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This is an interview between Mrs. Gertrude Schwimmer and interviewed by Virginia Stilles on Tuesday, May 29, 1984. She is a member of the League of Women Voters. Do we have your permission Mrs. Schwimmer to use this tape for educational purposes.
(N) Yes, you may use the tape for educational purposes.
(I) When did you move to Teaneck?
(N) We moved here 32 years ago. In fact this summer will be 33 years. And we came because we were looking for good schools for our children. At that time, we had an 11 year old, a 5 year old and one was due in two months. The two older ones immediately entered school, public school, and I think my husband and I were very, very happy with the kind of attention they got. As a matter of fact, one interesting little factor and I'll bring it up just for the fun of it was that our older daughter said she wanted to play an instrument. She wanted to play the cello. And we had no cello and we were going to rent it. At that time, I wasn't driving, didn't know how to drive. And the music director from the high school came over with the cello that we were renting and brought it here which I thought, and stayed for a little talk about the school program, and I thought that was very impressive for a junior high teacher to do. As far as the school system in general, we were really quite pleased with it all the way through. The third child, when he was born, also went; the two older ones are girls. All three children went through the school system from whatever ages they were when they came here and the youngest one from the beginning straight through. In fact, the second one went from the beginning because she entered kindergarten here. She went to Eugene Field. The oldest went to Tom Jefferson and the high school but at that time, the junior high, in fact I don't even remember if it was called Tom Jefferson, but the junior high was in the same building as the high school and they had a slight difference in time of classes so the children didn't interfere with each other. The youngest went to, no I am sorry, the second one went to Longfellow. The youngest went to Eugene Field.
Let's see what else we can tell you about the school system. When the integration problem or should I say when the question of integration came up, I was pretty active in working to have integration in the town and was pleased in spite of various problems that occurred on the way with the way it evolved. I felt that the teachers and the administration tried very hard to do a good job of it and most parents in town, not only accepted it, but I think cooperated with the integration of the Teaneck schools. In fact, I think a lot of us were very proud that we were the first town to integrate voluntarily in this area. I will say one other thing that our children did very well both in the colleges in which, I mean they got into good colleges and they did well in college and they felt their training in Teaneck had been excellent. I thought it was very interesting that recently our son, who is the youngest and who is now a Lawyer practicing in Washington, DC, said in a telephone conversation "Well, I wouldn't have changed a thing about it, about my childhood," and I said, "Well how did you feel about your education?" and he said, "That too, that was good." And I really felt kind of heartened by that because very often when children look back, they don't always have such wonderful memories.
I don't know very much about the schools today except when I learn through various people who have children in the schools but what I do know makes me feel that the schools are still trying to maintain their quality education, to be flexible but not so flexible that they are not creative and useful and maintaining some of the good things from before and I feel we have to support a school system that is trying to do a good job. I can't describe the fine points. When you don't have children in the school, you can only know what you read and what you hear from informed people. But I feel we have to support what we have and give it the best kind of encouragement that we can.
As far as my own activities in town and my husband's, well he has not had very much time to be too active. He's a busy physician who practices in New York and now he is at an age when he might retire and hasn't the vaguest thought of doing it because he is very involved and interested in his work. I've been involved for many, many years in the life of the community in different ways. For quite a number of years, I've been on the Advisory Board on Community Relations. I am now chairwoman of this group and it is a quiet group that works behind the scenes but I think we've done some useful work over the years. Of course we supported and still support integration in the schools. There is no question about that. We also have done many other things to try to encourage understanding between different racial and religious groups and there are so many, I just can't think but in the past we've had conferences where we've had all different groups discussing problems in the town and what could be done to better it and a few years ago, and up to quite recently, we were having dialogue meetings. These were started when Orthodox Jewish people moved into town and there was a certain amount of lack of harmony between them and some of their neighbors and it turned out that we had meetings in different homes where people would volunteer and we would provide a trained moderator or discussion leader, not with an aim to getting any very specific answers but with the idea of encouraging neighbors to understand each other and to speak in a human sort of way rather than not knowing each other, to speak with each other in a very, we hope, neighborly and friendly way in the long run. These meetings were good in many ways because all kinds of different problems came up not only between Orthodox Jewish people who have slightly customs and other people in the various areas of town but all kinds of integration problems, problems with neighbors who were non-cooperative, all kinds of things of that sort and the moderators did their best to try to get people to see each other's points of view. Right now this group is working I was head of that dialogue committee for the Advisory Board on Community Relations. Right now the Advisory Board is working on a community relations award which we are going to start working on it right now in fact which we are going to award next year and or I should say in the coming year and the idea is to recognize and encourage of course good community relations.
