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: Richard Rodda
INTERVIEWER: Lou Schwartz
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    July 10, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (2/17/1985)

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(I) How did that start? When did it start and how?

(N) Well that started, this was our 40th year this season which is the reason I am down here as a matter of fact.

(I) Just about when you first came in.

(N) It was very near it. Yeah. Well there was nothing there. The amphitheater was there period but there was no shell, there were trees around. Just a flat area. No hard surface of anything. And I had gone to Don Morris and proposed the idea and asked if he would be the conductor and he said he'd think about it and I went to Paul Volcker and told him what I wanted to do and he said, gee, are you sure this is what recreation is supposed to be about? Are you sure you should get involved in this kind of thing? I thought it had a real potential as a good event, cultural event and he said he would give me $385 for eight concerts. That was all. OK. Then I went to the town electrician who was Bob Gruber and he said he would rig up some temporary lighting for me and this kind of thing and we played in an open field and there was a lot more train traffic then and we'd be in the middle of a number and then . . so Paul wrote to, he had a friend something to do with the railroad and the engineers, I swear this Lou, would get up a whole head of steam up from Bogota and as they hit Route 4, they would cut and coast past the park during on concert nights and I always thought that was great but that was a real fine thing. Rotary gave the shell. Rotary built the shell. The City Club put the hard surface down in front in memory of John Rangers who was the former district clerk. District clerk would be what Dr. Doyle is now.

(I) The terracing of the area, was that always

(N) That was built in. That was part of the original plan yeah. That was built in when that park was put there. And a lot of that fill came from Route 4 and from them building the bridge. The truck brought that fill over and put those rocks in.

(I) When the band started in other words it was financed completely by the town? 

(N) Yes.

(I) Inaudible

(N) Well no, it is not. No. We've had to, the last several years the Provident Bank has made a contribution that has made it possible to bring in soloists and you can't afford much but an honorarian of some sort and it makes it much easier to invite people. But we've had really some top drawer people. Really first class who've come for practically nothing. I mean people from who are outstanding artists some of whom live in town. Bob McGrath of course has been a very special guy. Bob Rogers who conducts the Pit Orchestra for Broadway shows. Bill Kiper, Bill's the horn player for the New York Philharmonic.

(I) How did you get connected with these People since you said Volcker said, is that recreation?

(N) Well a lot of it is pure chance. A lot of it is chance and a lot of the musicians, their own fraternity and I relate to musicians, at least I like to think so, and they also share, they're very sensitive people and they share.

(I) What role do you play in it now?

(N) All I do is the program notes. I just do the program notes and initially I had, my deal with Mars was, and he was there for twenty five years or better, I don't tell him what to play. I stay out of the music end of it and he doesn't tell me how to manage it. So that's what we did. So the arrangements and the promotion and that sort of thing, we did it through the office

(I) That is being done now through the office? 

(N) Yes.

(I) What do you think of our new recreational superintendent?

(N) Fine. I think this is fine. I know that there is an examination coming up and I know there are going to be a whole ton of people taking it and I just hope sincerely hope that there will be success.

(I) Does she have to be among the top three to keep the job? Regardless of where they live or

(N) It is open nationwide.

(I) Oh it is? It is not being confined to Teaneck itself?

(N) There would be a requirement that any person who is appointed establish a local residence.

(I) Do they have to live here to take the test?

(N) I know that the gal is working very hard at it.

(I) The problem on her hands is . .

(N) .. and she is bright and she relates extremely well to people.

(I) Since you were involved with the government, local government, I am tempted to ask you a question. Do you think that our form of government is the best form of government. What I am asking is, there seems to be an inordinate power in the hands of one person, the manager.

(N) Well to answer the first question, yes, I do think it is the best, in my opinion it is the best form. There are always going to be situated, there is a limited amount in the hands of a manager. Policy is key. And that's made by council who are the elected officials. The alternatives are if it is a strong mayor and council, you have even more power in an elected official that may or may not be good. Your manager is at least a professional person. The ward system forget. My experience with that was not positive.

(I) You can have a ward system that can be nice and clean, you can have one that or vice versa

(N) The temptation

(I) You can have a council/manager system that can be pretty dirty too. 

