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Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

MAN ON THE MOVE: “I continue to be active, and there is a lot to deal with. I look forward to working on the issues facing Princeton.” Marvin R. Reed, former Mayor of Princeton Borough, continues to put his experience and energy to work for Princeton and the state.

Former Borough Mayor Marvin R. Reed Remains Active in Community Issues

He was the first in his family to go to college, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Rutgers; he worked on the General Motors assembly line in Edison; he built a radio, took apart a TV, and repaired a radar set in the army. He stage-managed, directed, and appeared in numerous amateur drama productions; he taught seventh and eighth grade math; he was Communications Director of the New Jersey Education Association, and operated his own public relations firm; for 19 years he served on Princeton Borough Council, more than 13 of which as mayor.

No one could accuse Marvin R. Reed of being narrow in focus. As Princeton Borough Council member Wendy Benchley points out: “Marvin and his wife Ingrid are a fun fascinating couple, full of ideas and enthusiasm for life. Marvin loves the opera and the arts, architecture, and travel. He’s not just a one-tune fellow. He has a great breadth of knowledge and interests.”

Indeed, the scope of Marvin Reed’s interests and accomplishments is far-reaching, and began to emerge during his boyhood. Born in Vineland, N.J. to Marvin, Sr. and Marie Reed, he was the oldest of three children, including brother Philip and sister Marilyn.

He liked school, especially history, and became a great reader, enjoying “The Hardy Boys” series and adventure stories. His love of reading was encouraged by his grandfather. “My mother’s father, Frank Scharstein, lived with us,” recalls Mr. Reed. “He was the one who read to me. When I was really young, he’d read all of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and when I could read myself, he’d often read the same book, and we’d talk about it.

Major Influence

“He also had a stamp collection and a stereopticon collection with incredible black and white pictures of places all over the world, including the Taj Mahal. He really inculcated my interest in geography and travel. He was born in Germany, and he was an ivory carver. He had a major influence on me.”

Listening to the radio was another pleasure, and Mr. Reed remembers organizing his schedule to accommodate his favorite shows. “I liked to know the schedule so I could arrange my afternoon. There were a number of shows that I liked, such as Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and on the weekend, The Shadow.”

Marvin also loved the movies. “I went all the time on weekends. I’d meet friends there, and I especially liked Esther Williams. Actors I liked were Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, and Errol Flynn. It was not unusual for me to see the movie and then stay and watch it again.”

Kids’ lives were very different in the 1930s and ‘40s. Life was generally much less structured than is the case now, and there was a freedom from some of the worries so prevalent in today’s society.

“I’d ride my bike all over,” he remembers. “One of the most amazing things when I was growing up was that my parents let me get on my bike, and I’d be gone all day and just be back by supper time. I’d ride over to the Maurice River with friends, and spend the day there. I also learned to swim at an early age, and I later became a certified Scuba diver.

“Kids just went and did things on their own in those days. The kids in the neighborhood played out all the time. We lived in the country until I was in the fifth grade, and I rode my bike to school as soon as I could.”

Paper Route

A milestone occurred for Marvin when he was able to have a paper route. “This was a big treat. You had to be 12 or 13 to have one, and I delivered the papers on my bike every day after school. I also worked in the hardware store after school and on weekends, and later in the drugstore when I was in college. I had to earn my own money for candy, movies, etc. I didn’t get an allowance until I went to college. Then, I got a weekly amount of $15 or $20, out of which I had to buy food.”

Among the Reed family’s biggest pleasures were trips to the shore in the summer. “We went to the shore all the time, especially to Ocean City and Wildwood,” recalls Mr. Reed. “And every summer, my mother arranged a trip to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. I loved the Steel Pier. I did my earliest dating and dancing at the Marine Ballroom. The Big Bands, including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, were all there.”

A major focus of Marvin’s boyhood was World War II, which pervaded life on the homefront from 1941 to 1945. “I remember going to the shore and Atlantic City, and all the hotels would be blacked out,” he recalls. “In the sixth grade, my teacher let a group of boys out of class early, and we’d go along the back of stores, collecting and flattening cardboard boxes for the war effort. We’d also collect grease — cooking oil — in cans and take it to a collection center. Everyone was involved in the war.

“My family and I followed the war news on the radio. I remember Pearl Harbor, and I remember when Germany invaded Poland. We had the Weekly Reader, a little school newspaper, which included maps. I learned all the countries of Europe.”

