Remembering The 20th Century: An Oral History of Monmouth County
Date of Interview: October 30, 2000
Ms. West: FreeholderLarrison is with Larrison Coal/Fuel Oil Company Incorporated, holding the position of President. Mr. Larrison could you tell me a little something about your family - your mom, your dad…
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Yes, I was born in 1926. We lived on West Bangs Avenue, between Wayside and Greengrove Road in Neptune. My father's name was Harry Larrison, Sr. My mother's maiden name was Dorothy Brown; she was born in Asbury Park on Summerfield Avenue. My mother and father had four children - the sister who is two years older than I am, Dolores Hendrickson, and I had twin brothers, both whom are deceased now. They passed away in the last four years. The family lived on West Bangs Avenue for about ten years and then we moved to the corner of Wayside Road and Slocum in the Ashby Garden section of Neptune Township. We lived there about five years and then we moved to 1219 Ninth Avenue, Neptune. And we lived there until I got married in 1945.
Ms. West: So you attended schools in Neptune?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: I attended Summerfield Grammar School. Started pre-primary, graduated the eighth grade, and I went to Neptune High School and graduated from there in 1945.
Ms. West: When you were a youngster, how do remember the town? How did it appear?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, if I remember correctly, there were about 8,000 or 9,000 people in Neptune at that time, mainly made up of the Bradley Park section, the Ridge Avenue section, the Gables, the Gardens, the Hamilton section, and Shark River Hills. And then there was a small piece of Neptune which was Shark River Highlands, along Shark River. There were different grammar schools around at that time - there was Whitesville, Ridge Avenue, Summerfield, Ocean Grove, and Bradley Park, and on Ridge Avenue in downtown Neptune. It was a small community, pretty much, the area where I lived. When I was a young boy growing up, pretty much you knew everybody who lived around you. And you pretty much knew everybody in town; it was a nice town to grow up in, and I have a lot of fond memories.
Ms. West: What are some of your memories about your school days there?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I had a great time in school. I'll never forget when I was little I used to look out the window and say, "Boy, am I ever going to get out of school?" But as look back now, they were the nicest days of my life, and I didn't have enough brains to enjoy them. But I was very happy in school. I was President of my eighth grade class at Summerfield. And I had a good time in Neptune High School, too. I played football and basketball, and did all the usual things a young boy would do.
Ms. West: When you were going to school, did you like to read?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, yes, I would read, yes, quite a bit. I still like to read, and in this position I hold now, I have a tremendous amount of reading to do.
Ms. West: Right. Did you have a favorite author as a youngster?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Not really.
Ms. West: You read a lot of books other than the compulsory reading that the Board of Education required, then. You did a lot of reading on your own, for your own pleasure.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Yes.
Ms. West: And what games did you play as a boy?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I played just about everything. As I said before, I was on the football team and the basketball team in Neptune. But we played softball, we played kick the can, when I was little on the corner of Ninth and Ridge, and we played just about every game there was.
Ms. West: Did you have a favorite radio program that you liked to listen to?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Not really. There were a couple like Little Orphan Annie and those, but that was when I was real small.
Ms. West: Do you know anything about your ancestors?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I know quite a bit. My mother's father, Ferdinand Brown, was the first plumber in the city of Asbury Park going back in the 1800s. He died when I was a little boy, and my Grandmother Brown died soon after that. On my father's side was John Larrison, who was born in Prospect Plains in Monmouth County, that's out near Hightstown. My grandmother's name was Georgiana Hyers; she was born in Howell Township. My grandfather went to the city of Asbury Park when he was a very young boy in 1905. He got a job as a helper at the railroad station. In those days they called them hacks. People would come into the Asbury Park Railroad Station and the hacks would take steamer trunks and what have you to the hotels. It was soon after that he had his own hack and then he had a livery stable with horses. He was always in business for himself; he never worked for anybody. He started the coal business in 1930, and it's still established, still going strong. I took over the operation of the business in 1958 as he got older. On my grandmother Georgiana's side, her father had a big farm on West Farms Road. That's on the corner of West Farms Road and Route 9. In those days Route 9 was called the Stage Road; it brought people from New York City to Lakewood.
