By- Tom Kubrak
On June 1st, 1928, a new child was brought into this world. A child, that looked like most, who had a life in front of her that wouldn’t play out like most. Born in a tenement in New York City facing the East River on 96th and 1st Avenue, it was the start of a new life… the first chapter for this first generation immigrant, whose parents, Elisabeth and Fred Kahl, had no idea what their daughter was destined for.
The family spent a short period of about four years in the German area of Manhattan until they made the move to New Jersey. They made the move upon hearing about a new community that was sprouting up in Central Jersey. The area was referred to by the New York papers as “The Happiness Acres.” Why not? With the properties not costing very much they made the move to “Happiness…” That community, was Bradley Gardens.
It was where her life really started. From an early age, a passion of hers, began to bloom. Something which brings tremendous joy and serenity. She fell in love with her stories.
Falling in love with the stories she was reading, a passion to write and become an author grew. It took some guidance, as well as many years of happiness and struggle before she was able to embark on this dream. Unbeknownst to her, she would one day write the story about her hometown of Bradley Gardens.
Her first book was about William Bradley and the history of her beloved community. She then embarked on her second book, which focused on a historic highway that cuts right through Bradley Gardens- The Old York Road. Originally it was an old Indian trail. It turned into a road after the Natives sold it to Dutch settlers.
This is a story about a woman who gives her community her all. It’s a story about someone who’s lived through 14 president’s tenures. A mother, gardener, pilot, organist, archivist, historian and community servant. There aren’t many things to compare to what she’s done in her life but there is one thing that might be able to. That thing is an old road…
A road that was instrumental in taking her places she was destined to go. This road that runs through her community of Bradley Gardens and helps bring her story to life. You could put many people on the list that have traveled this road. But one person in particular stands out. Someone who has traveled this road almost everyday for over 85 years…
Her name is Rita.
“This is how you do it,” said Fred Kahl, as he guided his daughter in the process of starting her first garden. The garden that consisted of a few things including balsam plants. One of Rita’s favorite flowers that she still plants to this day in honor of him.
“I’ve gardened ever since I’ve never been without a garden ever.”
Along with the Old York Road, there’s something else that helps define this woman. For Rita Jordan, it should always be spring and summer time, as these seasons mean it’s time to plant flowers for her voluptuous and well maintained garden.
When she was able to have a house of her own, there was no doubt that there would be a garden somewhere on the property. Over the years, at her house in Branchburg that she purchased with her husband John, in 1948, the garden has seen some changes. Both of them took part in gardening. With John being from West Virginia, he had an absolute love for gardening as well. So they took on this love together and worked to maintain a garden that included things like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots and more. The property that also included a peach tree on it.
“He took over the gardening and I did the flowers.”
Her favorite flower is the rose. Everything about the way it smells to the way it looks and stands out from other flowers. She also maintains her own rose garden. The other flower she loves are called “Lady Slippers.”
As the years went on, the couple continued to maintain their garden that just kept growing. But in 1978 something happened. John, her beloved husband passed away. The garden shrunk a little bit but the passion for gardening never wavered.
This garden… it’s who she is. It defines Rita. The moment the ground thaws from the chilly New Jersey Winters, she’s out there preparing the garden for a successful harvest. Tending the garden by hand, she’s always close to her garden to understand what it needs to prosper.
You can frequently see her planting flowers after her morning workout. Her morning workout sometimes changes, but mainly consists of stretches and light weights to loosen up her body for the day’s activities-one of the first being to tend to her garden’s needs.
After a good breakfast of rye toast, cottage cheese, a boiled egg, some orange juice, vitamins and finishing it off with a cup of decaf coffee, she’s off and heads to her plant oasis. The garden that she’s come to know and love, down to every last twist and turn since she started it in the early 1950’s after completing the home with her husband.
“I love my garden. I do something in the garden everyday.”
When the leaves change, it’s time to pack up the rakes, garden hoe, and shovels and do something different. Although, once she harvests the last crops for the season she’s already looking ahead to the next year with her beloved garden.
With her heritage being from Germany and being born in New York she still acquired something from those German roots that one of her students, Joy Dorman, has a special way of putting it.
“She has that German in her that makes her a little stubborn and she’ll tell you the way she wants it to be.”
She’s someone who is going to get it done. If somebody else doesn’t do it… Well, then Rita’s going to step up to the plate and take charge.”
Although her family spoke only German, they had to adapt to the English language to adapt to the American and New Jersey culture. They were a ways away from the safety of their German secluded area of. So, despite speaking only German when she came to New Jersey, she learned English fairly quickly and started communicating with the people in her community.
Upon entering school, she became part of the community and developed great relationships with people that she is still friends with today. It wasn’t long before she started to figure out that people had a different perception of Bradley Gardens than she did.
“Living in Bradley Gardens… eww. We were always put down by the kids who were living in the pecking order or the other side of the tracks.”
Regardless of the perception, Bradley Gardens was her home. She was proud of that, and still is. It’s a town that, to her, exemplifies hard work and coming from humble roots..
“I think, basically, it’s all the people that I’ve known through the years. We were just a good bunch of people. They had to work hard. None of them were rich. Everybody had to work hard and we all worked together”
In addition to watching the people in her small, growing community work hard to build Bradley Gardens, there were also many moments that shaped her into who she is. One day stands out in particular.
A day that one story can’t possibly be used to describe how it helped develop Rita into who she is now. However, one thing is for certain. It changed her…
This day, in which has not been forgotten by Rita, started off as any other day in the summer time spent in the Raritan Swimming Hole by all of the local kids. It was in her elementary days. The Swimming Hole was what the kids used as their summer hide away to escape from their parents and enjoy the company of their friends. Many of the kids rode their bikes up to this old spot.
“On the other side of the dam, which has been removed now, was a spot that wasn’t too deep. It was a good place for kids to go. There was a platform by the dam that the water ran over and then there was a really deep hole and over here was a diving board.”
Both the Bradley Gardens kids and Raritan kids went there to have some summer fun and show off their athleticism with some acrobatic moves.
“Oohh their swan dives! They were going because it was a good deep hole so they wouldn’t get hurt.”
Although it was a fun and well known spot for the local kids, it began to get the reputation as an unsafe place among the locals after a few reported incidents that included the death of two people.
One day in particular went down in history in the area. Rita was with two of her friends when she was in grade school but little did she know that something was about to happen to the group of three that would surely change their outlook on life. Something that would make the hairs on the back of anyone’s neck stand up. One of the group of three was about to make the discovery.
As the young boy was in the middle of the swimming hole, playing tag in the water, he felt what he thought was a person. Immediately, he raised the alarm by frantically yelling out to his friends in worry. He told his friends of his discovery in a frantic fright. The small group started to get nervous. Once they got out of the pool, they began to ask questions. On top of the ridge, they spotted a young girl and asked her if she saw anything.
“Her name was Lois and she said there was a women here with her little boy and she’s not here anymore but her stuff is still here. Then we really got scared.”
They had been playing tag for over half an hour before they felt anything. They finally found the mother and son, and tried to revive the two, but they had long since passed.
“We had no cell phones, nothing. Someone had to go take a bicycle and run to tell somebody you know.”
The whole ordeal lingered in her mind for a long time. You can’t expect anybody to get over that quickly, or for it to disappear from their thoughts. They were young and to experience something like that could be devastating in a young persons development. For Rita though, she had no options but to move on and take the lessons she learned.
As life continued forward, this young girl had to manage these troublesome events in her life as she and her country were about to enter one of the most turbulent times in this country’s history. Still, this young girl would continue to grow and develop herself to withstand the pressures of life before World War 2 would change everything. One of those things she used, unknowingly to prepare herself for this time, were books.