Mr. Reed also remembers worries over his father’s status as a civilian. “What really had the family concerned was whether my father would be drafted. He managed the Vineland Egg Auction, and it was considered a vital agricultural job.”

Because of his work and his role as father of three children, Mr. Reed, Sr. was not drafted, and he and Marvin celebrated the end of the war together. “I distinctly remember the end of the war in Japan. My father and I had gone uptown to the movies, and when we came out, the streets were full of people, all shouting.”

Drama Club

Marvin was a good student, and in high school was on the student council, edited the year book, and participated in the drama club. He started piano lessons at 12, continuing for four years, which stimulated a life-long love of classical music.

As a promising student, Marvin was expected — at least by the faculty — to attend college. “Rose Sternberg, my high school English teacher, was the one who shaped up kids who were going to apply to college,” he remembers. “When I graduated from high school in 1948, less than half of high school students went on to college.”

Marvin received a state scholarship to Rutgers University, and he made the most of his four years there. “I liked Rutgers, made a lot of friends, and was active on campus,” he says. “Half of the students there were G.I.s home from the war, and I was always a year younger than my own peers because I had skipped kindergarten.”

He started out as a history major, but switched to education and English when he decided to become a teacher. He was able to keep up his history courses, however, and have a dual major.

“I was very influenced by Professor Dick McCormick in the history department and also by Dr. John O’Conner, my English literature professor. He used to say to me about identifying quotes: ‘You don’t do very well on identifying, but it’s balanced out because you write such good essays!”

While at Rutgers, Marvin served as stage manager and production manager (producer) of the Queens Players, and was also active in student government. “In that day and age, there was a lot of political activity. We’d all sit on the floor in the student center and watch the Army-McCarthy hearings. We’d go to events in New York, including peace rallies to hear Paul Robeson questioning the Korean War and the course of the Cold War. There were also debates on campus between the independent students and those in fraternities.”

Extra Credits

When he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1952, he had also accumulated extra credits toward a master’s degree (which he later received in 1956). At the time of graduation, he had gotten a notice from the draft board to appear for a physical, but he hadn’t been called. He decided to take a temporary job while waiting.

“It happened that they were hiring people at the General Motors plant in Edison. They took a lot of Rutgers students as temporary employees on the assembly line to cover people on vacation. You’d work 60 hours a week, and we made fabulous money. For the first time in my life, I had a big pay check. I could buy my first car. Then, they cut back from six to five days, and from 10 to eight hours, so I had some extra time. We went to Vermont and canoed the Connecticut River, and another time, we hopped in the car and drove to Colorado, the first time I had really been far from home.”

A second notice arrived from the army, but he still wasn’t called, and armed with his teaching certificate, he went to the Mickel School in Camden to teach seventh and eighth grade math.

“I loved it. I’d wanted to teach in an urban school system, and I started implementing my progressive education ideas, that is: you learn by doing. It’s the practical application that’s important. If a window in the classroom was cracked, for example, we’d figure out what was needed, take measurements, calculate the square footage, etc.”

By December, 1952, Uncle Sam called in earnest, and Marvin reported to Fort Mead in Maryland. “I was there for a week, and took a lot of tests. I did well, getting high scores in math and spatial relations, which the army considered essential for the new electronic guidance systems.”

He was slated for army ordnance, where he would indeed learn to repair electronic guidance systems. While at Aberdeen Proving Ground for basic training, Private Reed underwent more testing, and was given the opportunity to apply to Officers Candidate School.

Fort Monmouth

“I decided not to,” he recalls. “It would have meant another year in the army, and I wanted to get started with my career in education.”

He was sent to Fort Monmouth, N.J. for six months to learn electronics. “This was fascinating,” he says. “Others in the group were physics majors and electrical engineers. We learned by doing. The first thing we did was to make a radio, take apart a TV, and then repair a radar set.”

Next, it was on to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, where he learned to repair guided missile systems, and to help develop training manuals, which he edited.

The two years at Redstone Arsenal were both enlightening and entertaining in a number of ways, he reports. “We set up the ‘Missile Men’s’ choir, made up of G.I.s, and I directed plays. We got girls from town to be in them. In addition, that Alabama experience really introduced me to the Jim Crow system in the south. It was totally segregated then. The experience was also intellectually stimulating, however. We’d have fierce barracks debates about segregation and other issues.”

Mr. Reed looks back on the army as a positive experience, offering new opportunities. “Some years later, the Peace Corps was established, and I believe in some idea of universal service. It forces you to interrupt your life, and you meet many people, all different, and have new experiences.”