I've also been very involved since practically the first year we came here with the Teaneck League of Women Voters and then with the Bergen County League of Women Voters. I've been president of both over the years and still am very much associated with both of them. The Teaneck League is still very much concerned with what goes on in the township, township government, township schools, township day to day life. And we try to keep an eye on things and offer useful suggestions and I feel very much a part of the League here and in the county, of course, we're involved in county issues. Right now I am planning a trip to the Meadowlands for the county League. And this will be a trip in which we are going to see the new Environmental Center, study the solid waste proposals, at least see the sites that are proposed and also have a talk with the planner there about low and moderate income housing.
I've also been involved, well in an awful lot of things. I don't know where to start. Right now I am a vice chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of Bergen Community College and that goes along with my long term interest in education and I'm also head of the Education Committee for the Board of Trustees. This is my off year and it's been a very educational and gratifying experience for me. I hope people in Teaneck will know more about Bergen Community because it is a wonderful school, provides good quality education at very modest rates and can fill a need for many, many students.
Among my other activities have been that I am on the Advisory Board on community Relations to the Superintendent of Schools of Teaneck and we have had a number of different things that we've been following also related to community relations. This is a group of both in school and community people and two of our major foci recently have been (1) the problem of how to handle the very delicate question of teachers who must be rift and the minority teachers, since they were the last employed being the first dismissed. And we are also, have been also concerned with the role of women in the schools, funding for athletic programs for women as well as for men equal funding and the encouragement of life sports in the school in contrast with the very usual process of competitive sports which we know are necessary but we feel life sports are also.
After a while, you begin to feel like an old timer in a town. Certainly as a newcomer, and my husband and I came from New York City, in fact I lived almost all of my life in New York and never knew that I would want to live in a small community and it was really the schools that drew us here. My husband had grown up in a small town in fact in Pennsylvania, in Easton, Pennsylvania and he had always had an idea of living in a house. I'd been in an apartment all my life and never thought I'd like it and my first thought was when we move out to Teaneck, when the children are grown, we will move back to the city. Well, believe it or not, the children are grown a long time and we are still living here. We were not in a rush to leave because we like Teaneck and we are content in our home and even though it is a big house and we don't use all of it most of the time, when the kids come, there is room for them, the kids and their families and their friends, it is a real pleasure to still be here. The town has changed, there is no question about it. It is much more diversified than it ever was. When we first moved here, there were, it was largely a white, WASP type community with a small percentage of black people, very few other groups, and a limited number of Jewish people. Since we have lived here, there are many more Jewish people of all ranges of observance and certainly many more black people and people from different countries. We have Indian and Asian and I think other peoples and I think the development of Fairleigh Dickinson helped bring some more of those other people in as well as the fact that Teaneck welcomes diversity and people feel comfortable here. They feel they can become part of the town and I find this makes Teaneck a more interesting place in which to live and hope to continue to live here for a while.
Among other activities that I was involved in and one that I would like to mention because since you are talking about peoples' backgrounds, it is something that has been a very big part of my life for a number of years, oh I'd say about eight years ago, I was one of the founding members of the Bergen County Commission on the Status of Women. We persuaded at that time the two female freeholders and they persuaded the other freeholders to establish this commission and while it may have been established because they might have felt in some kind of awkward political stance because of law suits, it was to the advantage of women that such a commission was formed. The purpose has been to keep an eye on the rights of women and we published one of the first books on rape and battered women, we did a study on women in government, we've done various studies, an original study on child care and pointed out the needs in all these areas. And some of those needs certainly on rape and battered women have begun to be implemented, child care is still way behind and there are beginning to be pushes for more child care and the objectives of course of the Commission on Women are to improve the rights and the living conditions and the opportunity for women. We recently had a program celebrating Women's History Week. It was held in Englewood with many Teaneck people there. And I am very pleased to say that two of our, let's see, three of our Teaneck people were people I brought in as part of the program and they included Fran Morten who is a relatively new resident of Teaneck, only here several years and she is a management consultant and then it included Rabbi Deborah Prinz who is a female rabbi and it included Robbie Wedeen who is a singer/song writer. The idea of the program was to talk about women who are pioneers among us and, as usual, Teaneck had a good quota of pioneers so I was very pleased to have been part of that and we had a very good Teaneck representation at that county-wide celebration in Englewood.
