The Star-Ledger obituary headline, on January
25, 2005, labeled her a "pioneering journalist." She was
also a legendary and highly regarded Newark-area author/historian,
and Weequahic High School graduate. And she lived all of her 85
years in Newark, 79 of them at 69 Hansbury Avenue in the Weequahic
Her name was Jean-Rae Turner
She had also been a high school teacher and a librarian, but the
largest part of her working life, 44 years of it, was as a general
assignment reporter for the Elizabeth Daily Journal, New Jersey's
oldest newspaper, established in 1779.
Start at Elizabeth Journal
She joined the Elizabeth Daily Journal in 1945, after earning her
masters degree in history at Columbia University, a short stint
as a teacher at Hillside High School, a summer job at the Trenton
Times, and a summer in the Military Information Service in the Pentagon,
Ms. Turner's start as a journalist at the Elizabeth Journal did
not come easy. Union County Sheriff Ralph Froelich, who knew Ms.
Turner in her early newspaper years, recalled that "that was
an early time for women in the field, but that didn't mean that
she didn't jump in with both feet."
Barbara Miss, a photo librarian at the Star-Ledger, reinforced
Froelich's recollection about Ms. Turner's early days at the Journal
with this comment: "It wasn't easy to be a female reporter
at crime scenes. She would go to scenes in her high heels and they
would not quite laugh at her, but almost. She would put her head
down and go for it."
In addition to her general reporting assignments in those early
years, she had also written a photography column, and a New Jersey
Some Journalistic "Firsts"
Some of her journalistic "firsts" during her early years
with the Elizabeth Journal included: First woman at the Journal
to work nights (so she could cover nighttime municipal meetings),
and first women at the Journal to cover Police and Fire Departments.
While employed at the Elizabeth Daily Journal, Ms. Turner was secretary
of the Newspaper Guild unit at that paper, and also in the statewide
She was a member of the National Press Photographers Association,
and the New Jersey Press Women. In 1988, she was selected by the
New Jersey Press Women as the state's most outstanding newspaper
Over the years, she won honors for her journalistic accomplishments
with a number of other press organizations, including the North
Jersey Press Association, and the New Jersey Daily Newspaper Women.
She had also been active with the New Jersey Collegiate Press Association,
and helped run contests for college student journalists.
Highly-Regarded by Colleagues
Here work as a journalist over more than four decades established
her as a seasoned news reporter, highly regarded by colleagues and
by fellow journalists in New Jersey daily newspaper circles.
At the Elizabeth Journal, she had been active as secretary of the
Newspaper Guild chapter, a high honor in a newspaper with more than
Newspaper Guild employees went out of strike in 1979 and Ms. Turner
walked the picket lines with them. Ultimately 99 of the strikers
were dismissed as the Journal continued publication with non-union
workers. It was all over for her after forty four years.
New Careers After the Journal
Subsequent to leaving the Journal, Ms. Turner was a researcher
and curator at the Newark Public Library, and later she was employed
by New Jersey Newsphotos as their photo librarian.
Newsphotos was the photo department of the Star-Ledger.
She retired from Newsphotos in 1996 and devoted the remaining years
of her life to the compilation and writing of her history-based
books, and giving lectures based on their contents.
Her writing partner, Richard T. Koles, said "At lectures,
when it came to the questions, she could give you dates and everything
else that pertained to that question, off the top of her head."
Her First Book
She had had her first success as a book author back in 1977 while
still employed as a reporter at the Journal. The book was "Along
the Upper Road: the History of Hillside New Jersey." It was
comprised of a series of newspaper articles that she had written
in the 1950s.
Historian to the Core
Ms. Turner loved history as much as she loved writing, especially
local-area history. At Trenton State College, she chose History
as her major for her undergraduate degree.
She was an active participant in numerous historical societies,
including the New Jersey Historical Society, the Union County Historical
Society, the Hillside Historical Society, the Westfield Historical
Society, and the Newark Landmarks and Preservation Committee.
She co-authored four history books with Richard T. Koles, a former
Elizabeth Journal colleague. Both she and Koles were leaders in
the Union County society. She had been Secretary, and Koles had
been the Society's President.
She worked with the distinguished late Newark historian, Charles
Cummings on her 2003 book "Newark: The Golden Age."
