We don’t maintain a formal list of “endangered” landmarks or institutions locally. But if we did, such a list would be headed by two important institutions – one a building; the other a civic group.
Both go back decades, and both have played important roles in our community’s way of life.
The building at , long time home of the Sgt. Scott Brown Post 226, was first chartered in 1932. For years, the Post has represented the best of community service.
It was in the aftermath of World War II that the group hit its peak. One local history describes the post building as “an attractive home of colonial design”, constructed in 1947 on land deeded by the Borough. It was also in 1947 that the American Legion Auxiliary was founded by 28 women, relatives of the post members. Over those peak years, the group was said to maintain approximately 300 members.
Numbers alone, however, tell only part of the story. They do not adequately communicate the vital role the group and its building have played in the community.
In addition to the assistance the Legion provided through its various projects, it and its home were constant physical and emotional reminders about what sacrifice and service is all about – whether on the battlefields or in the midst of life’s post war daily challenges. Like the V.F.W., this year celebrating 75 years, it served as a beacon to all residents beyond its focal point on Memorial Day and July Fourth.
The Legion Hall building has long been one of our community anchors , and along with the next door, has served an unofficial town center in a community that lacked (and still does) a downtown or town square. It was a place that hosted family life cycle events – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings. It also was where one went for a Lions Club Pancake breakfast, a July Fourth hot dog (many, many years ago). And, of course, there were the toasts in the tap room in celebration or to recall a departed friend.
It was in 1972 that River Edge first supported a Senior Citizens Center, (Senior Citizens of River Edge). In doing so, we became the first municipality in Bergen County to subsidize a full service Senior Citizens program from its own funds. It soon became a program which was emulated by other communities.
Headquartered at what was then called Temple Sholom (now ), SCORE has offered a wide range of programs and activities from education to culture. Beyond the lunch, speakers and music, it has served as an important lifeline – bringing companionship and community – a place to connect for many to whom the world can seem all too isolated. It has been another example of River Edge at its best.
To some, these two institutions may seem unrelated. In fact, there is a basic and important commonality.
For example, many of those folks responsible for making the Legion such an important part of the community over the years are from the same generation that helped build SCORE. A number of them still rely on SCORE themselves today. Some, in fact, helped build both groups over the years.
Moreover, there is larger story line at play. We live in times when some fundamental assumptions about the nature of community are being reconsidered. At stake is not just a budget shortfall, but also the basic compact between neighbor and neighbor.
Just what is the commonality among us, and how is it to be expressed? More succinctly, what is the common good?
Not too long ago, it would have been inconceivable to even contemplate the demolition of the Legion Hall over its possible use as a community center. Similarly, it is a sign of the times that SCORE is being asked to fundamentally modify a program that has worked so well for almost 40 years.
Perhaps this all could better be understood by some by likening it to the elimination of Little League’s Opening Day or Santa’s Ride around town on the fire truck just before Christmas. All are integral parts of the fabric of our community.
We’ve heard that we must adjust to a “new normal” – that this new reality will not allow us to think or act as we have been accustomed to.
Those who hold public office are now charged with the task of squaring this stated new reality with the essence of what River Edge has been all about until now. Many campaigned promising to change how things are done.
There’s an increasingly conventional wisdom these days that most of those of the “Greatest Generation” (as Tom Brokaw came to describe them) have been given a good deal – fortunate beneficiaries of boom times and generous retirement benefits. In reality, they are the last living from the darkest era of the 20th century (The Depression and World War II). Moreover, many are caught, living in a place where prices have left them behind and struggling – part of a Middle Class that has been squeezed – be they young or old.
Through it all, however, it’s their voices, their spirit and their achievements (in buildings and in deeds) that can tell us that we too can endure, persevere and, in fact, achieve great things – personally and other as a community, while also treating each other with respect and dignity.
Locally, it’s a generation recognized as having contributed the most to what we appreciate and routinely accept as what makes River Edge so special. They built organized, built and matured many of our schools (Cherry Hill, River Dell and the late Holly M. Davis School), houses of worship (St. Peter’s and the Temple), civic groups (Friends of the Library, Little League and American Legion Hall) as well as instilling a community ethos in which neighborliness, volunteerism and giving goes to our core.
Clearly, it’s a generation that did not get it all right, but for the most part, they did leave us things better than they found them.
Now it’s our turn.
We don’t doubt that somehow a solution will be found for SCORE. As to the Legion Hall clearly there is a cost involved, and possible mold cannot be taken lightly. But one can only hope there is the political will and vision to give a much needed community center there (including the Cultural Center) an honest consideration.
Each Memorial Day we are reminded in inspiring words that we should remember to honor and say thank you to those who served us, not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, but every day. It seems to at least one observer that the presence of the Legion Hall serves us such a daily honor and thank you to those who served us well (whether in war or in the community). And, so as to sound not too altruistic, it does more than honor the past - it can continue to serve the greater community at large – providing an emotional as well as a physical center for us all.
As this generation’s community leaders confront their series of challenges, how they treat these endangered institutions created by our “Greatest Generation”, and all they have come to represent to us all, will say a lot about what we value – how we look at our neighbors, our Seniors, ourselves.
What they do in writing this next chapter is something that will be of interest – not just to many of us today, but also to those who follow, as our journey as a community continues.