|General||Library Services||Children/Young Adult||Township||Help the Library||Contact Us||Virtual Village|
Dick, I do appreciate your willingness to help in this Teaneck Oral History project. Frank and I haven't seen you or Libby close up for several years but there was a time when we, especially Frank and you both, were deeply involved and working for the same things in Teaneck. But before we reminisce about those exciting days, would you tell us something of your early years?
(I) Well, I was born in New York City, not quite 70 years ago, June, 1914, and grew up mostly in New York City although during the First World War, my father had war work in Philadelphia for a while. I went to the Ethical Culture School starting in 1920 and graduated from the high school which by then had moved to Fieldston in 1940. Went to Columbia College for four years graduating in 1934 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. My major was statistics so I went to work first as a statistician for the National Bureau of Economic Research, worked there for a little over two years. Then I had an opportunity to go to work for Business Week as a junior statistician and I worked for Business Week for eighteen years and after maybe four or five years, I decided that statistics was a dead end and so I moved into the writing and editing end which I have been doing ever since. Business Week is published by McGraw Hill and I am still with McGraw Hill and will be there 48 years at the end of this year.
(I) That's remarkable.
(N) And I am now with one of the technical magazines as the Director of Editorial Production so that's the end of my business life. Libby and I were married in 1939, lived first in Greenwich Village then moved out to Queens because it was nicer, had two children while we were living in Queens. Was perfectly happy with Queens except that the schools were miserable so when our older daughter got to the school age, we decided we had to move someplace where the schools were better and settled on Teaneck.
(1) What year was that Dick?
(N) We moved to Teaneck in 1948. And lived down on a little street called Fenimore Road which is down just off Teaneck Road about two blocks north of, one block north of DeGraw and we moved there, it was a three up and three down house and it seemed huge to us after an apartment but after we had been there about three years, we decided we needed a larger house but we promised the kids that we would not move out of that school, the Longfellow school district over there. And we looked and we looked and we looked for a house and there was one we a1most bought on Brinkerhoff Avenue, you know which one that is, and then we decided not to. The reason we didn't Marie, I don't know if you ever knew this or not, was because it was a long driveway with high walls on both sides and I couldn't figure out what to do with the snow.
(I) You know what I thought the reason was - because the kitchen had too many doors.
(N) Well that was Libby's reason. But I couldn't figure out what to do with the snow in that driveway if I had to shovel it so anyway. . we found this house and they were asking too much for it so we made an offer and they said absolutely not and we said, all right, we'll leave the offer stand and if they find they can't sell it for what they are asking, maybe they will take it and they did take it eventually. So we've been in this house since 1952 which is 32 years and I've lived in
(1) Are you sure it wasn't before that Dick?
(I) Because we've been in our house since 1950 and I thought it was was sort of simultaneous.
(N) 1948 into Teaneck and four years on Fenimore Road, 1952 here. And I've been 36 years in Teaneck which is more than half my life. Which is interesting. We got interested in local affairs I guess primarily at the beginning through PTA. We were fairly active in PTA, I don't know that I ever held any office except that I was auditor for a couple of years as I remember. But Libby was secretary of the PTA and one of my happy memories of PTA was that the Treasurer getting up and reading a Treasurer's report and he read Bob Benchly's treasurer's report with a long string of paper and you know who the treasurer was then
(I) I was about to say that I think that a lot of us got interested in Teaneck through PTA.
(N) So our first direct influence in electoral politics was a series of referendums on junior high schools which we were very active in. The ones that we won and the one that we won where the Acme now is and I remember losing that one and as I remember that was the last minute switch by Tommy Costa that lost that one for us.
(I) I remember the residents were terribly unhappy.
(N) The residents around behind, Dr. whatever his name is, Gadati, so we got very active in that and in school board candidates for a while and I actually ran for school board twice. I got beat both tines.
(I) Very unfortunately.
(N) I think so but the second time I ran, it was against a slate of I can't remember all three of them - I guess Frank and Orville and Hal Weinberger were all running at that time. Frank and Orville were
(I) Orville Sather
(N) Coming back to the junior high schools, I remember that one of the things that was against the, well that's not very well worded, one of the things that made it difficult to pass the referendums was the fact that different groups of people in town who were very much for it didn't get along with each other. There was what we then called a radical pro-education group up in West Englewood, people like Teddy Lay and the Handlers and Dick, what was his name, Dick, well there was a guy whose first name was Richard who was very active at that point, but in any case, as that group was fighting for the schools, the Women's Club, people like Child Mrs. Child I remember was one of them and I think she was head of the Women's Club that year (she was president of the PTA council that year) The PTA council was very conservative, the Women's Club, but they were all for the high schools too so it occurred to us and I think Frank Burr was part of this decision that the only way to get the referendum passed, and I think this was the referendum for Benjamin Franklin, was to get all the groups together working together who were for it and so we had a meeting in this room, I would say it must have been at least 50 people here, Frank ran the meeting and all of the various groups were there and they talked to each other and the conservatives found out that the radicals weren't such ogres and they got to the point where they figured, well sure, we're all for the same thing, let's work together. I think that was instrumental in having the referendum passed.