Ms. West: And what town is that in?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Howell Township. When my grandmother and grandfather got married he settled in Neptune City, and he lived in Neptune City all of his adult life. And as I said, he was always in business for himself, he never worked for anybody.
Ms. West: Is there any particular part of the County that has any particular significance to you?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, not really. When you're in the position that I'm in, you have to love all parts. Monmouth County is a very large county, and we have just so much to offer to people. It's a beautiful county. As you drive with motorcar today, you see the rolling fields, the crops, the waterfront, and the houses - we have a little bit of everything in this county.
Ms. West: Did you have any heroes or heroines?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Not really. I thought a great deal about my grandfather, because he gave me the inspiration in life to never take no for an answer. If something don't work, just keep working until you make it right. That's the way he was brought up and that's the way he brought me up.
Ms. West: So he had quite a bit of influence in you life, I understand then.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: He sure did.
Ms. West: Well, is there anything you might have wanted to say to him that you might have left unsaid?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: He loved animals, he loved dogs, he loved to hunt, and he very rarely ever went anyplace that he didn't have at least one hound dog with him in a truck or in a car. When he would be rocking on the porch, there would be a dog sitting right by the rocking chair with him.
Ms. West: What type of music did you like to listen to?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Country music.
Ms. West: Country music? And what were any particular fads, the way of dressing in your day?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: No.
Ms. West: Nothing in particular?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: No.
Ms. West: What was the first movie you remember seeing?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Oh, my heavens, I can't remember that! Most of the movies that I saw were shown at the Old Palace Theater which is still there in Bradley Beach. I'll never forget we would go Sundays to my grandmother and grandfather's, and my grandfather would give my sister and me ten cents. It cost nine cents to get in the movie and one penny was for candy at Mr. Northridge Bicycle and Candy Shop right next to the movie.
Ms. West: Nine cents to get into the movie and look what it costs today. Let alone a piece of candy, right! Who's the first President that you remember?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: The first President that I really remember is Roosevelt.
Ms. West: Anything in particular about him that makes him stand out in your mind?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: The only thing I remember is that my grandfather didn't like him.
Ms. West: Is there any newspaper headline that stands out in your mind through the years?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: No, not really. Of course when Morro Castle came ashore that was quite an experience in Asbury Park and the surrounding areas. My mother had two brothers, Fred Brown, and Everett Brown. One was on the police department and the other was on the fire department, and they did a lot of rescue work when the Morro Castle came ashore.
Ms. West: That was a ship I take it.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Yes, it was a cruise ship that caught fire at sea. A lot of lives were lost. I think it was 1934 or 1935, somewhere around there.
Ms. West: When did you become interested in politics?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well that's a funny story. I have, all of my life, enjoyed people. I like being with people, I like helping people. I joined the Ocean Grove Fire Department in 1946. I joined the First Aid Squad the same year. I'm still an active fireman, an active first aid man, but I can't do some of the work that I used to do because I just can't lift. But helping people has always been one of my great desires. We used to sit around the firehouse and this and that and the other thing would come up. In 1956, when Neptune Township Housing Authority was created, the mayor at that time asked me if I would like to go on the Township Housing Board. So I did, and I enjoyed it. I was in a position there to help people. Of course when we first organized we didn't have any dwelling units at the time, but that has grown tremendously. Neptune Township has a very, very good housing project, the places are really, really nice. I was on that for four years and then there was a vacancy on the Township Committee of Neptune because one of the committeemen, Thomas Catlee, commonly known as HattyCat, got off the Township Committee and took the job as executive director of the Housing Authority, so that created a vacancy.
