In 2016, the Ridgewood Public Library was awarded a grant from the Bergen County Division of Cultural & Historic Affairs. The grant funded "Storytellers @RPL," an Oral History Project aimed to document, preserve and celebrate the rich history of the community of Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Every oral history provides additional insight into Ridgewood's history, heritage and culture, for future generations to enjoy. They can also be used in research and education.
Our Kick-Off Storyteller: Jim Griffith
March 1, 2016
Jim Griffith's story starts in Queens, NY, where he was born on September 29, 1934. Listen as Jim, a natural raconteur, talks about his fondest memories from his 53 years in Ridgewood: from being convinced by his wife to settle here, raising his family, working and now volunteering for many community organizations, including Habitat for Humanity. His commitments deservedly earned him special recognition from the Ridgewood Council in 2016.
A third-generation Ridgewood resident, Gwenn speaks of the values her parents and grandparents instilled in her that she has since passed on to her children. With her community involvement on the Ridgewood Council and continuing volunteer commitments, Gwenn touches on the Village's rich history and her family ties embedded here, including the legacy they have left at the Ridgewood Public Library with the Habernickel Tech Center.
June Regal's interview takes you from her childhood in Manhattan to her time abroad in Europe, and then finally settles on her life in Ridgewood. With each story, hear about her amazing achievements and the pride she has for each of her children. When not working at her antique company, she's most likely reading, as she describes the Library as her "closest friend".
Anna's story begins when she and her husband moved to Ridgewood in 1963, where they raised their four daughters in the same home they live in today. Over her 30-year career at Willard and GW, Anna reflects on the growth she's witnessed--and had a hand in--during her tenure. Anna remains highly involved in various volunteer work through organizations such as the College Club, Hermitage, Schoolhouse Museum, and Kasschau Shell. Her stories will inspire you to become involved in your community.
In 48 years, Brooklyn-native Arthur Wrubel witnessed many changes and growth in Ridgewood. As a part of the Historic Preservation Commission, Arthur worked to preserve the history of the community through projects such as the Railroad Station design and the Pease Memorial Library restoration. With his background in architecture and career as a City Planner in Manhattan, Arthur provides an interesting glimpse into Ridgewood's historic Downtown area and its various building styles.
Proudly born on Lincoln's birthday at 49 Oak Street, Cynthia has lived in numerous places from El Paso to Okinawa. Yet she remembers happy stories of Ridgewood and her own family history, recalling the Terhune family business and how it made an impact on the growth of this town. Read through the transcript as Cynthia reflects on the Ridgewood she knew from her childhood, and the changes she saw in her most-recent visit in 2016. As she explains, change will always occur but the Village remains a wonderful town to grow up in.
In this interview, Cora and Thuy both share their experiences of moving to a new country and adapting to a new culture. Cora moved from the Philippines in 1967 and became a teacher in the U.S. Her own experiences drove her to become an ESL tutor, and she has since been assisting Thuy with learning English.
Thuy moved to Ridgewood from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. She has enjoyed the friendships made with other ESL students and the lessons Cora has taught her.
Dot and her husband did not sit idly upon their retirement, but instead enjoyed years of spending time with their family, square dancing, and traveling the world. In her oral history, you can hear stories of raising their two sons in Ridgewood and living in the same house for 59 years. Dot talks about the "good old days" and encourages people to look into the town's history at the Schoolhouse Museum where she volunteers.
Maggie's story recounts memories of growing up on Greenway Road and playing kickball with her five siblings and friends. More recently, Maggie attended the "Big Dig," a Ridge School reunion for the class of 1966. They met 50 years later in order to dig up the time capsule they buried on 6/6/66. Listen as Maggie describes what it was like to return to her old school and see her fellow classmates.
Ridgewood residents for 25 years, Liz and her son EJ talk about the impact living in this town made on their lives. Liz explains how the Ridgewood school system was one of the reasons she was drawn here, and EJ speaks about how his education prepared him for life outside of the Village. Both talk about the friendships they formed—as an adult, EJ lives with buddies from RHS—and how these life-long relationships were nurtured in the Ridgewood community.