Rita The Reader
Growing up, Rita was a voracious reader. She loved it. She became more drawn to it by a lady from the local library in Somerville, who rode around in what was known as “The Book Mobile.” Her name was Dorothy Van Gorden.
Rita can recall getting books from the Book Mobile that was the only library for awhile, while her parents were running errands. She remembers running back to the car, eager to dig into her new book. When her parents finished their errands and arrived back to the car, she was almost halfway done with it.
From Dorothy came more teachers that made an impact on Rita. One of those teachers was Mrs. Ruth K. Stugart.
“I fell in love with my teacher. She was just the greatest and she knew I loved to read. She encouraged it.”
Under Mrs. Stugart’s guidance, she pushed her students hard so they would become the best version of themselves possible. One of those things included a reading list. A simple thing for some, but Mrs. Stugart held her students accountable. Rita was no exception. After looking at her reading list, she gave her more guidance on what to add to her list as Rita began to get through the books quicker than her peers.
“I loved to read. She was such an inspiration to me and I had her for 2 years. God bless her. I was just so lucky.”
So many books influenced Rita. One of the first books that made a great impact on her was The Birds’ Christmas Carol.
“It was about a family named Bird and they had a girl who was my age and she got, I think, Tuberculosis. I just bawled and it just hit me emotionally.”
She entrenched herself in her books and understood them to get emotionally attached to the story that the author worked hard to portray. She read one book 35 times. In the morning before school she read and in the evening before going to bed she read more. Her ability to read and understand the context just grew and grew. Sometimes she finished a book a day. At other times it took a few days. Although the reading has slowed down a little bit the love for it hasn’t.
Recalling that time, it was “The Eagle’s Mate,” in which she read 35 times. It was a love story taking place in the mountains of West Virginia.
Coincidentally, she married a man who grew up in the West Virginia mountains! She just consumed this book and whatever it had to offer. It brought her to places that she had never even dreamed of. Digging into this book shaped this young girl’s mind and allowed her to imagine a completely different world.
Places that only seemed real in a novel… Her imagination began to grow at that age that assists her to this day. There was another thing that grew from all of this too. That being… her will power. This book helped strengthen her will power so she could step up when opportunities rose later on.
Where did it start though? Was Rita born with this incredible ability to read through books as easy as it is to cut through a loaf of Wonder bread?
It was on a day in the early 30’s, when Rita asked her father something,
“One day my father was reading the Sunday paper, and I say, “Dad, when are you going to be done with the Sunday funnies?” And he said, “Why?… You don’t read.” And I said, Yes I do.”
Her father Fred, who built one of the first homes in Bradley Gardens along with Rita’s mother Elisabeth, wasn’t convinced. So he responded with a laugh and a smirk,
“You can’t read.”
…and I read him the funny page after that.”
Rita’s father was surprised. While he was traveling to and from the city for work, Rita was growing up before his eyes. With her books, she grew years beyond her age.
“I just read. I could read a paragraph at a time. I would encapsulate it. I would read it and then go on. I don’t know how I did it. I just did it.”
She read many books through her early years. Many books, stories, and articles that helped shape her into who she is now. One book in particular stood out a little more from the rest. Rita still reads it to this day too. It’s another foundational element of who she is… A book that she calls, “the most incredible book,” and something she refers back to all the time… The Bible.
“It’s history. It’s advice. It’s beautiful. It’s part of my faith and I think that’s the book I read the most. I read it almost everyday.”
As she continued to read and engulf herself in her books she found her favorite genres and styles of writing. Amongst a few of her favorites includes historical novels and biographies of people.
Growing up it wasn’t always about books though. Rita was also an athlete. She took on softball and archery and excelled at both. When the reading stopped, she also had her crew of friends from school that she went outside to play with. In the early days, the original crew went down to the empty lots in Bradley Gardens where they played handball. When someone brought a bat, ball, and gloves too they played baseball. Which was a luxury. Her friend, Florence Follo, recalls some of the memories playing in the lot right across the street from where she now lives:
“The whole gang of us from school used to meet there everyday and play ball and then after that we went off to church together.”
The bond formed between this group during those times can’t be underestimated. When you’re growing up with your best friends, those moments that you share with each other create relationships that will last a lifetime.
“I think we’re like sisters… we share each other’s sorrow, each others joy… she was someone I looked up to… she’s always been a doer and a go getter.”
and The War
Time went on, and those relationships she forged continued throughout her days going into high school. Here, the event finally began that would not only change her life but millions around the world. It began as she was about to enter high school. An opportunity arose to be a part of a program being run at the old Clinton Airport off of highway 22, in a big field. Rita was ready for the opportunity and decided to join.
When you’re a kid growing up, you aren’t always aware of what is going on. For Rita and her friends, they were forced to. Everyone was forced to play a role in this war. So she decided to join a program called The Civil Air Patrol wanting to do her part in the war effort.
For the people back home in the states though it was about the little things. They obviously couldn’t fight but they could find other ways to help their troops fight. What could they do to help the troops who were sacrificing their lives? So, she and her friends also walked around picking up scrap metal. This role was taken on by mainly the kids whose job was to find metal for the construction of vital things including boats, and other vehicles.
“I went around with my girlfriend Carol with a wagon and we collected Scrap metal all around town and we turned it in. We didn’t get paid for it.”
Growing up through the great depression, she already knew that she was going to have to make some sacrifices. This new conflict, that ultimately took 10,372 New Jerseyans away from their homes forever, affected virtually everyone in the world. No one was free from this life changing event in our history.
For the farming community in and around Bradley Gardens, New Jersey, it was no different. The war preparations came to America in full force. Ready or not, it was time for everyone to make some sacrifices. Whether you were fighting or not, every man and woman had to help with the war effort. There were no exceptions.
America was always the place with a vast and seemingly unlimited supply of goods and resources. The people who weren’t in active duty or on the battle grounds were not going to have all of the privileges that they once had. Rations were about to be implemented.
Rations were also implemented to help America’s allies. The United States continued to trade with their Allies through the “lend lease” program throughout the war. Their main allies through the war were Great Britain, led by Winston Churchill; and The Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin.
Gas stamps, butter, and meat are all examples of rationed goods. There wasn’t an unlimited supply any more. These rations were implemented, so America could feed the men and women serving their country.
“We had ration tickets. We only could have so much sugar, butter, and meat a month.”
The experiences of Rita and her family, during this time, exemplify the reality of the war effort not only on the front lines but back home. Also, Rita’s father had to report how much gas he was going to need for the week and they were only able to use that gas. As the war continued, her father found some tricks to save on mileage. Being about 2 miles from the Raritan Train Station, he made the decision to get a little exercise some days.
“There were times when he decided to walk to the train station instead of drive, because he wanted to be able to take his family on trips.”
As the war went on, life didn’t stop for the people in New Jersey. It wasn’t any different for Rita’s father. He worked long, hard days and had to make the time to spend with his kids. Although it was tough, and not in the best interest for his body and mind, it was in the best interest for him and his family.
Many examples of the sacrifices people had to make through the war are documented. But some of the ones back in the states, with parents trying to raise their young kids, aren’t documented as much.
One of those sacrifices was made apparent after her father returned home from a long day of work. Knowing that his work days were grueling, she was aware that her father was tired. But he still jumped into the snowball fight that they were having to hang out with his kids.
“My father decided to play with us for a little bit. It was just moments like that that stand out to me and reminds me that my father truly cared. He was a hard working man that sacrificed a lot to put food on the table for us.”
As the war continued, she realized that when everyone works together, good things happen. It didn’t matter that her and the people in her community didn’t have much money. She didn’t get paid for picking up scrap metal. They just did it because they knew it would help.
“I mean that’s how it was. You just did without. It was an all out war. Everybody was fighting the war. Everybody was helping.”
