I took a stroll down memory lane recently during the WO 150 Pictorial History Exhibit at the Toby Katz Center, part of the Sesquicentennial Celebration Week in early July.
While most of the fascinating articles, photos and town maps on display were produced before I was born, many of the items rekindled long-buried memories of the West Orange of my youth – like the coffee shop that sat at the base of Mount Pleasant Avenue on Main Street (the site of the small memorial park to Thomas Edison today) and summer playground activities at Colgate and Lafayette Parks.
I enjoyed chatting with the local historians and relating to my husband -- who didn’t have the pleasure of growing up here – how places “used to look” and things “used to be.”
But what stopped me in my tracks and opened a floodgate of particularly happy memories were the vintage photos of the West Orange Public Library. The white clapboard building on Main Street that housed the first town library was a little before my time. But the 1960s shots of the current structure triggered a host of childhood recollections from the boxy, brick “home-away-from-home.”
My mom instilled in her six children a joy of reading, and from an early age, I recall visiting the library at least once a week. Mrs. Reed, the librarian, knew all the Silvestris by first name. Typically, some of us were there to find books for a school assignment, while others checked out the latest display in the Children’s section.
I especially enjoyed the opportunities to descend into “the stacks” in the basement (before the building addition moved them upstairs) and envied my younger sister and brothers who were among the first to participate in “West Orange Library School” in the meeting room -- enjoying storytime and other pre-school activities.
Most memorable was my summer as a rising second-grader, when I was a winner of the Library’s Summer Reading program. It was very competitive back then, and we collected stamps on a card (similar to S&H Green Stamps) for all the books we read. To achieve a stamp, older students had to provide some written form of a book report. But six-year-olds only were required to give a brief oral account of the book to the librarian, and I remember visiting weekly to regale Mrs. Reed with reports of all the stories I’d read.
A group picture of the winners appeared in the West Orange Chronicle, and the two top readers received a $25 voucher to purchase books. Today on my bedroom bookshelf sit three of the four books I won that summer, and my hardcover version of Little Women exhibits the wear and tear of a cherished treasure.
In 2012, the Public Library continues to be a treasure of our town. As Library Director Renee Riczker explained, “The library is a place for lifelong learning, as well as a center for the community and a source of recreation for residents of all ages.”
The annual Summer Reading Program for children, teens and adults is currently in full swing, with a “Birthday Bash” theme and weekly prizes tied to the town’s Sesquicentennial celebration. In addition, a host of programs are designed to engage West Orange families during the long hot summer days and nights.
For example, adults can harken back to an earlier time and learn about the Native Americans who once resided on this land or find out how to preserve fruits and vegetables like their grandmothers did. Teens have the opportunity to stretch themselves during a murder-mystery program and play the role of sleuths.
For our youngest residents, the weekly storytimes continue at the library building this summer, with additional “off-site” sessions on Thursday afternoons at Ginny Duenkel Pool and Fridays at the Farmers Market (in the parking lot between the library and Town Hall). Plus, there are children’s programs appealing to craft and animal lovers in early August. A complete list of the Summer Library programs appears below.
Riczker reports the library is busy with a steady stream of regulars all year-round. However, she believes many residents may not know what they’re missing.
“Sometimes I come across people who tell me they haven’t been in a library since they were children or since their children were little,” she related. “The library is for everyone – young, old and in-between. Anyone who hasn’t been to a library in a while should stop by and find out about all the wonderful free material, services and programs available to them. They will wonder why they stayed away so long.”
Here are the programs offered by the West Orange Public Library for the remainder of Summer 2012.
Lenape of the Eastern Woodlands
Thursday, August 2 at 7pm
The Essex County Environmental Center’s Naturalist discusses the Town’s early residents and the story of Turtle Back Rock.
Back to Basics: Home Canning & Preserving
Thursday, August 9 at 7pm
Learn how to can, preserve and safely store fruit and vegetables with the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Essex County.
For Teens (Grades 6-12):
The Body Drop Mystery
Wednesday, August 8 at 7pm
Put your detective skills to the test! Try to discover what happened in this murder mystery performance by your favorite library staff members. Advance registration is required.
Crafts from the Past
2 Sessions: Wednesday, August 1 at 11am or 7pm
Paint your own quilt square. We’ll connect it with squares from other West Orange children and display it in the Library! Grades Pre K-5 Advance registration is required.
Visit from the Zoo
Wednesday, August 8 at 4:30pm
The Essex County Zoo pays a visit to the Library with some of their mammals, birds and reptiles.. For children of all ages.
Drop In Storytimes for Children:
Now thru August 10
Mondays at 3: Teen Book Buddy volunteers read with children of all ages.
Tuesdays at 11: Preschool storytime for ages 3½ - 5.
Tuesdays at 4: Elementary storytime for grades K-3.
Thursdays at 2:30: Drop by the Ginny Duenkel Pool and hear stories. (Pool is membership required.)
Fridays at 10: Storytime for babies age birth - 2 years old.
Fridays at 11: Toddler stortyime for ages 2-3½ years old.
Fridays at 3: Stop by the farmer’s market for stories and crafts. For children of all ages.
Saturdays at 11: Grandpals Storytime - Morning readings with our senior volunteers. For children of all ages.