RUMSON: SHINING LIGHT ON LUMINARIES PAST

roberta van anda 051315 2 Roberta Van Anda in her Rumson study, above, and her newly published book, below. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

rumson legendsRoberta Van Anda is moving out of Rumson soon, capping more than 60 years of borough residence in which she was a longtime school board member, a wife, a mother and writer of a town newsletter.

She’s leaving as a newly published book author. Her “Legendary Locals of Rumson,” one in a nationwide series focused on particular locales, debuted this month. And it fulfills Van Anda’s long-held desire to tell her contemporaries, and perhaps future borough residents, about the contributions made to the community by predecessors whose names may have vanished over the years.

“I’m just so excited to bring some of these people out of the shadows of history,” she told redbankgreen recently.

Among them: Cornelius Bliss, an industrialist who turned down offers of Cabinet positions from three presidents, and also declined William S. McKinley’s request that they run together for president and vice president in 1900. McKinley’s second choice, Teddy Roosevelt, became president after McKinley was assassinated a year later.

“Isn’t that cool?” says Van Anda. “Whoever heard of Cornelius Bliss today? He could have been on Mount Rushmore.”

Included in the book are a number of widely recognized names. There’s bandleader Nelson Riddle, along, of course, with sorta-resident Bruce Springsteen, who owns an estate on Bellevue Avenue but calls Colts Neck home. Van Anda informs us that the late running maven George Sheehan got his start in the sport when a broken hand sidelined him from tennis and he decided to start doing laps around his home at 55 Rumson Road instead.

The “legends” also include numerous unheard-of, or faintly recognized, Rumsonites of decades past who were part of the town’s transformation from a steamboat dock known as Port Washington to a summer resort for wealthy New Yorkers. Though many of them were here only part of the year, “they cared about the place,” Van Anda said. “It became an important part of their lives.”

The result of her efforts is a slim “bathroom book,” in Van Anda’s phrasing, in which United State Supreme Court Justice (William Brennan), a shoemaker (Pete Todaro), a Heisman Trophy winner (Pete Dawkins), a debunker of frauds (the Amazing Randi) and dozens of other names, from Adams to Zipf, share space.

The book is far from comprehensive, said Van Anda, noting that its contents were largely dictated by space and the amount of time she was given to complete the manuscript.

“This could be three volumes, and still not do justice” to all those who merit attention, she said. Among them: former jazz great Eddie Condon.

A traditionalist – she battled with her publisher over its refusal to use honorifics such as “Dr.” – Van Anda did most of the work on the book during a trying year, in which she endured three cardiac procedures, one of them open-heart surgery.

Now that the book is behind her, she’s moving, she said, because the house she’s kept up since the death of her husband, Allen, 16 years ago is too big, and there are no affordable small places in town.

She won’t be adding another title to her oeuvre. Her son, Allen Jr. told her, she said, that the book is “your gift to the town.”

Van Anda will sign copies of her book at the Oceanic Library on Thursday, May 28; historian Randall Gabrielan, himself the author of three volumes on Rumson, is scheduled to be there, also. And two days later, Van Anda is slated to sign copies of her book at River Road Books in Fair Haven.