Ms. West: And what year was this?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: 1960. I was appointed there and then I ran for election in 1963 and again in 1966. I was elected each time, but I only served one month in 1966 because I was appointed to the Board of Freeholders on February 12, 1966, and I've been a Freeholder ever since.
Ms. West: What are the duties of the Freeholders?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, the duties of a Freeholder are similar to the duties of running a town. The Monmouth County Board of Freeholders runs the whole county. We run the correctional institution, the Youth Detention Center, Brookdale Community College , the Vocational School system, and the two nursing homes, John L. Montgomery and Geraldine L. Thompson. The county maintains all of the bridges in the county. We've got nine hundred and thirty seven bridges in the county. We maintain four hundred and eighty seven miles of county highways, which we pave and repave, plow the snow, and do such the maintenance and everything that goes with it. And we have numerous other things: we've got the Office on Aging, we've got the S.C.A.T. bus program that the Board of Freeholders started about twenty-seven years ago with five busses. Now we have seventy buses to bus senior citizens to doctors' offices, shopping centers, things of that nature. The Monmouth County Planning Board is also very active. Our Parks Department is recognized as one of the best in the country. When I first went on the Board of Freeholders we had about two hundred and twenty acres of parkland, and today we've got fourteen thousand acres of parkland. We've got 5,000 acres of agricultural easements - that's where the county went in and bought the development rights, and those pieces of property have to stay in farming. So the Board of Freeholders is involved in many, many, many things.
Ms. West: How many board members are there?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: There are five members on the board.
Ms. West: You said that you were appointed, but this is an elected position.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Elected, yes, you run every three years for a three-year term.
Ms. West: So you've been on the board for quite a while.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Thirty-five years. I'm the longest tenured Freeholder in the state's history.
Ms. West: So have all of your goals come to fruition as to when you first became a member of the board?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, naturally you set certain goals. It's very rewarding to see some of the planning, and even some of the planning that was done before I became a member, because sometimes it takes years to bring things to fruition. Monmouth County has always been very fortunate to have a forward thinking Board of Freeholders; we're always looking to the future. I tell people it's very easy for me to run the county today. My obligation, as I see it, is I've got to look twenty-five or thirty-five years down the road to see what this county is going to look like and then, improve it to meet that demand many years down the road.
Ms. West: Right, you must project into the future.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Right.
Ms. West: How would you like to see the county in the future?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I would like it to continue the way it's gone. Naturally the population is expanding all the time, and you have to plan for that. You can't deprive people for the right uses of their land, they're allowed to do with it what they want. A lot of people think that Monmouth County Board of Freeholders has control over zoning, and stuff like that, which we don't. That's strictly a local governing body's responsibility. They are the ones that give the permits to build the houses. I think what we have to do is continue expanding places like Brookdale College, places like the County Library, Vocational School Board, to be sure that the necessary tools are going to be there to do the job. I think that this board is dedicated to acquiring open space, so that there are plenty of places for our children twenty-five, thirty, forty years down the road to play. And all the amenities that goes with these things. We've had a little controversial thing now: we're trying to establish a ferry operation from Belford to downtown Manhattan. And we've had an opposition. Opposition is always there, no matter what you do, there's going to be people to oppose it. But I'm smart enough to see, and so are the other members of the board, that we just can't keep building highways. We can't keep building bridges and tunnels. Number one, they are extremely expensive. From a ferry terminal at Belford Creek, a trip to downtown Manhattan is about thirty minutes. And when you go across the Bay there are no streetlights, there's no snow to plow, there's no stop signs, there's just nothing, just the water. Ferry operations throughout the United States is a very hot issue now in San Francisco and all the places where they have waterways to have ferry operations. Just to give you a little example, New York Waterways is run by a fellow by the name of Imperatore. Fifteen years ago he was ferrying between twenty five hundred and three thousand people. Now he transports about twenty six thousand people a day across from Weehawken, Bayonne, Hoboken, and places like that to Monmouth County. You know you have to think back fifty years ago we had ferry service from Staten Island to the Jersey Shore up at the Highlands. They were big excursion boats, and then it all seemed to collapse with the advent of the better highways and things of that nature, but now it's coming back again.