Ridgewood Life Opportunities Unlimited Founder: Gail Tamirian-Mandeli
March 3, 2017
"We were responding to a need that the County and the State had identified." In 1997, Gail Tamirian-Mandeli founded and became the Executive Director of Life Opportunities Unlimited which is a non-profit agency in Ridgewood (and surrounding towns). Life Opportunities Unlimited provides residential and daytime services for the developmentally disabled. Listen in as she shares stories of how this non-profit was started and how it not only provides a service but also a life and family.
"Sometimes you just know when you're supposed to be somewhere." Bea and Jim O'Rourke felt this way when they moved to Ridgewood 52 years ago. Since then they have raised their 4 children in this town and been heavily active in various community service organizations. Listen to their stories of working together in multiple social justice activities, performing work that shaped their lives while also leaving a mark on the Village itself.
Spokesperson for Ridgewood's open spaces for several years, Eillie is most proud of her work preserving and restoring Lester Stable. As part of the League of Women Voters, she continues her advocacy for numerous, current open space projects in the village. Listen as she talks about her fond memories of Ridgewood and how she became involved in various public services.
A first-generation immigrant, Rina tells a life story that travels across generations and continents. Both her parents were Holocaust survivors and relocated to Israel where she was born and raised. After pursuing an education in software engineering, Rina emigrated to the US and furthered her education with a Masters in Computer Science and an MBA. A recent retiree and new resident of Ridgewood, Rina talks about why she chose Ridgewood and how she is becoming involved in the community.
As a resident of Ridgewood for 45 years, Arnie always felt it was a good family community. He raised two successful daughters here and fondly recalls how the Village and its services helped him as a single dad when he needed it the most. As a television executive and producer, Arnie was involved with numerous award-winning documentaries and mini-series, and he continues to work within the industry today.
(Interview by Catherine Chriss, Ridgewood Resident)
June 7, 2019
Born and raised in London, Mollie was only 3 years old when WWII broke out in Europe. She recalls the bombings and air raids on her city and being evacuated to Northumbria to stay with her grandparents. Mollie remembers the rationing of food and clothing, which didn't immediately end with the war, and says that even though Hitler was determined to get Britain, "British spirits came through." Today, Mollie is a long-time volunteer at St. Elizabeth's in Ridgewood.
Transcription to come.
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First Female Mayor of Ridgewood: Roberta Svarre
March 3, 2016
Roberta's stories from 37 years include raising her three children while devoting herself to public service: committing her time to the League of Women Voters of Bergen County, housing issues in the Village and to the establishment of Ridgecrest, a home for the elderly in Ridgewood. Listen to her fond memories of the Village and her hopes for its future.
At age 2, Ali Stroker's life changed abruptly as a car accident left her paralyzed. Listen to Ali tell her story of growing up in Ridgewood, acting in school productions, spending time with friends at the Daily Treat an the tremendous support she always felt from the community. In 2015, Ali debuted on Broadway in the ground-breaking revival of Spring Awakenings.
"My Uncle Sam said, 'Come on Robert we need you', so I went". At 19, Bob was conscripted into the army, and recalls how it shaped his character today. You can listen to Bob's stories of his involvement in the American Legion as commander of the Ridgewood post and stories about his timei n the U.S. Army when he was stationed in Germany after WWII. A Bronx native who moved to Ridgewood with his wife to raise three children, Bob recalls going to Graydon Pool and shopping at local stores.
In addition to raising her family in Ridgewood, Sheila has taken on many roles which include working as a Geriatric Social Worker and serving on the School Board for 20 years. With a BA in History and a Master's in American Studies, Sheila also lent her knowledge and talent to the Ridgewood Historical Society/Schoolhouse Museum in exhibits such as "Hemlines" which covered women's fashions from the 1900's to the 1960's. Listen in as she shares stories of her work in the community and memories of taking her children to Graydon Pool during lazy summer days.
Ridgewood ESL Student & Tutor: Camila Gambert & Linda Keesing
June 1, 2016
What's it like to move to another country where people speak another language? By listening to Camila tell her story of coming from Brazil to work as an au pair and discovering our English as a Second Language program, you get a glimpse of that experience. Her tales of learning English and making friends with fellow students, along with her appreciation of her tutor, are inspiring.
What compels a person to become an ESL tutor? A former teacher and school librarian, Linda has been an ESL tutor for the past 3 years, having been named 2016's Ridgewood Tutor of the Year. She talks about the joy she gets from tutoring, and how gratifying it is to see students like Camila advance her English in such a short period of time.