I've been involved with a lot of different drives over the years but that is not what I felt has been my major interest in town. My major interest has been good government and women's issues and housing and oh, I've also been on various committees for the Housing Authority of Bergen County. Again with an interest in low and moderate income housing for people in need and worked for affordable houses both in Teaneck and other places.
I could talk on and on because Teaneck is one of my favorite subjects but I am not sure of how much more you want to hear on this because you've got a lot of other people you got to interview. And if there are any special questions, I'll be very glad to answer them in the future. Teaneck has been our home for close to 33 years and both my husband, Dr. David Schwimmer and I rather like the place. Hope it is going to continue to be as fine a town as it has been. That's not to say that it is perfect. I don't want anyone to think that I am the kind of booster who goes around and says everything's perfect. We know there is room for improvement and I think keeping an eye on things is everybody's job in the town and I think as long as a lot of us are doing that and encouraging the government, pointing out things that need improvement and saying yes to the things that are going well, we will have the kind of town that we want to live in.
(I) I think you've covered just about everything but if you care to say anything more about how it feels to live in Teaneck now that Teaneck is a suburb with a changing population and growth that is going on ...
(N) Well I guess I said a little bit about that before but I can add some more. Our block is an example of how Teaneck changes. When we moved here, it is a short block, Carroll Place is I guess you'd say it is one long block or the equivalent of two short blocks and the houses were filled mostly because they are fairly big houses with older couples when we were here. There were only about two families with young children when we came. Well, we've seen a generation and a half come, young children come and go, and we've seen changes in the composition of the area. There are just one, I think there is one other person who was here before we moved in, one person left. All the houses have changed hands since then. Most of them not too many times, some of them twice, one or two three times. But only one who is here before we were. There are now white and black children playing together on our streets. Playing baseball in the streets. That wasn't true when we first moved here. There were only white children. We have two black neighbors, one almost directly opposite us and one half way down the block. I must say that we all are very private people but when there is a need, people are there and I can remember one particular incident when we had a terrible snowstorm and our cars were blocked in and we couldn't get any body and I must say, the young men in the area, the younger householders pitched in and it didn't matter white or black, everybody gave a hand, to everybody else so it is a neighborly block without being cozy and perhaps that is because the people are of all different ages here now. Young, medium, old and now, of course, a lot more people are out at business all day so there are very few people who are home during the day. I am one of the few old timers who made community activity my major field of interest and I feel if you are giving something to your community that is really useful, it is a very worthwhile way of spending one's time. And I've been fortunate enough to be able to do It. But many, many of the people are, many of the women are out during the day so the neighborhood's very quiet. We do kind of keep an eye on each other's homes without any formal kind of arrangement. We keep an eye on each other's homes. And certainly neighbor to neighbor, we are all quite watchful. So that is among the kind of changes you see in town. And I think they will all be good changes if people can continue to keep a positive attitude about newness and differentness.
(I) Is there anything else that you would like to say that you would like to see done in Teaneck or anything before we close the interview?
(N) Well I am trying to think of what I would like to see done. There are always small things one wants to see done. I am trying to think of big things. I think our council is pretty responsive to what goes on in town. One thing I would like to see is that people run as individuals rather than on slates. I think while there are some benefits to running on a slate, certainly there is a benefit to the candidate, I feel that one has more choice and not only more choice, one always has the choice, but less confusion of issues when people don't run as a slate. Now that may be an impractical kind of thing but it is the kind of thing I'd like to see. I hope the government would remain responsive. I still think we have in general the type of government where the city manager and councilmen that we, the best kind that I think one can have and I am very pleased that it is non-partisan from a party point of view. In fact, I don't even know what party most of the council people are.
