Category Archives: Passaic NJ

YWCA Summer Day Camp Years in Passaic, New Jersey

The YWCA, YMCA and YM-YWHA were terrific organizations for children growing up in the mid-20th century. For those of us who lived in a four-season climate, it meant access to lots of fun sports and camping activities all year long.

I think I was about six years old when my mother signed me up for my first swimming lessons at the YWCA in Passaic, New Jersey. While I enjoyed swimming every week in the big, indoor swimming pool, one of the highlights of summer was getting to go to the YWCA day camp.

Our membership cards were linked to our swimming progress:

Once this set of skills was mastered, we were allowed to swim in the deep end of the pool during free play.

Medical Card

A medical doctor had to sign off on our fitness for sports. Dr. Baum was my pediatrician. He was a young doctor when I was one of his patients – he passed away in 2008 at the age of 87, still serving the children of Passaic.

1963 Membership Card

New cards were issued each year that memberships were renewed. This is my last set of YWCA cards, but they were the ticket into a week of fun-filled activities.

I don’t have any photos of the Y from my times there. Google Earth shows this building at 114 Prospect Street:

114 Prospect Street Today

Today, one of the building tenants is Passaic County Social Services. Back in the “olden” days, it was the place kids wanted to be.

How did I get there? Today, my parents probably would have been taken in for child neglect, but I actually rode gray Bus #3 (never the green Athenia line that went all the way to Clifton because it didn’t stop at Summer Street) from the corner of my street at Lexington Avenue all the way downtown to the Prospect Street bus stop at the flat iron building:

Prospect Street, leading uphill to the YWCA, street on right

Although this postcard dates well before the 1950s, Passaic hadn’t changed much downtown!

Route to the YWCA

The first arrow, top left, marks my house. The second arrow was the walk down to the corner of Lexington Avenue. The long arrow was the ride along Lexington Avenue to the corner of Prospect Street. The short arrow shows the walk up Prospect Street, as seen in the postcard above, to reach the YWCA.

The total distance was about a mile from my house to the Y and, at the age of seven years old, I was big enough to make the public bus ride to day camp.

What did we do all day long? I think camp began at 9:00 in the morning and ended about 3:00. We sang songs, made all kinds of crafty little items, like sit-upons.

We sat on our sit-upons, made from two sample sheets of wallpaper torn from old books. We lined the two pieces of paper up together and then punched holes about an inch apart all the way around the edges of our rectangular-shaped paper. Next, we cut old newspapers into a rectangle that was smaller than the wall paper sheets. The newspaper was the stuffing. Last, we were given pieces of yarn threaded into a needle and we sewed the top, stuffing and bottom of the sit-upon together like a sandwich.

We played games in the Y gym, climbed, tumbled on mats and went swimming for about an hour each day. Everyone brought a sack lunch, so there was some quiet time mixed in the middle of the day. Once a week, we had a bus trip somewhere nearby. I remember going to Garret Mountain in Paterson quite often, where we hiked and learned about outdoor camping skills. Lambert Castle is still there, although I don’t ever remember us being taken inside. The Passaic County Historical Society now uses the Castle as a museum of local history.

The very best part about field trips was the bus ride back to the Y from Paterson. What did we do on those rides? What all camp kids do – we sang 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, over and over. I can’t imagine that any kid growing up in the 20th century doesn’t know the song, but just in case, here is a sample of the sophisticated lyrics:

100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer.
Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of beer on the wall.

99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer.
Take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall.

I don’t know if the counselors were happy because it kept us occupied or whether they wanted to kill us all for singing it over and over. Either way, the kids all had a great time.

I wish I had photos of some of the fun times at the YWCA. However, I don’t think my mom ever took any pictures at the few events in which parents were invited.

What was the cost for a week of fun c1963? $35 per week seems to ring a bell with me. One year, for whatever reason, I was given several gifts of money instead of clothing or toys. I think my mother said $35 of it was going to pay for summer camp and I had $10 to choose some new clothes. What a bargain! Those were definitely fun times.

Julia Scerbak Sabo – Her New Life from 1910-1915

Nana was a big influence in my life, as she always lived with us and was the in-house babysitter for my brother and I after school when our parents were working. Tonight, just as time changes from the 28th to the 29th, just about midnight, marks the 32nd anniversary of her death, a few months shy of her 92nd birthday.

Julia Sabo, c1975

I feel fortunate to have asked her questions about her life and family, but regret not asking her many more. However, I think I learned enough about her life to try a different type of tribute to Nana. I’m going to share her daily life from 23 November 1910 to 6 September 1915, the day she married her beloved George Kucharik aka Sabo, but I am trying something new here and will have Nana tell her story.