Ridgewood resident for 68 years, Lou recounts many stories about his father and grandfather. His father, Det. Nicholas Lembo, was on the police force for over 35, and his grandfather, Luigi Lembo, worked as a foreman on the street department for over 60 and was the first lifeguard at Graydon. Linda shares their own family times at Graydon and at other Ridgewood traditions like the Christmas tree lighting.
Ridgewood "Black in the Village" Author: Paulette Perry
June 23, 2016
Paulette's family history in Ridgewood dates back to 1928 when her grandmother moved here. Several generations have followed and remain, and she recalls playing in the streets with neighborhood friends. Paulette also wrote Black in the Village which documents her experiences of growing up, going to school in Ridgewood, and being the only black student in the RHS Class of 1964.
On Monday and Thursday nights in 1965, Claudia worked at Woolworths behind the soda fountain and recalls how different Ridgewood's downtown was back then. Her memories span several years, having lived in the town from 1965-1968; 1996-2001; and 2013 til today. Hear the joy as she talks about her volunteer work here at the Ridgewood Public Library in the Children's Department. Claudia's enthusiasm for her work can be heard throughout her story.
Prior to settling in Ridgewood, Ed served his country in the Navy and saw the world. While living in Australia, his wife read an article that described Ridgewood as one of the top 10 places to live, and in 1966 it became their home. Listen in as Ed describes how the Navy shaped his sense of discipline and self. Ed stays continuously busy with his volunteer services in organizations such as the American Legion and also leads the Ridgewood Public Library group Great Decisions.
Elena’s story begins in Leningrad, Russia (now Saint Petersburg) where she grew up in what she describes as a totalitarian society. At an early age she fell in love with the English language, and instead of pursuing a career in medicine as her mother wished, she studied English and Literature. Listen as she talks about her journey which eventually led her to Ridgewood, NJ. An author of two memoirs, Elena teaches ESL at Hudson Community College and is working on her 3rd book which she says will be a work of fiction.
Having lived in Ridgewood for 64 years, Rick McGrath shares stories about growing up in the Village; going off to school and the army; and returning to raise his family. Listen as he recounts sleigh riding in the neighborhood and enjoying the open space Ridgewood offered to an active kid. Rick talks about all his years spent coaching soccer, baseball and basketball, and how he's still referred to as Coach "Red" for his hair.
As a resident of the town for 88 years, Virginia shares stories of Ridgewood during the war-time years and of riding her bike to the Library to help with gas rationing. Her love of books started at a young age, and after her education, she taught at Ridgewood High School for a few years before returning to school herself to prepare to teach literature at an academic level. She leads the Ridgewood Library’s "Reader's Choice" book group and hopes to leave Ridgewood a little better than when she came.
Joe's story begins in Ridgewood where he grew up as the eldest of 6. His memories span from the Boy Scouts all the way to becoming one of the Local Historians in Ridgewood.
Peggy started working at the Ridgewood Public Library in 1993 (retiring in 2015), and became a pioneer in preserving the Village's history within the library.
Their stories intertwine in 2002 when Joe was researching the Ridgewood newspapers, and Peggy recruited him to help on some local history projects. They've been sharing their love of local history and genealogy ever since as employees, volunteers and presenters here at the Ridgewood Public Library.
Local businessman and councilman Jeff Voigt shares his story of moving to Ridgewood 26 years ago and immediately feeling "at home." Jeff talks about what drove him to run for office and how serving the community has helped him appreciate differences of opinion. Listen in as he discusses the challenges and potential rewards of the current issues facing the village.
"Every journey is an experience," says long-time Ridgewood resident Eugene. A musician, Eugene shares his story of pursuing his dreams and never giving up while growing up in a large family and a supportive neighborhood. Eugene returns that support through his involvement with RHS's Jamboree and the annual Kasschau Shell series, where he performed in the very first concert decades ago. He finds joy in giving back to the community with his music.
For many, Mango Jam is a destination for generations of Ridgewood residents. Owner Tony Damiano's eye for visual merchandising and store design isn't limited to just his storefront. When customers asked how they could help businesses in town, Tony was inspired to coordinate the Ridgewood Guild as a way to support fellow shop owners and ensure that downtown Ridgewood flourishes. Tony talks about how his career developed and about his ideas and vision to enhance Ridgewood's business district.