Corporal Reed’s army career ended in 1954, when he got an early discharge and began interviewing for teaching positions. A different opportunity turned up at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), headquartered in Trenton. “I got a job as assistant editor of their magazine. They were looking for a young person, and it seemed like an interesting job. So, I moved to a rooming house on State Street in Trenton.”

Advanced Studies

After three years, during which time he took courses toward a master’s degree in education from Rutgers, as well as advanced study in journalism and communications at Northwestern and New York Universities, he moved to an apartment on Jefferson Road in Princeton with two roommates.

“I liked Princeton. I liked that move,” he says. “There were three of us, and we’d go to the Princeton University rental office to see who was going on sabbatical leave, so we could house-sit or rent their place.”

Life took a new direction in 1958 when he met Ingrid Wagner, who would become his wife. “I met Ingrid at a family Christmas party. My parents always threw a Christmas Eve party, and invited her family. This year, she came. She had just gotten back from a trip to Europe, after graduating from Penn. She was taking a job in New York, and we talked and talked.”

At the time, he continues, “I was taking night graduate studies at NYU in communications, and she was living in a residence hotel. I suggested we get together after my class, and convinced her to take the subway from 86th Street down to Greenwich Village. It got to be a habit, and then I started going in to see her on weekends. We both especially liked the theater.

Two Children

“We were married the day after Christmas in 1959, and now nearly 50 years later, we still like going to plays together.”

In Princeton, the couple lived on Ewing Street, later on Glenview Drive in West Windsor, and soon, two children, David and Liza, were born.

Mr. Reed’s work at NJEA became more involved, as the organization grew in size and operation. He became Director of Communications. “I managed the Communications department, including overseeing magazines, newspapers, radio and TV programs. That’s where I really learned New Jersey politics,” he explains.

In addition to theater, opera, and other cultural activities, travel was always high on the Reeds’ agenda.

“We went camping in New England, and we also took cross-country trips to Colorado, Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Los Angeles,” says Mr. Reed. “When the kids were small, we took them to Florida, where I had national education meetings. Also, 45 years ago, we started going to St. John in the Virgin Islands with the children, and went camping there. We still go almost every year. When the kids were around nine and 11, we took them to Europe, including France, Germany, and Switzerland.”

His responsibilities at NJEA also included involvement in state politics and government. “I worked with teachers to help them become involved and effective in state politics, and we had workshops and seminars,” he explains. Local and state government would soon be very much a part of his life.

In 1986 after 31 years at NJEA. Mr. Reed decided to take early retirement, and he established his own public relations firm, Princeton Media Associates. “It came at an opportune time for me,” he notes. “Ingrid had gotten a Kellog Fellowship for three years, and we took an eight-week trip around the world, including stops in India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore. It was a great experience at the right time.”

Strong Slate

Having his own firm also allowed him more flexibility and time to pursue another interest — Princeton politics, which he had recently entered. He had been approached by the late Barbara Sigmund to run for Borough Council in the past, but he had always been too busy. Now, the time was right.

“When Barbara decided to run for Mayor, she wanted as strong a slate as possible. A couple of current Council members announced they weren’t going to run, so my name was put forward, along with Mildred Trotman and Jane Terpstra. I found I enjoyed campaigning and going door-to-door.”

Mr. Reed ran a successful campaign, was elected in 1984 on the Democratic ticket, and in the succeeding elections of 1987 and 1990. He served as Council President from 1987 to 1990, when he became Mayor following the death of Barbara Sigmund.

During this period, he had a lot of hands-on experience, gaining first-hand knowledge of the intricacies and operation of local and state politics. “In 1989, when Barbara ran for Governor, my job was to make sure that I showed up at any event she was invited to in Princeton and relay her greetings,” he explains. “That’s how I learned the infrastructure of all the charitable organizations. It was a real learning experience.

“In 1990, when Barbara got sick, I took on more responsibility. We had meetings on Tuesday nights, and I presided a lot in the last several months of her life. There was a lot of emotion involved because she was a friend as well as a colleague. She and Ingrid had first become friends when Barbara’s and our kids were little.”

Named to fill the vacancy as Mayor when Ms. Sigmund died, Mr. Reed went on to be elected to the post three times, in 1991, 1995, and 1999.

Complicated Issues

A variety of issues, often complex and controversial, was on Borough Council’s agenda, and he often had his hands full balancing the needs of the community with the opinions and attitudes of the citizens. His pragmatism and ability to sort through complicated issues has impressed his colleagues.