(N) Yes. No question about it.

(I) Mostly the people. The anointed power of appointment without any other check or balance the approval of the council on certain appointments.

(N) Normally the appointments aren't made that (inaudible) I don't think. Well you may know. I don't know. I know that of those appointments where I knew something about, there were input from committees whether it was a police committee or fire committee or whatever.

(I) We are sort of off the topic but 

(N) I think that

(I) But you've lived with it so long that

(N) Well of course, yes my experience has been good so therefore I suppose I am prejudice in that respect. That's not to say I can think of several things that I had proposed to at least two of the managers where you know you got your head handed to you also and that's OK. That's OK. I think we are entitled to that. 

(I) I don't know of anybody who is perfect.

(N) But it was funny. In a couple of instances, for instance, when Jim Welsh was sitting in the chair, I know that he and I used to play golf on Sunday afternoons and he used to have staff meetings on Monday mornings and we could tease or play cards or whatever and needle him all you wanted to. Monday morning if you had it coming, you got it. Which is one of the reasons why I respected Jim Welsh. He would support the things that he felt he could support but if there was something he couldn't, he thought you were off base, boy he'd let you know it in no uncertain terms. He was very streetwise as well incidentally. It was really very interesting.

(I) How do you like your retirement?

(N) I like it. It is interesting, yesterday I was golfing with Joe Grasso in Vermont and we got talking about Cedar Lane and

(I) Who is Joe Grasso?

(N) Joe Grasso had the bakery down where the Pastry Box is now. Joe had run that for, well he started in the bakery, learning the bakery business in the 30s. Lou Feibel had run a bakery where Butterflake is and Lou sold to Butterflake and Lou was Joe's uncle and Joe wanted to buy it and he wouldn't sell it to him so Joe opened a bakery up on the other end of the Lane up near the other block and Kulenkamp was next to Feibel, which is now Butterflake. Nick Napoli is still there. His jewelry store is still there. Across the hall, across Chestnut Street was Bishoff's. Now that was started by Bischoff as an ice cream making place and Ralph Brunkhorst married the Bischoff daughter and Ralph still runs it. He is still there.

(I) When my grandson has a birthday he insists he must go into Bischoff's for ice cream.

(N) Great ice cream. And then Carl Malone had been there and now Carl bought that building. All those buildings.

(I) He owns the block almost.

(N) They were owned by Frank Lear and Frank went to these guys and asked than if they wanted to buy. Some did and some didn't. Carl bought his place I think and Cowan, John Cowan who's been there a long tine. And across the street, right across, used to be the 5 & 10 on that corner and then just up the street was Frank Feniteri and Frank owned several of those buildings in there. Then of course he's put a new facing on it. I think he owned, I don't know if he owned the drugstore. He bought several of those places.

(I) Does he still come down to play in the park?

(N) I don't know. Frank, he started with that band or he used to play with that band a long tine ago. When we first started, Frank was there. He was a good clarinetist.

(I) I remember him leading the band a couple of times.

(N) Yes. He served as conductor a couple of tines. Yeah. And then he had his own group. Frank was president of Local 528 in Jersey City and he had about 30 or 40 guys and they had this musicians fund and Oradell or some place would call and Frank would take the group and go up and play.

(I) He still plays a little you know. He supplies an orchestra, dance band, to senior citizens at a very reduced rate.

(N) Very interesting because when we first started the Symphony, we had the symphonic band, I was visited by the guy from the union, Local 802, New York, and he said you can't do it. He said we'll provide music. 1 said no. The objective is to provide an outlet for a local people to play, kids that are home from college get the trombone off the shelf or guys who are out after X number of years. This has nothing to do with it. And he told us we couldn't do it. So I went to Paul Volcker and I said, this is what I've heard. Now what do we do? He said, what do you say? I said, I say we play. He said, then you notify Chief Hart who was the police chief at the time and he said if necessary, we play under police protection. He said don't you know anybody who can do anything? I said I know one guy and I'll try but I can't guarantee. He said, well you do what you have to do. Harry Steikert lived in town. Remember Harry? Harry was Petrillo's, he was secretary to Petrillo in 802 and I went to Harry and a very, very powerful organization as you know and I told Harry what the problem was and I said, what can you do for me? He said I can't do anything for you. I said, OK, I just wanted to ask. So that concert, those first concerts, very, very apprehensive what's going to happen. And you know what happened.  Nothing happened. And for years I went to Harry and said, you know, thanks for taking care of it. He said, I never took care of anything. He said he didn't do anything but I have a feeling to this day that Harry spoke to somebody .