I'd like to see attention given to maintaining Cedar Lane and Teaneck Road and I think the project now on North Teaneck Road is a good one. I'd like to see some results and see if they are going to work out as well as they sound. As far as Cedar Lane, I think eternal vigilance is the word. Keep up the town look and don't let things get shabby or shoddy and be positive about new business people who are going to move in. I am not sure I like the idea of this big Pathmark that's proposed. I question whether it is going to be an asset to the town and certainly if the traffic that people think may come, will come, it is going to be a real detriment. That's all I can think about at the moment. I would like to see good policing of the stores as far as cleanliness goes. I think that there is a chance for that but that's one of the smaller things. It is one of many small things we always think can be improved.
(I) Mrs. Schwimmer, I thank you so much for this interview. It has been very enlightening and it was really a pleasure to meet you and to learn of your activities since you've lived in Teaneck. Your very worthwhile activities. And I am glad that they are going to go down in our records.
(N) Thanks for coming Mrs. Stilles. I'll tell you one thing, it is good to talk about Teaneck to someone who is interested in the good aspects of the town because this is a town that is worth celebrating.
(I) Thank you very much.
(END OF TAPE)
TAPE CONTINUES ON OTHER SIDE
(N) You know, when you listen to the thing replayed, you think of about a dozen other things you wanted to say and it sort of refreshes a lot of your thoughts that were kind of tucked in the background. One of the things I'd like to say about the Commission on Women and that relates to Teaneck is that we're having a breakfast in a short time to celebrate, as a matter of fact very short time, to not only celebrate but to discuss with women, elected women officeholders, the kind of jobs they do and the barriers they had to overcome and the problems of becoming a woman elected representative and when we were sending out invitations, we certainly remembered that Teaneck has good representation of women still not half and half but we are waiting for that. But we're one of the towns that has always had, or at least not always but for a long time, had a councilwoman and now we have two councilwomen and we are very pleased about that and we've had a lot of women on our board of ed and we are very proud of that. And I think a lot of people have been working to see that women get the same kind of opportunity that men have and that's part of the kind of thing I've been doing. We will be very happy to see our council people and our board of ed people there.
I just want to mention in passing a couple of other things very quickly. When you were talking to me, Mrs. Stilles, you asked what sort of things was I involved in and I didn't mention at the time that I've been involved for quite a while with keeping an eye on community development funds and working on, from the county level, from the overall and broader level on how community development funds are being spent. I've been a member of the Community Development Coalition which is a coalition of countywide coalition of non-profit and of non-profit groups that monitors spending of community development funds and now I am also, have been for a number of years, a member of the Community Housing Resource Board of Southern Bergen County and that's a board that works with realtors to open up southern Bergen County to integrated housing. The effort is to see that realtors understand the law and many different methods are used to help encourage opening up this southern Bergen County area which also should have an effect on Teaneck because we believe that opening up the entire county is the best way to maintain integration throughout.
One more thing I'd like to mention and that is I said that my husband has not been very active in Teaneck affairs because he has been a very busy practicing physician and a professor of medicine in New York City. But one thing I'd like to put down is that even though he hasn't been active, he has kept informed and I must say that he reads beforehand and finds out what he can about people who are running for office and what issues there are in the town and has been a regular voter and so he feels like a part of the town too even though he can't participate in local community activities the way I can. I do it for both of us. But he is certainly very much a part of Teaneck. So I thought that little bit ought to be added.
Our three children are distributed, one in California, one in West Virginia and one in Washington, DC but they do come home to Teaneck and still have some of their friends who grew up here.
(I) Thank you very much Mrs. Schwimmer.
(N) Mrs. Stilles and I were just talking and another little interesting facet of the Schwimmer background came out. I mentioned to her and she said well maybe I'd want to put it on the tape the fact that one of our children went through our oldest as a matter of fact who went through the school system here from the junior high on became friendly with one of the teachers. In fact, it was a teacher in a field in which she was very much interested and that teacher who was starting her teaching career then and is only about ten years older than my daughter is now a good friend of my daughters and this friendship has been maintained over the years. Quite a number of years as a matter of fact and even though the teacher lives nearby and my daughter is down in West Virginia, whenever she comes up, there is a real warm friendly get together and of course a correspondence between them. It is a real friendship, not so much a teacher/student friendship as the friend/friend friendship and I thought it was an interesting kind of thing that that kind of thing can arise from the interest of the teacher and a student which then develops into a warm human relationship.
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