October 4, 2017

They Grew Up in Princeton And Remember It Well

PRINCETON MEMORIES: The Facebook Group “I Grew Up in Princeton” is nearly 3,000-strong, and is particularly popular with those who recall the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. The group was honored by Princeton Council last month.

By Anne Levin

At a meeting of Princeton Council last month, the Facebook group I Grew Up in Princeton was honored by the governing body with a special Certificate of Appreciation. Administrators of the group were on hand to accept the certificate, which praises them “for their outstanding contributions to the Princeton community.”

The ceremony was captured on video by filmmaker Brad Mays, a member of the group known locally for his 2014 documentary, also called I Grew Up in Princeton. Mays’ position behind the camera prompted Mayor Liz Lempert to joke that it was the first time the paparazzi had attended a Princeton Council meeting.

Marjorie Morse Bell, one of five administrators of the group, became involved by default in 2008. Her son Collin, then a sophomore at Princeton High School (PHS), decided to start the group as a kind of experiment. “He’s very gregarious,” she recalled. “He did it for fun, just to see how many of his friends would join. And Facebook was a fairly new thing at the time. Since I was a graduate of Princeton High, he asked me to see if I could get my contemporaries interested.”

People from Bell’s era — she graduated in 1978 — began to sign up. So did plenty of others, especially those from an earlier decade. “It has really taken off with people who are a bit older than me, the ones who graduated in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” she said. “They have amazing stories and a lot to say.”

Among that contingent is Michael Lemonick, a well known science writer and editor and a 1971 graduate of PHS. “So many people from my years have flooded it to the point that we basically took it over, though not on purpose,” he said. “People are reminiscing about what they call the good old days. The group is a gathering place for people who grew up here, to talk about memories of the past, and their impressions of the town today. There are discussions on contemporary issues like the McMansion explosion, places we remember that are being torn down, the move of the Dinky station — with vehement opinions on both sides.”

Membership is not limited to PHS graduates. Francesca Segalas, an alumna of Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, is among the administrators.

“We wanted to represent the private as well as public schools, and we come together from all corners of the world to talk about Princeton,” she said. “Facebook is a place where people get to know each other without actually meeting. Zachary Tumin and I are the oldest of the administrators, so we come from our time.”

Elisha J. White is the other person with administrative duties.

There are nearly 3,000 members of I Grew Up in Princeton today. Some still live in the area; many others live far away. “Basically, people are wistful about the fact that there used to be much more of a small town feel here,” Lemonick said. “Every store on Nassau Street was owned by parents of kids you went to school with. You went into a place like the Army & Navy Store and you knew the people who owned it and worked there. You went into Urken Hardware and there was Irv (Urken). Before him, it was his mother. The same was true for most of the stores. And you went to school with the kids. So there is that element of wistfulness.”

Group members post photographs, and the occasional video. Bell said she has learned a lot she didn’t know about the town from reading and communicating with those who were in Princeton before she arrived as a kindergartener in 1964.

“I have learned a lot about the history,” she said. “The desegregation that took place before my time was a real eye-opener for me. People talk about things like Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train going through Princeton Junction, which I knew nothing about. It’s been very educational for me.”

The group is open to people who grew up in Princeton or have a connection to the town. Councilman Tim Quinn, a longtime resident who didn’t grow up in Princeton, is a member. It was he who presented the certificate to Lemonick, Segalas, and Bell at the Council meeting last month.

“I think everyone in Princeton has a lot to learn from those who were fortunate enough to have grown up here,” he said in an email this week. “I enjoy the discussions and think of it as a sort of living history project, plus commentary about current-day Princeton.”