It’s evident how much that time period means to Rita- from her pictures during the war and her years of flying, to the collection of military patches she shows off. These patches are priceless to her- her sentiment exemplified by the way she holds them delicately in her hands upon taking them out to show people.
In 1947, she graduated high school, leaving behind many memories and life lessons. She graduated shortly after the ending of the war.
Memories that have not left include her time flying at the Clinton Airport during World War 2. She went all in with this decision to join the Civil Air Patrol and fully immersed herself in her duties. From studying the maps and learning morse code.
At that time in our country’s history, we were preparing for something. Something that never came to America after Pearl Harbor, but something we were certainly ready for. It was a miraculous time when everyone banded together to fight for our country.
Just like how some people hold onto a moment in history, to continue to learn from it, Rita held onto something as well. She decided she needed to get back into the air. And at the age of 59, on TWA, Continental Airlines, she flew again as a passenger.
This war that took over 452,000 American lives over the course of 6 years, altering families across the globe, until it’s ending on September 2nd, 1945. It was a war that had an emotional impact on all whom was involved.
When the war was over… it’s something Rita remembers vividly.
Although the years that Rita, her family, and her community endured the war were long, a day finally came which signified change. It all began when the bells started to ring.
When the bells rang in Somerville, New Jersey, questions began erupting this small town. ‘Why was every single church bell ringing? Why were some of the people crying, some jumping for joy, and some just staring blankly, not knowing how to react?’
“And the bells were ringing and it was a wonderful thing. It was really… it was just great.”
If you were walking through the streets of Somerville on this historic day, you may have seen people start to the fill the streets as the bells kept ringing and the news started to spread to each individual like a virus or impromptu rally breaking out. When they found out what had happened, some began to cry uncontrollably, some lost themselves in what was happening, not knowing what to do, and others were just hugging anyone they could find, smiling from ear to ear, as they looked above to express their gratitude.
Rita turned to her High School friend, Carolyn, and said,
“We have got to go to church. We have got to thank God that the war is over.”
The world was not at war anymore. The world gave a sigh of relief that day. For the town of Somerville that Rita was walking through in that moment, her breath was part of that sigh of relief on that day of September 2nd, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered.
Rita and her friend’s lives were forever changed by that one moment. A short moment, but a profound one. A moment signified by the ringing of the bells and all the people’s emotions flooding the streets. Rita and Carolyn knelt down to pray along side countless others that flowed into the church to do what they believed needed to be done in that moment.
A tragic time in our world’s history was over.
In that moment, they can recall the sacrifices that they made. The sacrifices they made during this time that took so many people’s lives. A number that’s scarcely brought up because of its weight in the minds of those who went through it.
All of the training that Rita did while flying for the Civil Air Patrol, if the war ever came to America, would not be needed anymore. It wouldn’t be used for this war. It was over. She would take those lessons she learned with her through the rest of her life though.
One thing was for certain. “The boys were coming home.”
Imagine what that moment would have been like to arrive back home after you just spent years fighting for your country? For some, they didn’t even get the chance to experience the field of battle since the war ended before they could ship out. Shipped out to fight or not, they were ready. From General George Marshall’s leadership he was able to create an efficient system of recruiting and training to build a strong powerful army.
Imagine the reactions of the family members that were able to embrace their loved ones and see them in their dress blues once they laid their eyes upon them.
Of course, underneath these uniforms was a different story for the ones who fought. The uniform was only a shield, blocking the years of turmoil and anxiety that only their brothers in arms could relate to. Now, being back home, they began a new chapter in their lives.
One of those uniforms was worn by John Jordan, Rita’s husband, who received the Bronze Star for his efforts in the Pacific.
For all of the people who lent the war their time, energy, and goods, it was now time to move on to something new. For the Business’ in town it was time to transition back to normal. For the restaurants, it was back to feeding their community. For the lumber yards, it was back to building homes and helping with community projects. For the scrap yards, it was back to helping mechanics fix the cars in their community and assist in any other way that they could.
Everyone who lived through the war still carries a piece of that period with them. Whether that’s physically or emotionally. For Rita, it was her memories with her patrol and her love of flying.
Every morning after she does her workout and has her breakfast, she plays her game called Airplanes. Throughout the day she checks back on it, if she has the time. Maybe after a session in the garden, she’ll come back to check it because it’s an important part of who she is. This game allows her to feel like she’s back in the cockpit, as she once was during that crucial time in her life and the country’s.
It’s a time in our history that Hollywood has dramatized to the point where many things have been left behind in the true story. Rita not only lived through it, but experienced it at almost every angle from the view in her hometown in New Jersey.
The war never did come to America. However, the preparations and experience learned during that time surely shaped a person that would be able to withstand the battles soon to come into her life.
Starting A Family
It was time for the next chapter in Rita’s life and it began shortly after the war concluded. It had the men who came back trying to transition back into normal civilian life. A tall task for most of these soldiers as the experiences they had could scarcely compare to anything they would face back home.
So the veil of mystery was draped over America. How would we recover from this war? For John Jordan, it simply meant finding the girl that he would spend the rest of his life with.
“He just wanted to get home, start a family, and build a home for his family.”
A family that had not yet been created. But one that they could see. One that her and her soon-to-be-husband wanted greatly.
When they got married on Christmas Day of 1948, that desire never wavered. Shortly thereafter, their family began in 1950 with the birth of John Frederick. After that came Judy Lynn in 1952, and lastly, in 1954, arrived Rita’s third child, Jimmy John.
Taking some of the lessons she learned from her father, including learning how to make sacrifices, she and her husband John, saved some change for one of the most memorable vacations she can recall with her small growing family.
“I also can remember a time when we went to Niagara falls and using some Canadian money that my husband got. It was one of the cheapest but best vacations, I think, a family can have. It was really special. I had bought a video camera because I loved taking videos, and we made a little movie out of it. We showed how the kids were packing up their suitcases and we made it a little dramatic.”
It’s those little moments that you go out of your way for the people that you love. The moments that just need your love and attention. The moments that aren’t about the money but the people. The conversations that erupt. Rita and John learned that it doesn’t take much to create a special memory that express’ your undying love.
The Bradley Gardens Church
It’s Sunday around 10am and the service, led by Pastor Susan, is about to start. When you walk into the church you probably won’t see her but you’ll hear the sounds of the organ flowing through the church. This is the day where Rita lends her time and talents of playing the organ to her small community church in Bradley Gardens.
She wasn’t always in that chair controlling that organ of course though. One day she would get an opportunity that would change things for her role in the small church in Bradley Gardens. That opportunity… to be the new organist.
“So I got involved more in the church, you know, I went every Sunday. Of course your faith grows as you learn, you listen, you read the Bible… So that’s how I got started.”
After she came into the church for the first time, she wanted to get involved. She saw her opportunity when the organist was leaving. She sprung herself into the role after being asked to become the organist. She also became the Sunday School superintendent and held that position for 50 years.
Going back to when she first started at the church, she recalls the organist she replaced as being a really good player. Also that it was sad seeing this person go. But when one person leaves a position, it creates an opportunity for someone else to do something in their life. That new person was Rita.
It was a new age in the Bradley Gardens Church. It was Rita’s turn to add to the wonderful effect music has on the church’s ability to share its message.
50 years later, her dedication to the church still continues. This church, that her parents helped start, has been vital to her development. She’s still going strong with a powerful voice in that small community of people.
“It’s like a little family. It’s not big but we all love each other. We look out for each other you know, and that’s Aunt Rita in a nutshell.” – Joy Dorman
Recently, some changes have been made in the church which impacted Rita directly. This change had been in the works for a few months preceding the announcement, and one that Rita wasn’t supposed to be involved in. Pastor Susan had no choice since she wanted her organ player to have something she wanted. It was…
A new organ! The organ was underfunded, so Rita, who was celebrating her 90th birthday, requested that if people wanted to give her a gift, that they donate to the organ fund. Her friends were very generous and the organ topped out. This wonderful instrument allowed her to bring a new quality to her music.