Ms. West: When you speak of Belford and crossing the bay, what bay is that you're talking about?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Sandy Hook Bay and Raritan Bay.
Ms. West: I want listeners and readers to know what bay you're referring to. Okay, so then you really are looking into the future.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: I think that's my responsibility, that's the responsibility of any office holder. I don't care whether he's a member of the school board or local government, or whatever, you have to look ahead. Because if you don't, when that ahead time comes, you're going to be behind the eight ball if you haven't planned properly.
Ms. West: With all this tremendous job that you have had for these past thirty-five years in working as a Freeholder, how do you relieve your stress? Do you have any hobbies or anything?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Yes, I play golf. But sometimes that could be very frustrating. And I'm an early riser, I'm usually up around five o'clock in the morning. In my business, going back when I was very young, I used to drive a tractor and trailer six days a week, three hundred and sixty seven miles a day to Pennsylvania loaded with coal and down to the Jersey Shore. Six days a week. We had five tractors and trailers on the road, and I was in charge of them even though I was a very young fella; but my grandfather had that much faith in me. It was hard work, and I just got used to getting up very early in the morning, and I've always been that way. I can go to bed at midnight and I'm wide-awake and out of bed at five.
Ms. West: We haven't mentioned your wife. How long have you been married?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: I lost my wife in 1992 to cancer. I also had a very unfortunate thing - I lost my youngest daughter to cancer, when she was seventeen. And that was in 1975 when she passed away. My wife and I were married forty-seven years when she passed away. And I have two other daughters, Judy Larrison and my daughter Carol, who is married. Her name is Carol Pantaleo. She married a very lovely man, Matthew Pantaleo, and I have two grandsons, Travis and Zack.
Ms. West: How old are the grandchildren?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Travis is fifteen and Zack is thirteen.
Ms. West: Oh, young men there…
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Yup! They grow up so fast.
Ms. West: Too fast, too fast… What would you say has been your greatest achievement?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I don't know what the greatest achievement is, because there's just been so many of them, and to my way of thinking they were not my personal achievements. To be a business man and run a business and have a lot of customers is an achievement. There are a lot of friends and employees that you're very happy with and they're happy with you… that's an achievement that you could almost say is personal. But the achievements that I've made in government would not have been achieved without the help and input of other people. I think the greatest thing is when people express an opinion that might give you an idea that you never thought about before. The more you talk with each other, the more you learn things that you're not thinking about. And I think that's the most interesting part.
Ms. West: If you could describe your life as a road map, how would you describe it?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I've moved around quite a bit as far as everyday activity. I'm on the go - I'm usually over to my oil plant around six thirty, quarter to seven in the morning. And then after a couple of hours there, I'll be up in my Freehold office doing what I have to do there. And then a lot of the committee and night meetings, and a lot of communities that you have to meet with. Many people work in the daytime, and the only time they can meet is night, and you have to make yourself available if they have a problem or they've got a plan. The county and the municipality work together to create something. They're the kind of meetings that you have to go to.
Ms. West: Are your daughters involved in your business?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: They both are, yes, they both work there.
Ms. West: If your grandchildren came to you and asked you for some advice, what advice could you give them?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I would probably give them the same, and I talk to them quite a bit about life, even though they are young. I tell them that they have to do the right thing, number one, and to be unafraid to take a chance if you believe in what you're doing. And to always consider the other person because there is no way that you can get ahead in this world if you don't have the help of other people.