(I) Well something was done because one way or another, even if you decide to do nothing, that's doing something. They're doing something too.

(N) But that was very apprehensive. I'll never forget that. (END OF TAPE 2 - SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)

(I) Can you think of any more interesting things that developed? Forty years is quite a time. You mean you've had forty years on this job in other words.

(N) Well in Central Park before it was Votee Park, before Palisade Avenue, see Palisade Avenue used to end there at Dewey Place and there was a drainpipe there at the north end up around where the field house is now, opposite Church Street, there was a very active spring that was piped and there was always a cup there, very good water, and it ran constantly.

(I) And you could drink it?

(N) Oh yeah. For years you drank it and there'd be frogs down there and tadpoles and then of course as I say the heavy train traffic and Dotty lived there on Church Street and all the hoboes knew where that, anybody riding the train knew where that spring was, sure. And then they'd make their visits up and down the streets - Evergreen and Forest and Selvage. St. Anastasia was the Selvage Farm it was on that property and I think the Murphy girls gave a lot of that property to St. Anastasia. Now there are five Murphy girls - Catherine, Anna, Stasia, Alicia and Julia. That's how those streets happened to be named that.

(inaudible small talk back and forth between Interviewer, Narrator & Narrator's wife)

(I) Which school did you go to Dottie?

(D) I grew up on Church Street and went to Washington Irving. Washington Irving at that time was the Town House.

(I) It was called Washington Irving, the Town House? 

(D) It was called Washington Irving and School 2. 

(I) And then they moved it into the new building.

(D) Next door to it was the old school and the old town hall which was moved over to Mackel Field and you couldn't play in the back of the old Town Hall, whatever the building was that was moved over to Mackel Field because it was filled with cinders and the girls would jump rope but we would jump rope in back of the Town House which (what is now the Town House) in the drop section where you have cement and I think the air conditioners and the loading platform and all encompass the area that the girls used to play in and where the new School 2 now stands was a big baseball field.

(I) That's Washington Irving.

(D) The new one. And that was a huge baseball field, dirt, with a bank all around it and a fence. There was a fifth grade teacher named Mr. James who from half past twelve to ten after one every day played baseball with the kids, the boys. And included in those boys were Tommy Bublitz and a lot of the kids who have retired as policemen or firemen from the town now and the girls would sit on the banks and watch the boys play. But the girls couldn't play jump rope anyplace except in this little area because of the current. 

(I) And of course the girls couldn't play with the boys. 

(D) No. We could watch.

(N) It was interesting too, Lou, at the high school the girls had to wear stockings. That was a dress code. And I remember in Rotary one of the funds that they had was used to make stockings available to some of the girls who otherwise wouldn't have stockings.

(I) What do you mean by stockings? 

(N) Stockings. Silk stockings.

(D) We didn't have panty hose in those days and you didn't wear anklets when you got to be an older, teenager.

(N) That was a part of the dress code.

(I) By the way, when did the Town House get its name Town House? 

(N) In 1946.

(I) By resolution of the council?

(D) Well it was declared as being in too poor condition to be a school. So School 2, what we call now School 2, was built and after it was built, then they said oh, we can fix the Town House.

(N) The same architect who did, built the new school, went back and said for $25, 000 I can put this

(I) You know it is very interesting at our AARP chapter meeting we usually have the Board of Education candidates and they came up with the same story now. They are moving out of the Town House because it is ready to fall apart and we had sitting in the audience a member of the school board at the time when they condemned it the first time. His name begins with an L, I forget it now, and he got up and said, forty years ago you said it was condemned because it was going to fall apart. It's been managing pretty well now and they will continue to manage it because I had raised the question then is, let the Board of Education stay in the Town House and let the Washington Irving be made the recreation center and they said we can't stay there because it is falling apart.

