwanese which by that means those who had been there and then the mainlanders or people like myself and my family only went there after World War II.
(I) Was there any degree of mixture between the Japanese and the Taiwan people?
(N) Very little.
(I) They kept their own identities.
(N) That's right. Practically none. The Taiwanese by that I meant people like my wife and her family were under the Japanese occupation. The Presbyterian Church, which it is believed originated from the Canadian Presbyterians not the American Presbyterians, had been there, they had missionaries who had been successful so many of the intellectual echelon families, high echelon families, had converted to Christianity and her family was one of them and most of them then were the Presbyterians and she was, her brother is now the minister of Presbyterian Church in Taiwan as most people know. From 1950, 1949, that's when I first got there, mainland China was in turmoil. had taken hold, the security of Taiwan was in great difficulty and very soon after that was the Korean War so Taiwan was under martial law, there was no political freedom as we know it, what it should be, the political freedom. The diligence of the people, the place had evolved and it developed. To this day struggle and there are still elements in its current government which are, such as the martial law and so on. On the other hand, there are also elements in that government is providing the progress which they see there and they are beginning to open up into more and more and more people which are not originally in the government so some form of democracy, a real true democracy, is beginning to take hold. It is a situation which we understand that some other struggling developing countries how that society is about to evolve. We cannot say it is good or bad, black or white, so clearly.
(I) Well Bernie, I must say that Teaneck is honored to have you and your family as part of the residents of this community and we appreciate . . thank you very much.
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