Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

Web Edition

lead stories
other news
photo gallery




chess forum
town talk


press releases


last week's issue

real estate
classified ads


HEARTH AND HOME: "I have very much enjoyed being in Princeton, especially because I found something so interesting to do, and so challenging." Harriet Bryan, co-president of Princeton Community Housing, has been a long-time board member of that organization and very much in the forefront in bringing affordable housing to people in the community.end of caption

Helping Provide Housing for People in Princeton Is Major Goal of Harriet Bryan

Walls to keep out the wind and rain, windows to look out of, a roof over your head – personal shelter is something so many of us take for granted, but not Harriet Bryan. She is well aware that for many, this basic element of life is missing. It has been her mission to rectify that where and when she can.

As a long-time board member of Princeton Community Housing and currently co-president, Ms. Bryan has been instrumental in seeing Princeton Community Village, Griggs Farm, and Elm Court transform the housing possibilities for so many Princeton residents.

"It's a great feeling of satisfaction when you have been able to provide some fine housing for people," she notes. "But this is really just a drop in the bucket compared to the need."

A desire and willingness to help out have been a crucial part of Ms. Bryan's adult years, intensified, she points out, by her own good fortune in life. "When I was growing up, my family never told me I must do things for others. It was more that I absorbed it by the example they set."

Born in Berlin, N.H., in 1931, Ms. Bryan grew up in Hillsborough with parents Henry and Birgit Baldwin, older sister Barbara, and younger brothers Ned and Gunnar.

"My mother was from Stockholm," recalls Ms. Bryan, "and when my father went to Sweden to study forestry in 1924, they met. He became a forester, and we were out in the woods all the time. We lived next to a 1,000-acre state research forest.

One-room Schoolhouse

"One of my main interests was cross-country skiing and we also went tobogganing. My father often worked on skis. I loved the winter."

Harriet attended a one-room schoolhouse through the sixth grade, but then World War II broke out, and the family moved with Mr. Baldwin, who joined the Army.

"My father, who had been in World War I, was called up to train pilots in survival skills," she explains. "We traveled all over the country to training camps. Then in the fall of 1944, since he spoke German, he was sent to Germany. So, we stayed in Florida until the end of the war."

Returning to New Hampshire, Harriet went to boarding school for two years, and then spent one year in Sweden with her mother's family. "I stayed with my aunt and uncle, got to know them and my grandparents, and learned Swedish. It was a wonderful time."

After the year in Sweden, she attended Northfield School in Massachusetts, graduating in 1950. While at Northfield, she became involved in a variety of interests and activities. "From the beginning, I always enjoyed history – all aspects of history," she reports, "and I also liked to play field hockey."

Special Times

The violin was another interest, and she played in the school orchestra. It is a pursuit she continues to enjoy, and now plays – albeit intermittently – in a quartet composed of her granddaughter – violin, daughter – cello, and son-in-law – piano.

Summers in New Hampshire were special times, she remembers – long days filled with leisurely and informal activities.

"We hiked in the mountains. My father was a member of the American Alpine Club, which sponsored hiking and climbing expeditions. We also spent time with lots of friends – there were always more people then because so many came up just for the summer. We'd go swimming and make home-made ice cream, which was delicious!"

During the years in New Hampshire, Ms. Bryan became especially close to her grandfather, Edward R. Baldwin.

"He was a physician and a specialist in TB," she says. "He was a very kindly man, and at the same time, a real intellectual. He was always learning things, and he'd take time to explain to me when I'd have questions. He was a strong influence on me, and interested me in astronomy, among other things."

Then it was off to Wellesley in 1950, not a college she'd always aspired to attend, she recalls. "Two of my great-aunts graduated from Wellesley, and my sister, too. So naturally, I wanted to go somewhere else!

"However, eventually, I decided to go there, and I enjoyed my four years at Wellesley. One teacher, I especially admired – Edward Gulick. He reinforced my interest in history, and he was a fascinating professor and really cared about his students."

After graduating in 1954, Ms. Bryan was undecided about her career path, but knew she did not want to go to graduate school in order to teach history.=20

Training Program

"By chance, a Wellesley classmate found out about an emergency training program for elementary school teachers," she notes, "and I ended up teaching first grade by the skin of my teeth!"

It turned out to be a happy decision – in more ways than one. "I found I really liked it. The kids were fun, and it was tremendously exciting to see children come in who didn't know how to read, and then help them learn."