“It was worth every penny.”
It wasn’t like Rita was born with the talent to play the piano either. If their neighbor hadn’t decided to get rid of their piano when Rita was in elementary school, The Community Church of Bradley Gardens may have found a replacement for the original organist, but they would not have had Rita.
She started playing piano at the age of 7 and is now going on 50 years in The Community Church of Bradley Gardens. There’s so many people to thank for Rita’s talent of playing the piano and organ.
When you’re first starting something you’re going to need a little help and guidance. There’s something to be said about doing things on your own and being independent, but when opportunity knocks on your doorstep, what will you say?
“I didn’t have a piano but somebody next door wanted to get rid of their piano and asked if we would like to have it. I always liked music so my parents said, “yes.”
They received a Hamilton piano from this deal. Without that old Hamilton, Rita may not be sitting behind the organ at the Bradley Gardens Church.
She just was around so many people who made a great influence on her life. All the way from people teaching her how to master the piano and school teachers fueling her love for reading. That influence allowed her to commit herself to playing the piano in whatever way she could. All of that support and influence also inspired her to become a teacher one day. The opportunity came much later in her life but nonetheless one of her first students was Joy Dorman, who grew up in the church and went through the local school system.
She’s taught many people the art of the piano. One of those people, who was born into the church and grew up looking up to Aunt Rita, was Joy Dorman.
There’s many experiences she can recall with Rita, but some of her fondest are when she was taught how to play the piano by her.
“It was.. it was awesome. She has a way. She taught me how to do the scales. Just the way that she is, I try to emulate.”
It didn’t stop at just the piano though. The piano in many ways was an opportunity to talk about more things.
“She taught me a lot of things about a value system, about being a good person and being a good Christian.”
Various people have brought her to the point of being ready for the opportunity to teach others this beautiful art. Two people in particular stand out. One person is her first teacher, Mrs. Scholfield. She found her through the Raritan School System which was offering free lessons.
“I had to walk over to Thompson Street to Mrs. Scholfield’s house. Her daughter was an Opera Singer. She was supposed to give the lessons but it ended up at Mrs. Scholfield, who was the organist at St. Bernards Church.”
It’s where it began. With her, Rita was able to learn the basics of playing the piano.
“I loved it. I practiced and practiced it, and pretty soon, I got pretty good.”
When she started increasing her skill level, she needed to transition to a teacher that could instruct her at the level she had skyrocketed to. So she left her current teacher after soaking up everything she could offer.
Soon after that she got word from a man selling vacuum cleaners door to door that his wife taught piano and may be the right person she was looking for. Rita jumped at it and sought out the tough nosed Mrs. Griscom. She only worked with select students that could prove to her, through auditioning, that they had what it takes to be her student.
So a new challenge emerged as she wasn’t going to be able to walk in and have a spot. She was going to have to earn it. Rita was going to stop at nothing to become her student. She was hungry to be the best piano player possible and this was her opportunity. She wasn’t about to lose it.
In the end, after her audition, the conclusion was made.
“She told me, “You play pretty well.” So I got in.”
Absorbing the lesson of having to earn her place, she continues to work hard at it. She was prepared for that moment with Mrs. Griscom from her hours and hours of playing. Her talent comes from her ability to continuously work hard at it. She’ll always describe herself as an “average piano player,” which allows her to continue to work hard at perfecting her beautiful craft that is showcased to the ones that walk through her church on Sunday.
Being In A Band
From taking lessons, to playing regularly at her church, a few opportunities arose to showcase her talent when she was younger. People started to take notice of her ability. One of those people was from a band that knew she would provide a great addition. One of those opportunities was to perform with a band whose goal was to tour the country. But first, they had to finagle their way into the music scene of New Jersey. They asked Rita to be their piano player.
So, she joined the band playing the keyboard. Ending up only playing a few gigs with them, it was a good experience that she looks back on with a smile and laughs a little bit when she says,
“Show Biz is not for me.”
For Rita, as she overlooks her community, sometimes known as the Raritan River Valley, she is able to see the tremendous change in this area. She’s seen her childhood hometown change from a sprawling farm community of open pastures, to just a handful of what used to be there. Now, there’s only a hint of that since the area transitioned from farmland to one of the best areas for real estate. This area helped give New Jersey its nickname, “The Garden State.”
The changes have pushed many people out. However, it has brought people and new cultures right back in. Many people have decided to embrace the change and stick with their community. For Rita, it’s her home and she’s not leaving.
“My memories are all here.”
There’s people that look up to her and seek her advice when they need help. For example, when you need something, if you are involved in the community, people will be there to help you with whatever issues arise. During a rough time in her life when the power went out in her home, she knew who she could turn to for help.
“She’s like, take this, use this, and go get your well pump. I’m going to help you out a little bit, and she asked for nothing in return. It’s a family.” – Joy Dorman
It’s the place she grew up and fell in love with. She decided to stay and be a part of a growing and continually evolving community. It’s part of who she is. She’s going to jump at the call for anyone in need in her community.
“She just steps up to the plate.” – Joy Dorman
With that being said, she likes traveling the country and visiting other areas rich in history like the one she grew up in. Some of her most memorable and favorite destinations are the Bailey Island in Maine, the Colorado National Parks, and Hamburg, Germany. She went to Hamburg in the 1980’s to see some of her relatives who still live there.
She has each of the memories of these trips to these unknown number of trips planted firmly on her refrigerator with a picture of it and a magnetic strip on the back of it. They’re little reminders of her adventurous spirit and all that this world has to offer. Seeing the refrigerator is like a living, breathing time capsule that doesn’t just store and keep food and drinks fresh, but keeps the memories attached to it fresh and alive too.
As an archivist at The Van Veghten House, home of the Somerset County Historical Society (SCHS), she’s able to assist people in discovering their history. She’s been there for 23 years after deciding to join upon starting her book. That decision to join might have been the biggest reason she was able to finish her book. That’s where she discovered essential research materials to add to her books. With the help of Dorothy Stratford, a past president of the SCHS who drove her big truck in every week, was able to assist her in compiling all of her information and get some help with the editing of her book.
She finds great joy in being able to bring others to discovering their family’s history. Rita is just someone who wants to do what she wants to do. Being involved in the community is one of those things she wants to do. Along with digging up people’s family history she also helps people discover where they should be in the community. It’s the individuals that move to the area that find her and ask for guidance.
“I look up to her because one of the things I always remember when I was debating whether or not to join the church. I’m saved now. It’s an old community really, you know people that are always stuck together and help each other.” -Patricia Moyer
Recognizing the importance of assisting people unfold their past too, she wastes little time when arriving at the Van Veghten House to do her research. She jumps right into her work as an archivist.
An archivist sorts and organizes old papers and collections so that people can find them easily. When the collection is organized, it is entered into the computer. It’s interesting, tedious, and important work for preserving history.
Becoming A Teacher
“This was it, this was my field, I found myself.” Rita said recalling back when she discovered her career path.
Part of finding her desire to become a teacher came from the great teachers she once learned from. The guidance that they gave her was insurmountable in bringing her to this decision.
“I wanted to become a teacher. I always wanted to become a teacher.”
It would take a longer than expected to become a teacher, as circumstances would stop her for many years until the opportunity finally presented itself.
The Wait Is Over:
Back when Rita was growing up, it was a different time. Although Rita was the oldest, boys got the first priority to go to college in many households. Regardless of Rita being four years older than her brother, she couldn’t do much about it when it came to the finances because student loans were nonexistent until 1958.
“I was a girl, that’s how it was in those days. I loved him, but he was a boy and my father was saving money that someday his boy was going to go to college.”