“Marvin has always been friendly, approachable, and pragmatic,” says Richard Woodbridge, who first served with Mr. Reed on Borough Council and later was his counterpart as Mayor of Princeton Township — albeit on the Republican side of the aisle.

“Marvin tends to play his cards up front. He is polite and easy to work with. When we were both Mayors, we would often meet informally to thread through issues like the school board budget. Even when we had differences, we found ways to work things out. I find that most people when they get elected, tend to get rid of the party stuff and focus on ways to resolve the problems.

“We have been friends a long time; his daughter Liza baby-sat for our kids before we got involved in local politics. Then, we got to know each other further when we went to Colmar, France, the Borough’s sister city, together. Now, we both sit on the Recreation Steering Board Committee, and he brings a lot of useful local political knowledge.”

Adds Council member Wendy Benchley: “Marvin was wonderful to work with, and his energy and enjoyment in public service was contagious. Specifically, he always stunned me with his ability to organize and synthesize the facts — hundreds of facts — and conceptualize the elements of the larger issues, using the facts to illuminate the larger issue. And he’d do it in such a manner that it was a very readable white paper, understandable to all citizens. He had a great, great talent that way, and it made him extremely productive as Mayor.”

For his part, Mr. Reed has worked hard to address what he believes were and are the important issues facing Princeton. “When I was on Council, the real thing I was concerned about was development in Princeton. I wanted to make sure it was done in the right way, and that included the affordable housing that Barbara Sigmund had begun.

Other Ideas

“We also did a complete renovation of Borough Hall and the complete renovation of the Battle Monument area. I am very pleased with that. In addition, we renovated the Suzanne Patterson Senior Resource Center. I am also very proud of what developed with the library, the plaza, and the parking garage. The library is a wonderful force for the downtown.”

Mr. Reed’s work on the library, Albert Hinds’ Plaza, and the garage is a case in point of his willingness to look at different sides of an issue, says Sheldon Sturges, co-founder and Managing Director of Princeton Future. “One of the things about Marv is his responsiveness to other ideas. He had a plan to build a large parking garage, and Princeton Future, after meeting with a variety of people and getting their ideas, suggested a plaza, walkways, and squares. He saw the value of that.

“The most important thing in terms of Princeton Future is that Marv always showed up. We’d have a meeting, and Marv would come. He’s engaged; he’s there. Marv has been a wonderful and positive spirit for the town. Most of all, he’s a very honorable man.”

Wendy Benchley remarks on Mr. Reed’s willingness to spend long hours to get people together to resolve issues. “One of the largest and most stellar of his accomplishments was in getting Borough Council, developers, and citizens together to complete the plaza, apartments, and the garage. He is remarkable in his ability to bring together Borough Council, the ideas of hundreds of citizens, the library, the merchants, and make something a reality after two years of public hearings.

“And on top of it, there are the countless hours of day-to-day government issues: downtown merchants, affordable housing, roads, traffic, police department, Princeton University, taxes, budgets, etc., etc. Princeton is a complicated place, not just a suburban town. It’s a mini-city, with a varied population.”

On a lighter side, Mr. Reed notes that one of his favorite duties as Mayor was performing weddings. “I’ve done at least 500, and I loved doing them. It was a peak moment in people’s lives, and I wanted to make it as special as possible. They were all different. Some included children from previous marriages, and I tried to make them a part of the ceremony too.”

Shared Services

Since leaving office in 2003, Mr. Reed has been, if anything, busier. He was recently named by New Jersey Senate President Richard Cody to the newly-created Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission which the Legislature created last spring to encourage shared services and mergers among New Jersey’s 566 municipalities.

He is currently co-chair of the New Jersey Chapter of the national Congress for the New Urbanism. Previously, from 1996 to 2001, he was president of Downtown New Jersey, Inc., a group of professional planners and pubic officials advocating redevelopment of traditional urban and town centers. In 1993, he chaired the N.J. State Task Force on Driver Distraction and Highway Safety, which succeeded in gaining passage of a ban on hand-held wireless phones while driving.

Active in the N.J. State League of Municipalities, Mr. Reed served when he was Mayor as the Mercer County representative on its Executive Board, chaired the League’s Committee on Telecommunications, and represented the League on the State’s public Works Licensing Advisory Board.

He continues to serve on the Princeton Regional Planning Board and the Borough’s Non-Profit Housing and Redevelopment Corporation. He also chairs the Redevelopment Task Force for New Jersey Future, a statewide citizens’ group supporting the State’s Smart Growth initiative.