After her first year of teaching, the then Miss Baldwin went to summer school in Massachusetts, where she met Kirk Bryan, who was attending graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"He is the wonder of my life!" states Ms. Bryan. "We were married in 1956, and I taught first grade in Cambridge. After Kirk finished graduate school, he got a fellowship to study oceanography in – of all places – Sweden. So we spent a year in Stockholm, and it was wonderful. My grandmother was still alive, and our first child, Betsy, was born there."

Mr. Bryan was involved in studying long-range climate changes, and returning to the U.S., the Bryans moved to Woods Hole, Mass., where he worked at the Oceangraphic Institute for two and a half years. Son Sam was born in Massachusetts. "Then in 1961, we moved to Washington, D.C.," says Ms. Bryan. "Kirk was with a government research center, and Washington was an exciting place to be then. We were there seven years."

The Bryans lived in northern Virginian, and while there Ms. Bryan became active in the League of Women Voters. "It happened that there was a situation then in Virginia where African-Americans were living in housing which did not meet the code and they were being forced out. It was a bad situation. The League, along with churches and social action committees, became involved in a campaign to get affordable, decent housing for them.

Uphill Battle

"You felt you wanted to do something, and there could be the possibility of changing things and making a difference. But it was an uphill battle," she notes.

1968, a year of incredible turmoil in the country, brought the Bryans to Princeton. After investigating several universities across the U.S., the government research center transferred its operations to Princeton. The Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory was established at the Forrestal Campus.

"It worked out just right for us," recalls Ms. Bryan. "The kids were now in school, and Princeton had great opportunities for them. I joined the Princeton League of Women Voters, which had 400 members. They were a group of interesting, lively women, and I made a lot of good friends. One of those was Princeton resident Rita Ludlum.

"We met through the League when Harriet moved here, and we have been good friends every since," says Ms. Ludlum. "I probably became more active thanks to her example. Harriet is one of the best things that ever happened to Princeton!"

Ms. Bryan served as President of the League from 1977 to 1979, and worked on the committee investigating the national defense program.

Right Person

"Civil Rights and discrimination were big issues then, too," she explains, "and one way to end discrimination was to have affordable housing."

Ms. Bryan proved to be the right person at the right time. Joining the board of Princeton Community Housing, she became a leader in helping to provide housing for people of low and moderate income and also senior citizens.

Letitia Ufford, who worked with her at Princeton Community Housing, and is a friend of more than 30 years, comments on Ms. Bryan's range of skills. "Her concern covers handling the legal and bureaucratic arcana that produces low income housing to sitting with children who need that housing and helping them with their homework.

"In the same way, she enjoys hiking in the great mountains of the west as well as our leisurely walks around the Institute. To whatever we discuss, she brings a quick, warm intelligence."

Founded in 1967, Princeton Community Housing is an organization committed to develop, manage, and advocate for affordable housing.

Public housing had actually begun in Princeton on Clay Street in the 1930s under the leadership of Gerard Lambert, explains Ms. Bryan. "Then, Princeton Borough took over the Clay Street housing, and later, the Borough Housing Authority became responsible not only for the Clay Street units, but also for housing on Franklin Avenue, and Redding and Spruce Circles."

Princeton Community Village, in the Township, began in 1967, and was completed in 1975, she adds, noting that Princeton Community Housing, with a board of 24, oversees Princeton Community Village, Elm Court, and Griggs Farm.

Elm Court for senior citizens is of particular interest, she explains. "The Borough had a series of meetings to decide what to do with the central business district. They also had gotten a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build senior housing, and the Borough Council was very supportive about building it in town, where the residents would be near stores and services.

13 Public Hearings|"However, ultimately, there was too much opposition, so we shifted it to Elm Court, off Elm Road. We had 13 different public hearings, and both then Senator Bill Bradley and Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick were very supportive. 88 apartments were completed in 1985.

"It is interesting that it has no minimum income and is a real mix of people," she continues. "30 percent of the person's income is paid toward the rent. It makes it possible for people with a low income to be there. Also, eight units are set aside for handicapped adults of any age. Otherwise, the minimum age is 62."

Ted Vial, a founding member and first president of Princeton Community Village, has been impressed with Ms. Bryan's ability to get things done.

"Harriet has done more than any single individual for affordable housing in Princeton. Through patience, and persistence, she is practically responsible single-handedly for getting Elm Court built. She pushed it, always pleasant, but she never took no for an answer. She always found someone else to talk to or some other way to get it done.

"I am happy to say that we have worked together for many years, along with a great board of trustees, to further the work of this great organization."