(N) I was rather concerned frankly about there was a move to eliminate that recreation building on Teaneck Road.

(I) There is a move. They are going to eliminate it.

(N) I know. That concerns me and it concerns me because it seems to me that while it is still a plumbing supply house which is what it was initially, it does provide a needed service for this community and if the concept is that you are going to improve the neighborhood by eliminating that recreation center, you have about five or six bars in the same area, you had a killing in one of the liquor stores up there, I don't hear anybody talking about eliminating the liquor store because somebody was shot to death.

(I) They had a killing in the fried chicken place, Popeye's.

(N) Nobody is going to eliminate Popeye, you know. Come on already.

(D) That's not the only one. Before that go down to the liquor store next to the neat market

(I) Well that's why I thought the Washington Irving School, if they are going to eliminate the recreation and turn it into the Washington Irving, it will still stay in the same neighborhood. That's why I felt that was the key thing there.

(N) But just to eliminate, there wasn't any talk about replacing it. To get rid of it to improve the neighborhood, how can you say that with five or six gin mills right in the same area.

(I) But the replacement as far as I was concerned was going to be Washington Irving School as a replacement. But now the Board of Education wiped it out.

(D) Well when they built the new School 2, they lost the playground too because we used to have a playground, a part that was paved, and the playground where the school is now built.

(I) It was built on the playground that existed before it?

(D) I remember going home from school and a man would stand there with a pony and the children would get up on the pony and have their pictures taken and then they'd go to the house and you'd buy, you know. Can you imagine seeing that today?

(I) In New York City too. That was the first picture that was ever taken of me when I was seven years old I think. My mother had that for a long time. On the pony. I didn't think they had it out here. I thought it was only in New York City. Where the pony is so rare.

(D) I can remember going down to Central Park with my father. We weren't allowed down there otherwise. And you'd see initials newly carved on trees that today are dark as can be. But in those days

(I) Why weren't you allowed to go down there?

(D) Because there was the wild woods and swamps. 

(I) You mean your parents didn't let you go. 

(D) No, no child was allowed down there.

(N) A lot of that center section, Lou, was developed much later. Initially, a lot of that was sold, were sold as lots, you know, and Joseph P. Day was an auctioneer, a real estate auctioneer from New York city, would come out to Teaneck on a Sunday afternoon and pitch up the big striped tent out there and sell these lots.

(I) Where? What's now Votee Park?

(N) Yes.

(I) What did they do, buy it back?

(N) Well that's the reason that it was relatively recently. I mean in the 50s we were still getting parcels, the last vestiges from estates, in order to round out the parcel before you could complete that park. And a lot of that was done by swaps. You'd swap, take this swamp land and give them some good property that the town had picked up through a tax title lien just in order to round out that section and make the whole thing complete.

(I) Someone once told me that was done by WPA. Was it?

(N) Yes, it was. It was done through the Works Progress Administration and that section was owned by the municipality but there were a lot of lots down there that were not owned by the township of Teaneck but were picked up later and rounded out. Paul worried about that, getting those pieces together. And Peter Terhune, there was a Peter Terhune Farm but in that farm, in what would be deep center field of the ballfield now, Lou, there was a little pond. As a matter of fact, George Beaumont said he learned to swim in that little pond and of course that has dried up aver the years.

(D) Well he's the father of the fireman.

(N) No, he was the fireman. Bill Beaumont was his father. 

(D) The father that jumped off the ferry

(N) Yes. But see that was the only transportation at that time, the 125th Street. 

(I) How did you get down to the ferry?

(N) Walked down there and there was a trolley too.

(I) You mean you would walk from Teaneck down to the ferry?

(N) No, there was a trolley down there and there was a road down there. That was before the bridge. The DeGraw Avenue trolley went right across what they call Frog Hollow.

(I) That trolley was electric? 

(N) Yeah.

(I) One thing we didn't speak about, the swimming, what shall we call them, portable pools? How did they come about?

(N) Well it was a stop-gap measure, an experiment was what it was to use the portables to sound out swimming interest in the community and we decided

(I) Whose idea was it?