(WIFE) Can I say one thing? Helen should be mentioned because she was the one that convinced the PTA after you convinced her
(N) All right. Helen Zaray who was then president of the Longfellow PTA and we knew her fairly well and I was friendly with her and I convinced her that the PTA groups should come to this meeting and she was the one then who convinced Mrs. Child and the other PTA women and probably the Women's Club too because she was
(WIFE) They were not in it. Absolutely no.
(N) Well my memory of it is. I do remember that we finally got them together and Helen had a major part in it. So that's about my involvement with the schools except for the fact that, this is peripheral to the schools, we were very active in the American Field Service. Our daughter went to France on the American Field Service and we had a young lady from Italy living with us for a year who was a member of the senior class in high school and we had a lovely time with her and then after that we were very active, Libby was president of the AFS Chapter in Teaneck for some years. Matter of fact, I remember one time in the Teaneck Shopper, they had a caption underneath a picture of Libby with one of the AFS girls and they called her Mrs. AFS Chapter. It was a typo, of course, but it was very appropo and we were very friendly with a lot of the AFS boys and girls who came from various foreign countries and stayed in Teaneck. We got to know them. It was a very rewarding activity. The other thing about the schools, and the other thing which got us interested in Teaneck politics and the whole works, was the whole integration question in Teaneck. We were involved in that from very, very early on. When we moved to Teaneck, there were a few black families living in the northeast and more and more were moving in and the, some real estate agents went up and down the block trying to scare people into selling their homes because you don't want to live in an all black neighborhood. You know the way the real estate scare salesmen did. And a group of whites who lived up there, whites and blacks together I guess who lived up there, started a campaign called THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE and they would put out signs on the lawns and so forth and we joined in that although we weren't living in the area and a lot of other people who were not living in the area joined in. This was the beginning of a, it wasn't called the Northeast Civic Association at that time or whatever the name of that organization is, but it was the beginning of a neighborhood awareness up there and we were quite active in that. What was the name of that organization?
(WIFE) The Teaneck Civic Conference. Kay Shick and Evelyn Parker started it as I recall. And there were probably a lot of other people in it whose names I no longer remember.
(N) Ben Weisman.
(WIFE) Ben Weisman was one of the early ones. They decided after having fought so hard and found that they really could make friends with each other that they would like to do something upbeat that would be fun. To get together the few people from town who really did want to mix. So they decided to write a show. Ben wrote at least part of it and . . . professional actors and a lot of semi-professionals. Fran Warren who was the understudy for the Simms girl all the way through the whole play about a black girl and never got on once was the star and they wrote a charming show. I did the publicity for it. Bill Caldwell did a whole column for us on it. And it was the first time that I can recall when there was a really beautiful official gathering of blacks and whites in Teaneck and we had a party afterward.
(I) Do you remember the theme of the play?
(WIFE) The play had nothing to do with integration. It was simply a play about a pretty girl who wanted to go somewhere and be in a show, I think, something very routine like that but had some funny lines because Ben is very clever and
(I) It simply was a vehicle to bring the two groups together.
(N) Yes. It was a musical.
(I) To bring the two groups together and to have fun together.
(WIFE) But it wasn't two groups by then. It was a group. It was almost all northeast people and I was up there because I was brought up to believe that in this kind of thing and I think that even preceded the Fair Housing Council that started in Teaneck and then moved to Bergen County.
(N) In any case, we did get deeply involved in integration and I remember when
(I) That was really the very early effort. The very early beginning.
(N) And then later when Isaac McNatt first ran for council, we were very active in his campaign and again it was a mixed group and that was another very rewarding thing. And we've been more or less active in that area as Libby said, the Fair Housing Council, which she is still active in. For many years she wrote their newsletter. Well that's enough of that. In general, we are quite active in township politics ever since I would say the 1950s, probably, certainly the early 60s. When we first moved to town, the Teaneck Taxpayers League ran the town and it had got in in 1931 or thereabouts when the town was practically bankrupt because of what I understand to have been a fairly corrupt public government. It was party elections in those days and the Taxpayers League fought through the idea of a non-partisan township manager form of government and won and put in a township manager form of government that included Milton Votee. He was one of the earlier ones. And they ran the town and gradually some of the, as 1 understand it, some of the people who had been part of the Republican group that had run the town before joined the Taxpayers League and because the good people if you will kind of lost interest after they had won, this group took over control of the Taxpayers League and it got to the point when we first moved to town where it was practically as, or just as bad as the old political government had been.