There was still a chance that she could go to college. Although her brother would go first. Her father was a meticulous saver and may have enough money to send her too.
“What clinched it, finally, was that my mother got sick. She had a real severe gall bladder problem. He paid for my mothers hospital stay. I realized that my father was having a hard time and there was no way I was going to get to college.”
For the time being, that dream was put on hold.
Not going to college upon graduating from Somerville High School in 1948 was hard on Rita. She waited a long time for her shot at an education.
The years passed, and the thought of school began to slip away as her mind was concentrated on raising her 3 kids and her relationship with her husband. Finally, the drive to learn was sparked again in her late forties, thanks to her colleagues pushing her to look into the possibilities at hand. Rita was working as a library clerk in the local school during this time.
The opportunity to go finally came in 1978 shortly after her husband passed. After a little guidance and push from friends, she revived this dream which was dormant for over 30 years.
She had to break through some walls though. She received negative comments from a counselor that discouraged her off of her path.
“He said, “you’ll never make it.” It was a blow. I mean this man is an educator. He’d been in the service and he told me I wasn’t going to make it.”
When people doubted Rita, she took it personally. When the counselor doubted her abilities to fulfill her dream, she took that moment as fuel and went after it with as much energy as she could.
“I was going to make it and I did. When I decide I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.”
She made the leap and 3 years later she was able to walk across the stage as a college graduate…
Many dreams have occupied the mind of this woman. One of her first dreams was to go to college. When it didn’t happen after high school, she refused to give up on it. It didn’t come to fruition until she graduated from Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey or TCNJ) in the year of 1981 at the age of 50 years old. That moment when she finally walked across the stage was something magical.
“Ohhhh that was marvelous. I mean I wanted it all. I worked so hard for it! My husband died in that period of time and going to school was the saving of me, because I was forced to be active all of the time. I went to school and I earned every bit of that.”
That day, she can recall like it was yesterday. From getting her cap and gown, to finally receiving her diploma for her K-8 Teaching Degree and Associate’s Degree in Library Education, it was well worth the wait. Her patience finally manifested into what she hoped and dreamed for over 30 years.
Because she went in with a game plan of becoming a teacher, she made the most of her time in school, and embraced each moment. With her original plan of becoming a teacher, she used the degree that the educational system in Branchburg required, to become the Librarian of the Branchburg Central School.
Rita had been waiting for this moment for far too long. She was given the job after first volunteering, and then making a bold move to give the principal an ultimatum to either hire her or watch her walk away.
She got the job. Looking back on her long career, she remembers her colleagues at the library who pushed her to get her degree. This is where she taught until the year of 1994 until finally retiring.
Looking back on her time doing what she always wanted to do, she remembers a class trip to Washington, D.C. where she decided to make a visit to an old friend. That visit was to the grave of the counselor that doubted her.
“The school principal was buried there because he had been in the service and because he was local. They all went over to his grave and of course I went with them. They showed us his grave and they all left. I sat there by the grave and I said, “Well… I made it.”
Ready to Retire
29 years of service later, as the Librarian in The Branchburg School District, she left with a bang. Having left teaching in 1994 after a 29 year career, she had a retirement party with her friends, family, and colleagues.
One of her students, from 1976-79, recalls his time with Rita as his teacher, who was also close friends with his grandmother.
Charles Versfelt, who’s grandmother knew Rita well, was one of the many people that was impacted by “Mrs. Jordan’s” love of education.
“She was my librarian and organist. I remember there was a display case, and she was always changing it around. I had my comics in it one year. She led the charge.”
All in all, at the core of who Rita is, is her ability and desire to teach. It started in her church when she became the organist, and then moved on to some leadership positions, including the Director of the Sunday School and Treasurer of the Church School.
She’s a decision maker, and if someone else isn’t going to do it, she will take the reins and make it happen.
“She’s not afraid to try something. Even if it kind of goes against what some people say should be done. She’s not afraid to say something. She’s a strong leader.” – Patricia Meyer
While a retirement party is supposed to celebrate the end of something, for Rita, it was a time to recognize those that she grew incredibly strong relationships with.
Never truly throwing away her teachers hat, Rita received a call one day from someone she watched grow up from the day she was born. It was Joy.
Joy Dorman had an opportunity for Rita to spread her wealth of knowledge to students at the school’s career fair. It was a speaking gig at the Bridgewater School District. Without a second thought, she said, ‘I want to do it.’
“She came into my school, she read to all the kids, she talked about what it was like to be a librarian, and do all of these types of things, and they loved it. It just goes back to whatever you needed, she tried her best to help you in any way she could.” – Joy Dorman
With 90 years of life under her belt, people in the community tend to go to Rita when they have questions. They look up to her. As a leader in the community she wants to do whatever she can to help those in it.
“Growing up at different times she was older than me and I did look up to her.” – Florence
Writing Her Books
The year was 1994…
Following her retirement, it was time for Rita to embark on a new venture. A venture that had been stirring inside her for decades.
There was something Rita had been thinking about doing for over 50 years. Just like the desire to become a teacher was burning in her heart, her ambition of writing her book was equally as hot. It just hadn’t happened yet. She never found the time for it. But eventually the time came and Rita was ready to write her book.
Over the years, in unplanned preparation for writing the book, she got pieces of advice from the words of a couple of her mentor’s books. The first and most impactful was from the pages of a novel by Louisa May Alcott called Little Women, that she read when she was a girl. From afar she admired her creative story that helped propel the writing of her books many years after reading it.
“I identified with Jo in the book. During the Civil War, she wanted to write. She wrote wild stories and then she showed it to her Professor Bayer. He said your capable of writing but this isn’t realistic. He says you don’t know anything about these things, it’s just fluff, you need to write about what you know…
….I took that to heart.”
Then, in 1999 she finished her first book “The Story of William Bradley and The Beginnings of Bradley Gardens.” Nearly ten years later, in 2008 she completed her second book, “The Old York Road.”
This new path of authorship was far from easy. It was a path that took her emotions in every direction possible. It consumed her. She was going to stop at nothing to get the story done. The story of her home. The story of Bradley Gardens and the man who played the biggest role in building it: William Bradley.
When she started, thanks to her mentors, she had a game plan. After making this plan she went into the project with the right mindset.
The second mentor, James Michener, traveled the world and is known for the book, “Hawaii.” In one of his pieces talking about writing he said, “If you want to write, you should write almost everyday or have it in your mind everyday. You don’t let go.”
At the time when Rita started writing the book, she was still working. She soon realized she had to set one day aside for her research and writing.
“So I did that. I started making progress and I made a timeline because I sat down to write and I said I know Bradley Gardens and then I typed, “William Bradley was…”
She paused… Well that was the problem… who was William Bradley? She knew Bradley Gardens but she didn’t know the story behind the man himself.
So the research began. She would take a trip into the city with her daughter, where she spent the day filing through the New York Public Libraries’ information in search of who the infamous William Bradley was.
“I knew nothing about William Bradley. And I couldn’t ever find anything about him.”
She started in Morristown at the Mormons Biographical Area but did not find anything. She then decided to go to New York City to discover who this man was and found her answer.
“I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to go to newspapers and then I went to the New York Times Index.”
In the mess of The City, entangled in the traffic that is spewing across almost every corner, a new person name Rita Jordan emerges to add to the entanglement.
While writing her book, Rita fought her way through the craziness. From the traffic to the large amounts of people flowing into the New York Public Library everyday. This was all to find information about the person who founded her beloved community.
“I looked him up in the index. Sure enough he made the news quite a bit and I found articles about him and I started putting it on the timeline.”
Her dream finally had some momentum. With the momentum, she started writing according to her game plan of doing research once a week. A goal that was realistic at that period of writing her book.