To set the stage, so to speak, you really just need to know that Helena Anna Scerbak, who always went by “Julia,” was born in Passaic, New Jersey on 17 August 1893 to Slovak immigrant parents, Michael Scerbak and wife, Anna Murcko, who married in St. Michael’s Church in Passaic on 22 October 1892. Michael and Anna were just two of the many residents of the neighboring tiny villages of Ujak (today, Udol) and Hajtovka, near the Tatras Mountains who migrated to Passaic between the 1890s and 1920. About 1898, Anna convinced Michael to take the family back home. Nana said her mother told her the air wasn’t good in Passaic. That belief likely was formed from seeing the pollution that was spouted into the air daily by the mills that grew and expanded along the Passaic River. Julia returned to Passaic in November 1910, never again to see her ancestral home. She often spoke of all my “cousins” although she couldn’t explain exactly how everyone was related. The villages are so small that the families who have lived there for centuries have intermarried. I imagine today that every resident is a cousin of some kind to everyone else.

Take a few minutes now and step back in time with me. 

Statue of Liberty, c1910
Source: My Collection

I made it! Mamička and Oteco (Mama and Papa) told me that the first thing I would see as we entered the harbor was the Statue of Liberty. She truly is beautiful.

SS Batavia
Source: My Personal Collection

However, I can’t wait to get off this steamship. Although the sun is shining today, it’s been almost two weeks now  with some rough weather. I can still  feel the slow, horrible rolling of the ocean that rocked the ship from side to side. Nausea is a terrible feeling, but constantly throwing up isn’t any better. The 13-day trip seemed like an eternity. The Batavia  got me here, but I won’t miss it!

I am thankful that I am strong and healthy.  Many of the other passengers have terrible coughs and some are sick with fevers. Others have told me about the medical exam and the quarantine area. About the worst thing that can happen is to be refused entry and sent back to Europe. Besides my good health, I am very lucky in another way. I was born in Passaic so I am a United States citizen. I think I will pass through immigration more quickly than others.

Ellis Island
Source: My Personal Collection

Then, it’s on to Passaic! I am excited, but also a bit apprehensive about my future. I have only a very vague memory of our life in Passaic – living in a small apartment, lots of people and noisy streets. I was only five years old when Oteco decided that we would move back to Ujak.

Mamička didn’t want me to return to Passaic. She cried when I told her I wanted to go, but Oteco gave permission.

Michael, Anna and little brother, Stefan

Life is Ujak is so hard. It is such a small place that there are no jobs except for long hours farming the poor land. Medicine and doctors are hard to come by and I was only able to finish the fourth grade. I am certain that there has to be a better life for me in Passaic.

Even though Passaic is so very different from Ujak, I feel like I am arriving back at home. It’s not because I was born in Passaic, it is because so many of my cousins, aunts, uncles and friends have already left Ujak. It will be so much fun seeing and visiting with them all in my new home.

Cousin Susanna and her brother made this trip with me. Jan (John) came home for a couple of months this past summer. He brought money and talked about all the opportunities in America. Oteco only let me make this journey because Jan could chaperone Susanna and me.

The train from New York will take us to downtown Passaic. It is good that Jan knew the way because I am sure I would have gotten lost in New York City.

Downtown Passaic, c1907
Source: My Personal Collection

Oteco told me stories about how big Passaic is, but I didn’t really believe him. I should have because there are people and buildings and wagons and so many little shops. We have so little in Ujak that I understand right away why so many have come here to live and work.

Passaic, c1910

My closest family member living here is my father’s brother, John. I don’t really remember or know him very well because he brought his family to New Jersey about the same time that we returned to Ujak. I need a place to live and Uncle John would take me in, but he lives in Garfield now. I want to live in Passaic near St. Michael’s Church on First Street so I decided to move into a tenement  with several families living over a storefront.

Passaic, c1915

I will settle into my room and unpack the few clothes I was able to bring with me. I know I have to learn English again – I spoke a little before we moved back to Europe, but it is long forgotten. I also have to find a job, but that will be easy. The mills hire workers every day.

A Few Months Later

I heard many stories about the mills. The hours were long and the pay wasn’t very much, but it was much more than any of us would be able to earn in Ujak. Working conditions weren’t great, either, but as long as one was careful, the jobs provided a living. I was hired on the same day I applied for a job.

Julia, Standing Second from Right in Front

My favorite days are, of course, Saturday and Sunday when I am not at work. Saturdays bring visits to the park with friends:

Julia, right and standing, with friends

There is also lots of time to shop and walk around downtown Passaic. Every street corner brings a friend with whom to talk and shop windows filled with beautiful clothes, baked goods and every other kind of food one might want.

Sunday is the most important day of the week because it is the day we go to Mass. Oteco, having some carpentry skills, helped maintain the old building where the parishioners of St. Michael’s used to gather. Plans were being prepared to build a beautiful new Greek Catholic church at 96 First Street when we moved away and St. Michael’s had been built before I came back. I sent my parents a postcard so they could see it- it is an elegant imposing church that is beautiful inside.

St. Michael’s Church, Dundee Canal on right
Railroad Tracks on left, c1907

The center of my life is St. Michael’s. My friends and cousins are parishioners there and weekends feature religious club meetings, church plays in typical Slovak clothing, parties and weddings.

Weddings are especially fun because I love to dance. Most of my friends are my age and are starting to get married. I am so pleased each time I am invited to be in a wedding party.