Ms. Bryan served as co-chair of the committee that oversaw the development of Griggs Farm in the mid 1980s. "The co-chair was Bob Cawley, former Mayor of Borough Council, who had come onto the board, and was an invaluable help," she recalls.

"The concept of Griggs Farm, which consisted of townhouses in Princeton Township, was that half the units would be at the market price, and the others – low income units – would be supported by the market price houses. The Township was interested in this as a way to meet its affordable housing commitment."

Construction began in 1988, but it turned out to be the worst possible time, she reports. It followed the stock market plunge of 1987, and the market price houses didn't sell at the expected prices.

Notable Features

"But eventually, we were able to build 280 units – 140 at market price, 70 moderate, and 70 low income. It has been a success with each row of townhouses having one affordable unit."

Princeton Community Village, which focuses on moderate income townhouses, also has notable features, explains Ms. Bryan. =20 "If people's income goes up, they don't have to leave. They can stay. The rent will go up, but it is capped, so it will not be too high. This way, many people have been able to save money and ultimately buy a home. In addition, there are 55 residents who have remained there since its beginning."

"I want to add that we couldn't have done any of this if it hadn't been for Karl Light, his wife, Lucy James, and Marcy Crimmins. They manage Elm Court, Princeton Community Village, and Griggs Farm. It's a huge task, and they have been in it from the beginning. I call them the Three C's – capable, caring, and creative."

The opportunity to meet a variety of people from many backgrounds has been a plus in her work with Princeton Community Housing, points out Ms. Bryan.

"What has been so delightful is coming into contact with so many great people all across the spectrum of the community. Representatives of Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Seminary, YMCA, the churches, and Princeton Regional Teachers Association, have all served on the Board of Princeton Community Housing. There is always bound to be some opposition, so a broad spectrum is good."

Dedicated Service

Ms. Bryan has been honored for her dedicated service to the community, receiving the Gerard Lambert Award in 1989, followed by the Bud Vivian Award in 1999, both of which were shared with Ted Vial.

"One of the exceptional things about this town is to have awards like these to recognize community service," says Ms. Bryan.

Both awards were meaningful to her, but the Bud Vivian award was particularly significant because of the high regard she had for Mr. Vivian.

"I have especially admired Bud Vivian. As Princeton University's vice president for Community Affairs, he represented the University on the board. He had an incredible amount of wisdom, combined with an incredible sense of humor. He was so supportive of the housing effort. You could call him any time. He gave such service to the community. He helped with Corner House, and he wanted the University to be involved with the community.

"Let me tell you something else about Bud Vivian," she continues. "At one of the 13 public hearings on Elm Court, he was sitting next to me. It was a very hot night, and it had been very stressful. At one point, I leaned over and whispered to him, 'I'd really love to have an ice cream cone."

"The meeting ended about midnight, and we were successful. And suddenly, there appears Bud with an ice cream cone! He was just a great guy. It was a real pleasure to have known him."

Extraordinary Mix

The chance to meet such people is a special component, not only of her work, but of living in Princeton, she adds. The extraordinary mix of activities and events available here is another advantage of this unique place.

"We try to get to lectures and events at the University and concerts at Richardson Hall. I am also a member of the Wellesley Club here, and I still stay in touch with old friends from college."

In addition, the Bryans travel to Montana, where they have built a house in the mountains. Their daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren are there, and they also spend time at the family cabin in New Hampshire.

Son Sam is currently in England, another stopping point for the Bryans. At times, it is a stepping off point as well. "Sometimes, we meet him in other places too," explains Ms. Bryan. "He'll say, 'where shall we go? I can meet you somewhere.' We have traveled together in Vienna and southern Spain.

"I want to say that my children, along with my husband, are my very dearest, best friends and the most satisfying things in my life."

Modest about her achievements, Ms. Bryan says that her work at Princeton Community Housing was "a situation that presented itself. There are also so many other causes that are so important.

"I look on my life as having been so incredibly blessed, and finding such a wonderful way to spend my time. There are 396 units of housing in Princeton and over 800 people who have good housing because of the work of Princeton Community Housing. And now, we – co-president Sheila Berkelhammer and executive director Sandra Rothe – look forward to expanding Elm Court with 68 new units. We already have concept approval from the Planning Board.

"In general, I am an optimist," she adds. "I recognize that it is easy to be an optimist if things have gone well for you. And for others, whose lives have been different, it's harder. But it is helpful to be optimistic in this work. There were numerous times we could have given up, it seemed so hopeless, but we just kept trying. I always had hope it would work out, and I believe we have made a difference."


Website Design by Kiyomi Camp