Remembering When One Woman Ran Oradell's Phones
A Journey into Oradell, New Jersey
It might be a bit difficult to fathom within the context of today’s 24-7 wired media world, but one of Oradell’s most distinguished citizens into the mid-twentieth century was its telephone operator.
Her name was Lena Miller Haring.
She first came to town as Lena Miller around the turn of the century (1902) from her home in Brooklyn to visit her aunt, Mrs. Charles Engel. In Oradell: A Biography of a Borough (1994 by J. Irving Crump) she writes of how she decided upon that visit that she “wanted to live in a little town like Oradell”….so (she) stayed.
Lena married and became Mrs. John V. Haring.
But before doing so, Lena became Oradell’s first “night operator” at the community’s telephone exchange, starting not long after the telephone first came to town.
The original telephone exchange was located in an old drugstore in the home of Doc Blenkstone. But after the service had grown to five subscribers, it all became too much for the pharmacist turned doctor, wrote Mrs. Haring.
The Oradell Hardware Store at the southwest corner of Oradell Avenue and Kinderkamack Road took over the tasks for a spell before the exchange moved to a store on the east side of Kinderkamack Road just across from the library.
It was at just about that time that Lena became involved.
As it happened, the exchange would close at 9 p.m. – after that time anyone who had to get a phone message through would have to go down to the Hackensack Water Company’s pumping station where 24 hour service was available.
Given the increasing demand, the telephone company convinced Lena’s aunt to take on the service. Eventually, Lena started to work with her aunt.
Before long, Lena became an operator and then Oradell’s chief operator, and later Westwood’s chief operator.
In all, she worked for over 50 years. When she retired in 1953, she was honored with a big dinner and made a member of the “exclusive society of the Telephone Pioneers of America”.
But, of course, her longevity was but one part of the story.
Lena was a keeper of trust – she was relied upon to connect calls and respect privacy. She did both in a professional and discreet way. In doing so, she became a beloved figure who is still remembered these many decades later.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Source Materials - Biography of A Borough: Oradell (1969), by Irving Crump; Oradell Centennial; 1894-1994…..Thanks to Borough Historian Frank Vierling for his guidance. And, a special thank you to Borough Archivist, George Carter for his ear, his support generally and in particular his help in securing historic pictures from the Borough/Library Collection….. The Archives, located at the Oradell Public Library, are open to the public the first Friday afternoon of the month from 1-5 p.m.
This article first appeared in River Dell Patch in 2011.