(I) Which sometimes happens to reform movements.
(N) Very often does. So Libby and I got active in the groups that were trying to run candidates in opposition to the Taxpayers League. I remember one year we decided to run a slate of four people against the five man slate of the Taxpayers League and then at the last minute, Leo Gamal who had been more or less helping us organize it, decided he wanted to run too so we put in a five man slate and it turned out to have been a mistake. We had some good people on that slate - Audrey Keitel was one of them, Carl Hendrickson was one of them. I can't remember them all but five Taxpayers League people were running and our five people and Augie Hanabal ran as an independent and he got more votes than any of our group and if we had left open one slot and had only run four as we had originally planned to do, we might well have beaten them that year. Four years later, four years later was the first time that Matty Feldman ran and that was a very exciting election. One of the candidates was Brad Menkes running for the first time and we only had a five man council in those days and it became evident quite early that Milton Votee had got reelected. That was a foregone conclusion. He would always get reelected. And Matty had got elected and Tommy Costa had got elected. I can't remember who the fourth one was - oh, Hanibal who ran high but that was a very, very close fight between Brad Menkes and P.J.E. Brown who had been the mayor of the previous council and who had antagonized a lot of people. He ran the town in a very high handed fashion. But I remember watching the counting of the votes and it was very, very close and Brad was ahead and one district had not showed up yet and it didn't show up and it didn't show up and it was Brown's home district and everybody was saying to themselves, at least in our group, I'll bet they are trying to finagle the votes and make sure he wins. And sure enough when it came in, he had won it by a large margin and had got - I think the total vote when that was counted, he was ahead of Brad by about 9 votes. And so a group of us went down to Brad's house afterwards and talked him into asking for a recount. And they did get a recount. And there was nothing wrong with Brown's district at all. It was perfectly legitimate. But it turned out to be our district, District 5, somebody had read a 9, what was actually a 9 for Brad, as a 0 and when that 9 went in instead of that 0, it was an exact tie. So then they went to the judge again and asked him please to look over the absentee ballots that had been discarded as improper and they did go over those and found one that should have been admitted and it was for Brown and that's how he first got on the council.
(I) I remember that.
(N) That was extremely exciting.
(I) That's a wonderful story. The importance of a single vote. Absolutely.
(N) And Augie Hanibal, of course, got to be mayor and he died I think after being in office less than a year and that was when Matty first became mayor because he had run second in that election. And then as I said, we worked hard to get Isaac McNatt elected to council and
(I) I remember that Matty was the first person, the first mayor to appoint a Human Relations Board. Do you remember that? I think they called it a Community Relations Board.
(N) I believe that is true, yes.
(I) And of course that was a tremendous help in integrating later, that particular group.
(N) And we were active both in school elections and in the council elections after that although I don't remember so many specifics any more. There were groups that were trying to undue what we were doing. I remember there was one group that had Martin Sans in it and Vincent Maher. I can't remember who else. I do remember Frank Hall was a member of that group at the beginning and I remember at one vote counting and I don't even remember if it was a council or a school election talking to Frank and realizing that he really wasn't so far away from the way we felt and he was not an ultra the way some of the other people in that group were. I remember telling him that I would bet by the next election, he would be on our side and he was. That was interesting too. One of the people or groups that were very much against what we were for of course were the people who were against integration of the schools. Lead by Harry Warner, was that his name. Dr. Harry Warner. And he actually got elected to the school board and threatened the following year to take over the school board entirely and that was one of the most exciting political campaigns I've ever been involved in. That was what we called the CSG campaign - we ran Joe Coffee and Greenstone and Orville Sather and we were tremendously active in that. Leo Gamal ran that one particularly well too. He had been brought up in Jersey City or Union City - someplace like that and had been active in partisan politics down in there and he knew how to organize people in hierarchy where you appointed a captain for each voting district and then he appointed a captain for each block and then a captain for each block found a couple of people and then they went and rang doorbells and he told us how to do that. It was a tremendously exciting campaign and of course that's the one we won. That's the one that Reg Demarall wrote that book about TRIUMPH IN A WHITE SUBURB and that was a lot of fun. Particularly because we won.
(I) Well it was kind of a black and white issue literally speaking.
(N) It was indeed. Of course the funny thing about it as I remember all the time that Harry Warner was complaining against busing, he sent his kid to a private school way up county where he had to be bused every day.