On her breaks from doing research, she went out to Bryant Park, and embraced the journey she was on. She relished the city that she was originally from, and the city that the founder of her beloved town was from too.
Even though it was tough to find a computer to use, and a table to sit at to do research, The New York Public Library turned out to be just the place Rita needed. Here, she solidified the information she needed to manifest her dream of writing a book about her community.
Returning to her birth city to collect this information was powerful. On every corner and on every floor of the towering buildings that became sometimes referred to as “The Concrete Jungle,” her dreams were becoming realized. Just like when the first skyscraper over 11 stories was built in 1889, her discovery of who William Bradley was was going to be a major event for her town of Bradley Gardens.
Many stories have been written about New York City but the story about her city of Bradley Gardens had to be written too. She was motivated more than ever before to complete it, no matter how long it took.
Accepting that she needed some help on this journey she recruited her daughter. Judy took her into the city, helped her do some research and with the editing of the book. Although it wasn’t a quick process by any means, she stuck with her mother during this journey.
Everything was going smoothly until in the middle of 1998, a problem arose…
“Finally in 1998 I kind of reached a plateau, a Writer’s Plateau. I don’t know whether I didn’t want to finish the book, because I loved it. I put so much of myself into the book yet, I was keeping myself out of it.”
Rita had a period where she didn’t produce anything for a year. Whatever it was, Rita was at risk of not fulfilling her dream. When talking about that period, she came down to a slight whisper as if it was a top secret mission… that if the mission was a failure, bad things were to happen.
It’s something all writers fear like the plague. In the beginning of any new venture the excitement is fresh and at its peak. After awhile, that excitement can become exhausted. The ‘new job’ of any writer is to rediscover the passion and love for the project. They need to find it and then, with the same enthusiasm that they had when they started, start again.
Referring back to one of her mentors, she remembers James Michener saying,
“Try to write a paragraph every day.”
A smaller task to do rather than focus on completing an entire book. Soon it started to happen again. She started to write and got closer and closer to finishing her book. Through perseverance and putting the pen to the paper, per say, she got through that time and revived her passion for the project. The thought of the book just couldn’t escape her and in the middle of 1999 her dream finally came to fruition. After going back and forth with her publishers at The Raritan Valley Press, it was done.
The Story of William Bradley and the Beginnings of Bradley Gardens was completed.
Why Write The Book?
Looking back at what she did to complete her first book, The Story of William Bradley and the Beginnings of Bradley Gardens, that ultimately took 5 years to complete, she went above and beyond to figure out what her community was truly about. Growing up in the town, it added a little bit of extra passion fuel to the fire to work on her book and persevere through the long period of time writing the book.
Of all the things you could write about in this world, why Bradley Gardens and why The Old York Road?
“I think it’s her world. I think it’s been a support system for her when she was in need. I think she really felt tied to it, ummm, and I think her husband actually helping her build the church made her feel more involved.” – Joy Dorman
She just stayed in her community and did everything possible to get involved where she grew up in.
“Taking on the skills of doing the organist and Sunday School director, she finds her strength in there. She shares her witness, you know, she shares her struggles with everybody so they can see you lived 90 years and you lived through all of this. You’re our go-to person; you gain a lot of knowledge with the years she had, and people look up to her, especially the younger ones like myself.” – Joy Dorman
The town, that was started by a poor Irishmen from New York City who had a love of horses, decided to move to The Raritan Valley with it’s vast, open landscape. Now the story was complete and the people living in the town had something to reference when trying to figure out their small town. The small town that The McMahon Brothers also played an integral part in its development by purchasing 502 acres in the 1870’s, that ultimately became what today’s Bradley Gardens is. Just like Rita went above and beyond for her dream, William Bradley and the McMahon Brothers went above and beyond for theirs. They helped create this small town and many years later inspired Rita’s writing of the story.
When her friends found out that she was an author, they were super excited to get their hands on her work.
“Oh, you know I got my autographed copy.” – Florence
Not stopping with her books, she continues to write for the Branchburg Newspaper. Here, she’s able to put in the wealth of knowledge she’s acquired during her years of experience. She also dedicates herself to the historic Monday Evening Club.
The countless times she’s walked up and down these streets, the people she’s met, the relationships she’s built… It’s no wonder she hasn’t moved. She loves it here. This area is Rita’s home.
Building A Home
and A Family
On a cold Christmas day, with the snow piled up on the sidewalks, in the back of a supermarket, across the street from The Somerset Hotel, another chapter began. Rita married a soldier. Mr. John Jordan and Rita Kahl started their life together.
This supermarket, now an office building complex holding many businesses’, holds a memory that has since been forgotten by the people who now occupy that spot of land.
It’s moments like these that are left to the breeze of old towns that deserve to be remembered. Although the supermarket is gone, the breeze from that day has not left from that plot of land.
Wasting little time, the Jordan’s soon purchased a plot of land for 750 dollars.
A plot of land that they bought to start building their future. The home where they would start their family in. But it wasn’t going to happen soon enough. With little money, they had to continue to work and build the house in stages over the next few years.
The first stage-the garage-ultimately took them a year, and was where they ended up living in until the completion of the home another two years later.
The decision to build the garage, and then move into it might have come a little too easy for the young couple. Knowing what John had been through during the war, ultimately receiving the Bronze Star, they knew that they could make this sacrifice.
When they had their first kid, another chapter began that was sure to bring a mix of emotions. One that included struggle, happiness, sadness, love and more.
After completing the home in 1951, and having John Frederick, they were ready to move into the home that was just outside of her hometown of Bradley Gardens in Branchburg.
She ultimately had three kids. Two of which were born with serious medical problems. Going frequently to the hospital for surgeries and other things, it was a chaotic and trying time in her life.
With the support of her husband that passed away in 1978, they made ends meet and survived that first chapter creating their home and creating their family.
Under Cooked Chicken
What Could Have Been Said
When They Were building Their Home
Note- R= Rita and J= John
You can almost feel those long, tiresome days during the construction of the home when you step foot on the property.
Imagine, the conversations that her and her husband might have had when when walking up the concrete, red brick lined, front steps attached to the aged and strong foundation, when all they had done was the foundation of the home.
One of those days came when Rita was cooking some chicken for her husband while they found some time to do some work on the home.
The chicken… well, that’s where this story begins.
R- So how’s the chicken, honey?
Rita asks in excitement, hoping her husband is enjoying it.
J- Ehhh I think it’s a little under done to tell you the truth.
R- I get it, I get it. I still haven’t mastered that pit with the flimsy grate we just put together.
She looked away for a few moments pondering over her under cooked chicken…
J- Sorry honey.. it’s not the chicken, it’s really this house that’s troubling my mind.
Having been through 4 long years in the Pacific and only been back for 6 years, the images from his experience during his time in the service are still fresh in his mind.
Having first hand experience of his brothers in arms die right in front of him, he knows what it’s like to have something taken from you at the blink of an eye.
John made it back home but some of his brothers didn’t. Turning around to look at the empty foundation he suddenly begins to cry.
R- Honey, what is it?
J- I’m scared.
In a completely different state of mind when she hears her husband say this she responds,
R- What do you mean? Scared of what? How could you be scared when it’s a gorgeous day? In a few months were going to be sitting down drinking an ice cold beer in the backyard looking at what we created.
Overcoming his sudden burst of tears and quickly rubbing his eyes, he responds,
J- That’s the thing…
With a slight sign of frustration his wife quickly replies
R- What’s the thing, John?
J-… What we created? I mean… It’s Just…
Finally, realizing why her husband was in this state of mind she sets the chicken down, turns to her husband, and grabs his face in a swift motion that makes his eyes open wide. In complete attention and anticipation for his wife’s intentions behind this aggressive but delicate act, he waits.
R- John, you listen to me clearly and you listen to me right now.
R- I love you. You know that right?