Bridesmaid Julia, right, c1912

I think my turn to be married is coming soon. I’ve met a warm, kind, handsome man who lives very near me. His family goes to St. Mary’s, but they are Greek Catholic, too. Like me, George Kucharik was born in the United States. His family first settled in Pennsylvania and then moved to Passaic at the time my father took us back to Ujak.

George Kucharik, aka George Sabo

Another year or so passed and Nana did indeed marry George Kucharik on 6 September 1915 at St. Michael’s.

George and Julia on their wedding day

Julia was ready to begin the next part of her life. Although I never knew my grandfather, as he died on 27 November 1936 of tuberculosis, Nana lived a long and healthy life. She never forgot her Passaic roots.

Where was Nana laid to rest? At St. Michael’s Cemetery, of course, next to her beloved husband, George.

R.I.P. Nana




Kids Raise Money for Cerebral Palsy

Last Thursday, I wrote about the Passaic Herald News bulletin when Howard Matson calmed my distress and saved my little kitten from the top of a tree.

Howard, my childhood friend, shared a second news story with me that I had forgotten about. It is undated, but it was definitely summertime either in 1962 or possibly 1963.

My friends and I were definitely into what was then called acrobatics, but more like tumbling skills. I think we were spurred on by a playmate named Judy who could effortlessly and perfectly do one armed cartwheels over and over. Judy lived in the house right next to the left apartment building in the image below.

I don’t remember who first came up with the idea, but we decided to put on a neighborhood show. Actually, I think we stole the idea from the kids on Autumn Street, the next block over, who had put together a show of their own.

Purple Arrow = Summer Street
Yellow Arrow = Autumn Street
Green  Arrow = Adjoining backyards separated by chain link fence
Large U-Shaped Buildings = Apartments across from my house
Small yellow pin – my house at 49 Summer Street

Source: Google Earth

Those backyard fences allowed us to keep up with happenings on the blocks adjoining Summer Street and I think we saw them practicing one day and decided to do the same thing. Bits of memory are being jogged here as I write this. 🙂

Carol, Sandy and Patty Scheaffel (sisters) along with Lenore Matson, Howard’s sister, and I decided singing and acrobatics were acts that would bring in the big money, so we planned out and practiced routines for several days. All the practicing was done in my backyard, with the intent to have the show there.

Hosting the Show

The green dotted arrow is along what is almost an alley type cement path between my house on the right and the neighbor’s on the left. We all thought it would make a great entrance to the show area. The grass (yellow arrow) would make for a soft landing if any of the tumbling tricks went awry. When the van is parked in the other yard used to be a small rectangular grassy area with a little cement walkway all the way around it. Perfect for audience seating. Or so we thought.

Nana actually owned the house where I lived growing up and she lived upstairs. She got wind of this big show we were planning and put a kabosh on it very quickly. Nana wasn’t having all sorts of people trampling over the little grassy space that we had, nor did she really want us performing on the grass.

At the last minute (after we had put up a few posters on the street, as I remember), we had to switch locations to 69 Summer Street, which was the Scheaffels’ home.

69 Summer Street

The backyard didn’t have quite the same set up – in fact, I think it was mostly dirt if I remember correctly, but we made it work and had a pretty good turnout for the show. We realized we’d make more if we charged by kids’ ages and adults and then said we would accept donations. I think we even put on two performances. Tickets were maybe a nickel, dime and quarter.

A day or two after the show, Howard, Lenore and I walked up to Main Avenue, to the Cerebral Palsy Treatment Center on the Passaic/Clifton border to donate our money. I remember it as being a bit of a walk and Bing maps confirms that. It was a mile and a half each way from my house. Today, our parents might be charged with neglect for letting us walk that far! An aside: I am actually quite incredulous because I looked up this address today and its – the Cerebral Palsy Center run by the Elks. 53 years later and it is even in the same building.

Summer Street to the Center

I think we proudly donated a little over $20.00, a tidy sum for a few kids and a summertime neighborhood show.

Howard did a great job as our “publicity agent,” as he was the one who enjoyed contacting the newspaper. If the ages are correct, I was the oldest girl in the group so this would date the show to summer 1963. However, we weren’t an “octet” since there were five of us!

Here is the article that appeared in the Passaic Herald News:

Cerebral Palsy Summer Show on Summer Street

Children Give Show
For Cerebral Palsy

A group of young girls from
five to 11 who bill themselves
as the Summer Street Octet will
present a show at 7 p.m. tomor-
row at 69 Summer St., Passaic.
Sandra Scheaffel will sing and
perform acrobatics. Carol Scheaf-
fel will be a soloist and Patricia
Scheaffel and Lenore Matson
will acrobatic numbers. Linda
Sabo is director and Howard
Matson, publicity agent.

A grand time was had by all and we were rightly proud of the contribution we made to cerebral palsy research. I actually feel sorry for kids today because they don’t play anymore. They are too busy with technology to know how to go out and have real fun. I wouldn’t trade my childhood experiences for anything.

Thank you, Howard, for saving both of these clippings from the Herald News. It was a fun walk down Memory Lane.