(I) I remember that. And Mr. Margolis was I think part of that.
(WIFE) He was just a follower. Warner was the hate man. I went to a meeting at the Teaneck High School where people got up and screamed at each other and you could feel the emotion, the hatred, the bitterness going around the room. It was just appalling. I came home and wrote a detective story and murdered Dr. Warner's
(N) Which got published incidentally in Ellery Queen's mystery magazine.
(I) Oh, how wonderful. It was a very exciting campaign.
(N) The other area that I got involved in was the formation of political organizations to stand for the things that we believed in. A small group of us started an organization which has long since passed into limbo called the Teaneck Town Meeting Association. The idea was that any time any issue came up, we would have a big town meeting like they do up in some of the small New England towns and everybody in town would come to it and discuss it and came to a consensus. Well of course it turns out that you can't do that in a town with 40,000 people. And it was never much more than a small splinter group. Bill Harris, I remember, was involved in that and what was the name of the man who lived up on Forest Avenue who died subsequently, a Catholic, very nice guy, OK, it doesn't matter. But we tried to do that and endorse candidates and it didn't mean anything because we didn't. . so that kind of died and then a larger group got together and formed an organization which is still in existence I believe, the Teaneck Political Assembly.
(I) Oh yes.
(N) And I was in on the forming group of that also and I was a vice president for oh the first three or four years in fact and helped get that thing started and that was a lot more successful and it was a lot more down to earth and it wasn't nearly so ivory towered, head in the clouds kind of an organization. But in recent years, I've kind of dropped out of everything. You get older, you let the younger people take over somehow and it's a reasonably well-run town. It is a pretty good council and it's a pretty good school board and they seem to have a pretty good superintendent although he seems to be in trouble now at the moment and I don't think we will ever have a superintendent of schools like Harvey Scribner. I think he was a great man. He certainly
(I) He was here when we needed him.
(N) He certainly was here when we needed him and did a tremendous amount of steering Teaneck in the right direction. I don't know that I have anything more to say. Libby, can you think of anything else to say that I haven't mentioned?
(I) In other words, Dick, though you feel very optimistic about the future of Teaneck? How do you feel about the future, the direction that we are going in?
(N) An interesting question. As long as we can have a town where one or two black families can live on an otherwise all white block or maybe a Hindu family and a Japanese family thrown in, this is the ideal kind of town for me. But we have to be constantly alert against other real estate agents, and they still do this
(WIFE) Aw, but it's better
(N) It's better, of course it is, but a lot of them still do this. steering. White families that come out of New York and say well, let's see now, how about Teaneck. They say, oh, I don't think you'd like Teaneck. Why don't you look at Oradell - instead. And the black families that come out of New York and want to move into Bergen County and they say, we'd like to try Oradell and the real estate agent says, oh, you wouldn't like Oradell. I think you ought to try Teaneck. Well this is the kind of thing we have to be constantly alert against.
(WIFE) Well, that's what this Housing Center is for. That's why I am baking my cake for a meeting on Friday night.
(N) I think you are too far away from the machine. I don't think you can be heard. Yes, the Teaneck Housing Center is an attempt to attract people from New York, white and black, to get them all to move here in a happy heap which would be an ideal situation and there are still efforts going on to have a dialogue or a general conversation among all the groups who live in Teaneck and to try to get them to work together for the betterment of the town as a whole rather than from any narrow parochial interests. And I think up to now it has been working and I just hope it will continue to work because we think it is a great town and we are happy to live here and we expect to live here for the rest of our lives.
(I) Dick, I feel as if you and Libby have become socially very friendly through some of the minority groups in town.
(N) Some individuals, yes. We are friendly with Isaac McNatt and his wife.
(WIFE) Of course, we all go to the same church, you know.
(N) The Lacey's also go to our church. Central Unitarian Church in Paramus. The Lacey's are members, the McNatt's are not members of that but they are Unitarians. They usually go into New York City Community Church, John Haines Holmes and what's the name of the
(WIFE) Don Harrington.
(N) Don Harrington. But he's retired too.
(I) Well I feel that the churches have been a wonderful place where we have come together. I know our church, we have so many Indian families. We have Philipino families and black families
(WIFE) You know who was wonderful in your church? Remember George Tague. He was very influential in the early days.
(I) Well so was Dr. Blessing. Dr. Blessing as well. Well I think it is interesting that you have become really friends, not just neighbors, but friends.
(TAPE JUST ENDS ... NOTHING ON OTHER SIDE)
Teaneck Public Library
840 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Tel.: (201) 837-4171, Fax: (201) 837-0410