R- I know you can’t see it now but I want you to imagine all of the people who are going to walk up these steps, and our children who might fall down them a few times even.
Breaking slightly out of his stupor he laughs and replies,
J- Goodness! How many imaginary bandages are we going to have to kiss on their knees and elbows?
Both of them now breaking into a drawn out laugh for a few minutes, she realizes she almost has him back after they both recover themselves.
R- Now John, over the coming weeks we’re going to have to work our asses off if we want to see this.
R- And you’re the hardest working man I know.
R- I mean…
Gritting her teeth and giving him a serious but playful look she continues,
R- Maybe besides my father…
J- Hey now! You’re supposed to be on my team now.
Stopping and thinking for a moment he continues…
J- But I agree… your father is one hell of a man.
Giving her husband a smirk, and looking back into his eyes, she asks,
R- Now, what do you say? Are you ready to finish this damn thing?
Pausing for a short instance, he then looks down to grab his young, energetic, and beautiful wife’s hand. He gives it an extremely firm grip that makes the young woman jump a little. Staying in the moment their eyes both meet as John replies,
J- Let’s do this. Let’s do it for us and our kids.
Now with his mind clear of his negative thoughts, he takes another bite of the chicken and with his mouth full he says,
J- You know what? Trying to get the mouthful of food down, I think the fellas down the street might even like this chicken.
R- Stop it!
She said smiling as she then caught her husband’s side glance smirk, and pushes his shoulder with love.
They both embrace each other with a grip that only true lovers know. The woman’s husband suddenly decides to take a risk in that moment of love and goes in for another bite of the under cooked chicken.
J- You know, I could actually get used to this under cooked food life.
He said as he began to laugh prompting a hard shove from his wife.
J- Now, let’s get to work, baby.
R- Honey, the contractors don’t arrive for another hour with the first pallets of wood.
R- I mean, unless you want to go back to preparing our garden?
She said with an intense amount of enthusiasm.
R- It’s going to be wonderful, John.
J- “I know. I can’t wait to start bringing up crops back here and making our own food. But you know what?
J- How about we just stay here and continue to imagine applying those band aids to our little ones?
Looking intently, with her stern lips breaking open into a smile, she embraces her husband a little tighter, resting her head on his burly shoulder and says,
R- Sounds like a good idea to me
In that instance, with so much more to do with the house, they’re left there imagining what has not yet happened on top of the mountainous Branchburg hill. In front of their empty hole on the fresh, front steps they dream about their future family with their unbuilt home behind them.
When you pull up to the home you will notice the high arching chimney that was used to heat the garage in the long New Jersey winters.
The long, tiresome process of building her home resembles her life in New Jersey in a lot of ways. Some people don’t know the contribution she has made. But some are fortunate enough to know who Rita is, and what her journey includes. They know that she’s experienced things that they are not even sure they could have gone through.
Each person has their story, and much like the landscape in New Jersey, there’s ups and downs to each of those stories. It’s important to embrace those high moments and give everything you got because you will be more prepared to be able to get through those low ones when they arrive.
Upon completing the home after all of those years, it wasn’t time to move in just yet though. They still had to move furniture and household appliances, in order to fully transition from the garage. They knew how to wait and be patient though.
It took time to settle in and acquire necessities for the house. Having little money, it was a piece by piece process that took a lot of time and effort as they had to continue on with their lives, working tirelessly.
Despite the slow process, they got settled into their new life, and finally started to enjoy their new home. They could now relax in their backyard, which overlooked their fresh land. They also could start creating their garden and cherish a few cold beers.
Just imagine what that meant to them. They were finally able to take a step back, reflect on their last few years, and this new home that took so much time and meticulous planning to create.
Celebrating A Life
As she stood in the center of the room-after blowing out the candles on her 90th Birthday cake-she started waving with one of the biggest smiles in Somerville that day. Saturday, June 2nd, 2018, just one day after her real birthday on June 1st, a celebration of a remarkable woman was thrown. Surrounded by friends and family, it was a time she would never forget.
A smile that has crossed many people’s eyesight, since it’s a little tough to find her without one. The smile just wouldn’t fade on the day of her party. As the party of over 115 people flowed into the hall at the Somerville Elks, the night of celebration began.
A night that people came together for one person out of love. The night was magical and a special addition was when DJ Jean Marie played Rita’s favorite song, “Country Roads” by John Denver. All the memories began to flow back through her that day. From the days dancing with her husband, first learning the piano, the early days at her church as the new organist, and the many picnics she had with her family in Bradley Gardens where someone always seemed to bring an accordion.
When the DJ started to fade the music and the coffee and cake ran low, the party finally came to a close. A triumphant party may have ended but something else just began.
Now… the next chapter in Rita’s life. A chapter that is sure to enlighten the spirits of all who tag along.
Rita has long since moved on from the process of building her home, the Civil Air Patrol, and the instance at the swimming hole. She hasn’t been able to stop one thing though…
Rita’s hands and visionary mindset have been part of many projects in this community. Whether that meant she was at the helm of these projects, or simply involved in some way, shape or form, she has been doing her best to just keep moving forward.
“She heads our health area for the mission projects. We get together health kits, school kits and personal kits. She will gather up little kits and she passes them out to people and people will pack them. We send them to different places for people to use in hurricane season.” – Patricia
For Rita, she’s just made it difficult for herself to stay out of the action. She is always present and that’s just the way she wants it. She’s always doing something.
“I think if people really want to do something, all they have to do is look around. I can only speak for myself. I can find ways to spend my money and give my time.”
If somehow you end up driving past the home that Rita’s been living in for over 65 years, you may not notice it right away, if you make it up the hill that is. Pause for for a moment though, upon arriving, because you’ll get a sense of something special going on in there.
If you get there on a Saturday, you’ll be able to smell the pancakes and grits being made for breakfast. You’ll get a sense of the love that is seeping out from under the same front door, and the windows that were replaced once. These windows and doors have been blocking out the cold and trapping the heat and cool air from the countless winters and summers. If that old ranch house’s walls could talk, it would have it’s own story to tell.
If you’re confused, you may have to just make the trek up the hill. Maybe, you’ll get a chance to join the family in one of Rita’s infamous dinners or simply be invited in for a cup of coffee, tea, and some homemade desserts.
Once you’re about to leave, make sure to take another look at the two-car garage. On top of it, you may notice the chimney that let the smoke out from the wood stove long ago. This wood stove kept them warm through the 2 winters they bared building the home while staying in the garage. It also kept their infant son Johnny warm during this time.
Embracing The Ride
If you ever get the chance to come to the Bradley Gardens area, also known as The Raritan Valley, by train or drive through it with your car, just make sure to take it slow. Try to ride down it in the passenger seat if possible. If you have to convince someone to drive you for a few hours it will definitely be worth your time and money.
You’ll not only get a sense of the rich history in the area- but you’ll get a sense of the environment that played a vital role in shaping Rita into to who she is today. You’ll see the streets that Rita walked on as she made her way to school and work.
You’ll pass by the oldest active hotel in New Jersey and the country: The Somerset Hotel. If you look to the other side of the street, from The Hotel you’ll see a new business complex. Here resided the laundromat, Bendix, that Rita worked at her senior year of high school. Working here allowed her to save 5 dollars each week, from the $29 paycheck she got, for a room at her parents house.
“…I worked there for about a year. It just wasn’t much money. But out of that, every time I got payed, I saved 5 dollars, and I gave my mother some money for board. That was living at home, and there was a little bit of spending money left for me, and that was it.”
However, she was looking for more, and continued to build herself up.
You’ll also see many of the churches on your way down the historic Old York Road that Rita penned a story about. Two or three of which are on Main Street in Somerville. These are the same churches that rang their bells when the news was brought to the town that the war was finally over.