“Since leaving office, my first task was to deal with the hospital,” says Mr. Reed. “The town had come to the conclusion that (1) the hospital could move, (2) there could be a residential area in the hospital’s former location, and (3) Merwick would become a residential development for Princeton University faculty.

“Then, we have two big issues with the University’s new Master Plan. First, they want to build a second giant parking garage near the stadium. It is important that jitney service be maintained. Second is the redevelopment of their Arts Village on Alexander Street. I am one of the members of the Planning Board who does not want to move the dinky location.”

Master Plan

“Marv has been very good at getting into the detail of Princeton Future’s Master Plan and seen it as an important document,” notes Sheldon Sturges. “One of the large projects before the community is the future of the dinky. Princeton Future has always been sympathetic to mass transit and rail transit. Marv has taken a particular interest in making contact with members of NJ Transit and the New Jersey Department of Transportation. They have come to Master Plan meetings and been very collaborative.”

The significance of transportation relating to Princeton is very important to Mr. Reed. “There are many crucial issues facing Princeton, including how do you make living space more compact and reduce dependence on automobiles? It means you have to redesign towns and make the distances closer.

“The challenge that interests me most in Princeton right now is the sustainability project. I am concerned that we cannot continue to live on carbon-based fuel, such as oil and natural gas. Carbon gases are disappearing. We cannot continue to pay for oil, be dependent on foreign countries, and underwrite them. This means a change in life-style.”

Princeton, with all its challenges remains a congenial place for Mr. Reed. He has seen many changes in 50 years here, and he is optimistic about its future. But it does require the effort of all its citizens.

“I like the mix of people in Princeton. It’s an economic mix too,” he points out, adding, “When we lived on Glenview Drive, just over the line in West Windsor, our house was built in the late ‘50s as a deliberately integrated neighborhood. The big challenge was to keep it that way. It has worked because of the effort made by people living there. I’ve always felt that’s important. People don’t just live in a house; they live in a neighborhood. People have to cooperate with their neighbors to make it work.”

Adds Sheldon Sturges: “Marv cares about each part of the community, and he’s been very quick to understand the importance of distinct neighborhoods and of neighborhood character.”

Recent Campaign

Mr. Reed also recently resurfaced in local politics, successfully running Mayor Mildred Trotman’s Borough primary campaign. “I was glad to see that I could still do it!” he quips.

Says Mayor Trotman: “When I found I was to be in a primary, Marvin was the first person I reached out to. He is astute and talented in so many ways. I’ve known him since 1984 when we ran together for office. Until he resigned, we ran in every election together. I’ve known him closely ever since, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with him.

“He is always very hardworking, selfless — so giving, so altruistic, and so willing to share. He cannot have served the Borough in all those years and in the great leadership capacity and not have contributed immeasurably to Princeton in so many ways.”

It would seem that all those projects, past and present, would be enough for most people — but not for Mr. Reed!

In addition to his schedule of meetings and community activities, he is currently taking an Adult School course on creating websites. Reading is a pleasure, and his taste is wide-ranging and eclectic. “I enjoy reading about the Founding Fathers, and I recently read a cultural history of Europe between 1650 and 1815. I also read ‘1491’ about who was here before Columbus and what happened to the indigenous population.”

The Reeds are enthusiastic opera and theater fans, attending productions at McCarter and in New York, where they maintain an apartment.

Hard Work

In addition, he works out three times a week at the Y, noting the comment of his trainer, who recently moved.

“I asked him if he knew how old I was, and he said he didn’t. When I told him I was 76, he said ‘NO! If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have made you work so hard!’”

Age — except in wisdom and experience — does not appear relevant to Mr. Reed. He plans to take up skiing again this winter, and he and his wife travel whenever possible. “Ingrid and I continue to travel to Colmar, and I am happy that the town has done a lot to follow up Barbara Sigmund’s sister city program. The best thing is that it has continued beyond my time as Mayor.

“We also like to go to San Francisco and Boston, where our son and daughter live with their families. We told the kids they could live anywhere in the world, as long as they were in interesting places for their parents to visit.

“Right now, I am mapping a five-year plan of places I want to go while I’m still an active biker and hiker. After I’m 80, I may have to turn to cruises! But currently, we are talking about taking the grandchildren on a safari to Africa. It’s in the plans.

“And in two years, Ingrid and I will celebrate our 50th. It’s remarkable that two people can lead such active lives, be politically active, and still not get in each other’s hair. We’ve been blessed.”

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