Ms. West: What is the most unusual thing about yourself?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I don't really know. When you're in political life, you have people who you may think dislike you because you're of the opposing party. But it doesn't necessarily mean that they hate you or that they dislike you personally, it's just that they don't share your views. And in politics it's a very funny thing. There have been many, many Democrats who have moved into Monmouth County from North Jersey, from Staten Island, Brooklyn, and why did they move here? They moved here because they liked what they saw, they'd seen a house they liked, or a locality that they liked and they bought a home, or had a home built - and this is where they're going to raise their family. And after they're here a little while and see all of the things that this county and their municipality have to offer, such as excellent school systems, they just like their county, and if somebody tries to change the county now, they're going to say, "Hey, I live there, I know what it's like, and I like it, and it's nice." And sometimes they will change their party affiliation. Party affiliation today in public life is not as strong as it was many, many years ago. You can see in the paper now that there will maybe be thirty-two percent Republican, twenty-nine percent Democrat, or vice-versa, and it will be like forty or fifty percent of undeclared independents who vote for whoever they want. They don't declare themselves.
Ms. West: Do your daughters have any political aspirations?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: I don't think so. My wife always said that one politician in a family is enough.
Ms. West: So no member of your family preceded you into politics to then?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: No. Years and years ago my grandfather served one term on the council in Neptune City, back in the teens and early twenties. He was active in the fire company, and so was my dad. My dad was captain of the Hamilton Fire Company that's in Neptune, out in the Western part of Neptune.
Ms. West: If you could look back at your life and review it quickly, and were to leave a symbol to the populace, what symbol would you leave for us?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I would just say the same thing I've been telling my grandchildren. Lead a good clean life and treat your neighbors and your fellow man the way you want to be treated. That's how you get along and how you get by. Because there's no one person who can accomplish everything that he or she wants to do without help. And I don't mean monetary help. I mean just the companionship, the human support for one another is what carries you along. I was very honored a year and a half ago at Brookdale Community College because I was one of the founders of that, and it's very gratifying. I've never missed a graduation. I was there during the early construction, and the first graduating class we had. We had about two hundred and ten people - last year they had twelve hundred and eighty five graduates at Brookdale. And they named a building after me - Larrison Hall at Brookdale Community College - and I thought that was quite an honor.
Ms. West: That's quite an honor, yes, because that's there for posterity.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: A lot of the original board members are deceased. Back in those early times we had the vision of a four-year college, but the way the community college law was structured under the state, it became a community college. If you wanted to make it a four-year college, you would lose the financial support of the state for a community college. But things have changed now, and two years ago we opened Freehold Commons, which is out on the Freehold bypass. Students can go there and get their third and fourth year of school. That program is in conjunction with Rutgers and Montclair State - with the professors and everything. That project has grown tremendously just in two years. I always advocated that it is much easier for a student who hasn't much money to live home, and it's much easier for him to get a part time job in the locality where he grew up, where he knows people. I predict in another ten or twelve years that this third and fourth year program of the community college is really going to grow.
Ms. West: What year was Brookdale built - when was the cornerstone laid?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: We started in 1966. The first graduating class was I think 1969. I'll never forget the first meeting. It was on Geraldine Thompson's farm - it was a horse farm - and we met in one of the barns. The horses had left five or six months before that, so there were no horses around, but nobody told the flies that the horses were gone…there were thousands of flies!!! That was really something. But it was a great pleasure to see that school grow because to me education is a must. I know people who were floundering, and I can say that because my next birthday I'll be seventy five years old, and they'd come to me and I'd tell them, "The first thing that you've got to do is you've got to go get some education." And I've seen so many of them turn out so well. Once they applied themselves to learning, they just went right up the ladder. And I was always concerned about the young people that we have in the county correctional institution. And about six years ago, we started a vocational school class in the county correctional institution where some of the people, men and women, can learn a trade, and when they're done serving their sentence, whatever may be, they got something to carry with them. Because there's always somebody looking for help, somebody that's got the basics. In other words, they will not be a first class electrician when they graduate, but they'll have the basics, and they can go to work for a local electrician who will teach him all the finer points of things.
Ms. West: So that's the catalyst for a productive life when they get on the outside…
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Absolutely. Absolutely. Repeat performances are bad, because once they get in that rut, then they may never want to help themselves.