“I’ll never forget it. The First Reformed Church in Somerville, which is now the holding place for the court, was a Church and then the United Reformed Church in the middle of Somerville was also a Reformed Church. They both rang their bells and the one at the courthouse was ringing their bells.”
This was a day that will never be forgotten by the people who were on the street that day when the news that the troops were coming home was announced.
“We knew the boys were coming home and that there were some that didn’t come home.”
Many people in our nation’s history have travelled along this road. A road that used to be one of the major highways in the East Coast which took presidents and dignitaries from New York to Philadelphia. It was a prime campaign route.
If your friend or chauffeur decides to pick up the pace during your trip on this road that was bought from the Lenni Lenape Indians, remind them to slow down. If they doesn’t listen, offer to buy him dinner or something because every inch of this road has a different story that you won’t want to miss. You’ll need to spend as much time as possible on it. Every person walking on it has a something interesting to say.
Think about them. Think about all the tears that fell on the historic roads of these towns, the Naraticong Indians who frequented this trail before selling it to the dutch settlers, the many journeys along this road that took presidents and citizens between the two great cities of New York and Philadelphia, the numerous churches that started to fill with people as they praised God for the ending of the second World War, and the people embracing each other in the streets… so much pain and so much loss finally coming to an end. History is made everyday, and although there is much sadness that arises throughout our lives, there is always some good happening.
Think about the parades that have been celebrated- such as the infamous John Basilone Parade that comes through Raritan every summer to honor one of the heroes of the area- and the recent championships won by the local high schools in Somerville, Bridgewater and Raritan.
We have all seen the infamous picture of the Navy soldier taking a woman in his arms and kissing her. It’s a picture that exemplifies the emotions in the air during that time. You can feel the passion that was in that moment when arriving back home.
From other pictures of that day, you can see the chaos of a triumphant celebration in New York. The streets that were flooded with people. Unlike a normal day in the city, strangers didn’t just walk by. They didn’t just exist while heading to their jobs in the still growing metropolis- they embraced anyone they could find.
“There were no strangers in New York yesterday,” Alexander Feinberg wrote in The Times, reporting on the celebration of Japan’s surrender.
“I heard the radio when the president officially announced they surrendered. We knew the boys were coming home.”
What a day in the city that defined who America was-its ever changing cultures and resilient nature, present ever since the island was taken back from the British in its first century growing. Imagine the people embracing the troops who were able to come home and see their country again. Imagine those people pulling into the New York Harbor and seeing Lady Liberty untouched and standing strong.
Keeping It All Going
First, her family. Rita’s family is the forefront of who she is and without them… well, that’s another story to tell. In short, the people in her community are her family too, and her family is who she fights for.
There’s another critical element to getting through each day. The second piece is… when is the next episode of CSI on? Well, maybe that isn’t the most critical part of who she is, but it’s a small piece that gives Rita joy and lets her conclude each day.
Usually, concluding the night close to midnight, and waking up around 6 o’clock in the morning, there’s an element of balance to all that she’s trying to accomplish. Without that balance and those everyday activities -such as doing a quick workout upon waking, having a good breakfast, and reading something daily, she wouldn’t have the energy to get through each day and complete all of her goals.
Her Garden and
a Couple of Beers
At a time when the price of a pint of beer was 65 cents, two individuals in Branchburg, New Jersey, had a small, simple, and extraordinary celebration. When John and Rita celebrated the completion of their home, it was a moment that caused the grounds of the nearby Round Valley mountains to tremble.
As they lifted their bottles of Budweiser and clanked them together, a stamp of victory was put on this plot of land. One that was bought for $750 in 1948.
Rita has had to face many choices throughout her lifetime. Without some of those decisions, she would not be where she is today. She wouldn’t have this home if she hadn’t decided to be at the diner that day to be in a place for her soon to be husband to talk to her. It’s a time that has you reflecting on what is most important to you.
It’s the simple things that matter. After a long day of work with her husband, they went to the backyard, took out a couple of ‘Buds’ and watched the sunset to close out the day.
Those individual conversations… Those special moments…
Some of her favorite moments were just sitting on the back porch waiting for her husband, whom she married on Christmas Day in 1948 in the back of a supermarket, to come home. The pastor came late on that special day too to officially make them husband and and wife so she learned how to wait for things she wanted. It wasn’t to hard either because…
… she was in it for the long run.
“It was one of those things where I just wanted a beer, sit in the backyard, and have a cold one with my husband. It was our time to wind down the day, and with 3 kids it’s sometimes hard to find time for yourself.”
She found the time though. She raised her family. She became a teacher. She flew through the air. She kept gardening and…
… she became an author.
So, grab a cold one and raise your glass.
“You always learn. Even if you make a mistake, you learn not to make it again. You’re always learning… I never think of myself as a failure. I always have hope.”
– Rita Jordan
Rita Photos by:
- https://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/30/nyregion/new-york-1945-the-war-was-ending-times-square-exploded-change-was-coming.html // Roberts, Sam. “NEW YORK 1945; The War Was Ending. Times Square Exploded. Change Was Coming.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 July 1995, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/30/nyregion/new-york-1945-the-war-was-ending-times-square-exploded-change-was-coming.html.
- https://www.newjerseyalmanac.com/world-war-ii.html // “New Jersey History: World War II.” NewJerseyAlmanac.com, http://www.newjerseyalmanac.com/world-war-ii.html.
- https://timeline.com/its-amazing-just-how-many-americans-served-in-world-war-ii-18d197a685ca // “It’s Amazing Just How Many Americans Served in World War II.” Timeline, Timeline, 8 May 2016, timeline.com/its-amazing-just-how-many-americans-served-in-world-war-ii-18d197a685ca.
- https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war // “Research Starters: Worldwide Deaths in World War II.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, The National World War II Museum, http://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war.
- https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/lend-lease // “Lend-Lease and Military Aid to the Allies in the Early Years of World War II.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/lend-lease.
- http://www.nww2m.com/2011/12/allies-and-axis-whos-who-in-wwii/ // “Allies and Axis: Who’s Who in WWII?” The National WWII Museum Blog, 11 Jan. 2017, http://www.nww2m.com/2011/12/allies-and-axis-whos-who-in-wwii/.
- https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/btn-end-of-wwii/index.html //
- Hall, Michelle. “By the Numbers: End of World War II.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2 Sept. 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/btn-end-of-wwii/index.html.
- https://www.6sqft.com/the-oldest-buildings-in-nyc-what-are-they-and-where-are-they-test-your-knowledge/ // Carpenter, Jason. “NYC’s Oldest Buildings: What Are They and Where Are They? Test Your Knowledge.” 6sqft, 10 June 2014, http://www.6sqft.com/the-oldest-buildings-in-nyc-what-are-they-and-where-are-they-test-your-knowledge/.
https://theconversation.com/100-years-since-the-ww1-armistice-remembrance-day-remains-a-powerful-reminder-of-the-cost-of-war-103232 // Fathi, Romain. “100 Years since the WW1 Armistice, Remembrance Day Remains a Powerful Reminder of the Cost of War.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 11 Nov. 2018, theconversation.com/100-years-since-the-ww1-armistice-remembrance-day-remains-a-powerful-reminder-of-the-cost-of-war-103232.
- https://www.allposters.com/-sp/V-J-Day-in-Times-Square-Posters_i9568424_.htm // Photo
- https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/5008809374 // Photo
- https://www.icanvas.com/canvas-print/ve-day-times-square-nyt472#1PC3-26×18 // Photo
- https://studentloans.net/history-of-student-loans/ // “The History of Student Loans in the United States | SLR.” The Student Loan Report, 14 Mar. 2018, studentloans.net/history-of-student-loans/.
- https://orchidrepublic.com/blogs/about-orchids/lady-slipper-orchids (lady slipper photo)