(N) I proposed it and the manager bought it to put one in each quadrant of the community and then to have each one open one night a week and to provide as wide coverage as possible. It was really an experimental thing and if it worked out, hopefully the idea was to replace it with in-ground operations but I am concerned about some of those because they've, I don't, you get that amount of water and if it gives way, it can be a dangerous situation.

(I) They are moving, you know, to put in one in-ground pool this year. 

(N) Well that's good. I would hope it would not stop there.

(I) By the way, you know it did serve a purpose teaching the kids how to swim. 

(N) No question about it.

(I) I was amazed. I took a team out once with Freddie, Freddie Green, and he took them out in his van to a place, a swimming place, a dangerous swimming place, there was not just a little pool there and here are the kids diving off and swimming and he was watching them and then later on I said to him, where did you learn how to swim? The pool, they said, in Votee Park. I was delightfully surprised to see they really got something out of it.

(N) I think they served a very useful purpose and really the economic investment was minimal, really minimal. They've been a good thing. But we used to have this Tokoloca, which is a little park over there on, not too many people in town know about it, Dottie was a playground leader at Whittier School and used to run a program over there and she'd take the kids down to Tokoloca and you could see frogs and snails and tadpoles and birds and have nature hunts and so on down there. It was lovely and interestingly because I had had some pressure in years past from some of the people in the immediate area to formalize it and I said, no, we are never going to do that.

(I) Formalize it in what way?

(N) Well put in some equipment, put in park benches and

(I) I thought you meant formalize it and make it a park?

(N) Yeah. It is a park but there is nothing in it. In terms of apparatus and that sort of thing. I said, no, I didn't want to do that. I thought there had to be some place in town where your Brownie leader could take her troop or the Cub pack could go or as Dottie used to take the children down there from the neighborhood, the Comas boys and George Spath's wife as a little tot and so on. They had a very fine program.

(I) Were you involved in the recreation program Dottie?

(N) She was a good playground leader, I'll tell you that. She was super. 

(D) That's how I got to know Dick.

(I) That's before you were married?

(D) Yeah. I was in college and looking for a summer position and I went down to the Town House, the Municipal Building, and I was waiting for the recreation superintendent to apply for a job and this young man came in and said, Can I help you? And I said, no, I'm looking for the recreation superintendent. He said, well I'm Mr. Rodda, the recreation superintendent. And I said, oh no you are not. You are much too young. But I did, I worked for the town.

(N) You can think of quality but Dottie was a super leader. Peggy Wanderer was a super leader. Red McGrath, outstanding. Ruthie Armlowich, Joe Servino, so many. So many.

(I) Joe Servino worked for you? Was that before he started teaching?

(N) Both. No that was summer. I think it was before he was employed by the school system. Excellent. But a lot of them, really, I think we were very fortunate. The Millstock kids. The quality of the people who worked. But it was something more than a job. The sort of thing you were talking about before. If you had to go back at night, you know, come on. Don't give me the union routine, I don't want to hear it, you know.

(D) I can remember 103º and we collected stones and built a fire in the middle of the playground just to cook our frankfurters.

(N) We built a tent, a teepee. Inside the teepee must have been, you could have fried an egg.

(I) Do you find that among the recreation leaders now? Did you, I mean. You are not there now. 

(N) Well, I don't know. Most recreation people I find are really pretty dedicated people. They are married to the thing I'm afraid. Like we were. But that's where the enjoyment is really.

(I) When you are speaking about getting something out of life, 

(N) it is what you put in, right?

(D) Dick was given a cup from the recreation association. The motto on it is, LIFE - BE IN IT.

(N) Yeah that's a national program, the National Recreation and Park Association has it and it is a good one.

(I) Are you connected with recreation?

(N) I attend the meetings. I am doing a little selling as you may or may not know on the side and that's, that makes it possible to stay in touch with some of the people

(D) And he also has a life membership.

(N) It's kind of fun. I enjoy the association. It is very interesting. Of course, it changes. What doesn't? My father used to say, the only constant we know of is change and I guess that is true.

(I) That's what Tennyson said. 

(N) That's close enough. 

(END OF TAPE)

 

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