Ms. West: Well, I guess once they get out they sometimes go back to the same environment.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, some of them do, some of them don't - but they've certainly got the opportunity now with the vocational school board.
Ms. West: Are they taking advantage of it?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Oh, yes. Nothing makes my heart feel better than when I see somebody come through that door who comes here to thank me for giving him a chance. That makes my day. Let me show you this little note from a little boy, I think he said he was six years old, how happy he is that we're going to enlarge the Henry Hudson Trail. Just read that, that's one of the things that make you feel good. And then, not too long ago, my picture was in the paper with another six-year-old boy. When this boy found his mother unconscious on the floor, he went to the telephone and called 911. Six years old. And the operator on the 911 line said he thought he was talking to an adult, because he instructed the little boy to stay on the line and said, "Are you home alone?", and the boy said, "No, I got two brothers, they're asleep." The operator said, "Go wake your brothers up and come right back," so he went and woke them up and came right back. One of the boys was thirteen, so he was instructed to call the police and the first aid right away. And the operator had him on the phone for about twenty minutes before help arrived, and finally the first aid man said to the 911 operator, "We've got everything under control." No matter how smart you are, there's always something new out there. Now we have a very good sheriff and a very good sheriff's department, and we are starting a little seminar in every primary first and second grade in all the schools to teach them how to use 911.
Ms. West: You can see how advantageous it is for them to know this information.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: That's right. As I said before, there's just so many things that the Board of Freeholders are involved in, but there again, the Board of Freeholders alone can't do it. It's the people, the people who get interested.
Ms. West: You need their input.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: That's right. You know, it's just like the PTAs - all the good things they do for the schools, and they don't get paid. Why do they do it? They do it for the love of the children, the love of the community, and love of their fellow man. To help wherever they can.
Ms. West: People care. You have to care, you have to care.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, if you don't care, there's something definitely wrong with you.
Ms. West: As you are telling your grandchildren, nobody's an island, you can't stand-alone - you have to reach out to others to guide you and show you the way. Has your life been much different than you thought it might be when you were growing up?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: Well, I don't think so. I always use the phrase that every day is a new beginning - which it is. You never know what is going to transpire or what emergencies will pop up. I do have people who come in here and think they have problems. When I get done talking to them, they walk out of here, and they don't have a problem.
Ms. West: They didn't know how well off they were!
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: That's right. But it's just the way that you talk to them. I remember my mother. I'll never forget when we were growing up, my mother had a saying, "Remember, if there's a tree of trouble in town, and you went and hung your troubles on the tree, ninety nine out of a hundred times you'd go back and get your own troubles off because other people have worse troubles."
Ms. West: What are your deepest values?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: I value friendship, I value people. Because people are it - you know, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to help somebody - that's what makes me go. It's just helping people. And sometimes, you know, it's so simple, it's just like a little boost when they need it. Sometimes employees come in here and are disgusted I'm not going anyplace on this that and the other thing, and when I explain all the good parts to everything, they feel better. That's what makes me tick.
Ms. West: This time last year everybody was talking about the new Millennium, and of course some people see the Millennium as starting January first this year as opposed to last year. How would you like to see things for your grandchildren? Not just as far as Monmouth County is concerned, but as far as the world is concerned?
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: There were all kinds of things that they told us about when the year 2000 comes in that these computers weren't going to work, and this wasn't going to work and that wasn't going to work, but I felt confident in my bones that the people understood what had to be done, and it was being done. So as a result we passed into the year 2000 and it all worked. It's kind of hard to predict what's going to be, but the computer age today sometimes scares me because there is a certain element that would use computers to hurt other people. Hopefully they would be apprehended very quickly. We hear right now that criminals do something to give computers a virus which throws it off, but hopefully technology will catch up to where that won't be a problem. But, there again, it's education, you've got to have education.
Ms. West: Thank you very much for this interview, Mr. Larrison.
Mr. Larrison, Jr.: You are welcome.