Her pamphlet, published in 2003 by the Union County Historical
Society, won second prize in the 2003 Awards Program of the League
of Historic Societies of New Jersey.
One close friend and a former associate said "She not only
chronicled history. She also inspired others to do the same."
Another friend was quoted as saying "She was a walking encyclopedia
of the history of the Greater Newark area and was willing to share
her knowledge with anyone interested.
Newark Landmarks Recognition
In 1999, Ms. Turner was a recipient of one of the three Annual
Recognition Awards presented by the Newark Preservation and Landmarks
Her fellow winners that year were: The New Jersey Historical Society,
and Michael Immerso, the founder of Newark's First Ward Italian
colony and author of "Newark's Little Italy: The Vanished First
Newark Public Library Recognition
In recognition of Ms. Turner's accomplishments as journalist, author,
and historian, in 2002, she was nominated for inclusion in the NEwark
Public Library publication "Newark Literary Lights," a
publication which includes the names of distinguished writers who
have produced books, short stories, plays, monographs, and poetry,
as well as periodicals and newspaper columns and articles.
As an addition to "Newark's Literary Lights," Ms. Turner's
name and biography joined a distinguished roster that already included
such world-famous figures as: Washington Irving, Stephen Crane,
Thomas Paine, Mary Mapes Dodge, Howard Garis, Dore Schary, John
T. Cunningham, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, and Philip Roth.
Other Turner Affiliations
In addition to the association and group memberships mentioned
earlier, Ms. Turner also held memberships in the Hillside Historical
Society, the New Jersey Historical Society, the Newark Landmarks
and Preservation Committee, the Newark Museum, and the Friends of
the Newark Public Library. She was also very active in the Newark
At Weequahic High School
During her four years at Weequahic High School, Ms. Turner was
on the Archery Team and was named "second best girl athlete"
by the yearbook staff. She, herself, had worked on the yearbook
staff, but never tried out for the school newspaper, because, she
once wrote "I didn't have the nerve to try out for it."
She later overcame this fear at Trenton State College when she
joined the staff of that paper and was the paper's editor in her
Her 1938 graduation from Weequahic High followed by a year that
of Sid Dorfman, a Star-Ledger writer now in his 70th year with that
Her graduation preceded by 12 years the Weequahic High graduation
of Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Roth, who grew up and lived in her
neighborhood and writes extensively about it.
My Jean-Rae Connections
I'd known Jean-Rae Turner for more than 50 years. I'd first me
her back in the 1950s when her Elizabeth Journal 'beat' included
Hillside of which I was then a resident.
I had done some local volunteer publicity for political and fraternal
organizations and she was my Elizabeth Journal news contact.
I was an early admirer of her newspaper reportage as it was journalistically
accurate and precise, and clearly written.
When, many years later she was working on her book on Hillside,
I was able to provide here with useful information for it from my
files on The Baker & Taylor Company, a Hillside-based leading
American book distributor. I had earlier been their sales manager.
In recent years, we were fellow members of the Westfield Historical
Society, and we both had been frequent speakers on historic topics
at their monthly First Wednesday luncheons.
Ms. Turner also was my host when I spoke on "American Presidential
Oddities" at the Union County Historical Society.
We discovered that our educational patterns touched at two institutions.
Jean-Rae went to Columbia University Journalism School for a time,
early in her newspaper career. My application at that school was
rejected, but many years later, I consulted for Columbia University
Jean-Rae also took courses at The New School for Social Research
(now New School University) in New York. I completed the New School
Public Relations Program.
Interred in Familiar Grounds
After funeral services on Friday, January 27, 2006, at the Third
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, she was interred in
the Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside.
During the latter years of her life, Ms. Turner had conducted many
walking tours in this cemetery and was able to talk about the lives
of many of the notable people buried there.
It had been through her efforts that the Evergreen Cemetery was
added to the State and National registries of historic places.
* * * * *
Turner Tributes from Friends
Following are a few comments from friends of Ms. Turner with whom
I was in contact during the preparation of the "Memory."
- From Phil Yourish, director of the Weequahic High School Alumni
"She was a very special lady, a quiet Newark icon, and
a Weequahic legend."
- From Bob Miller, Program Chairman of the Westfield Historical
"She gave many wonderful talks about Newark. Among those
I particularly recall were "The Making of Newark", "Newark's
Golden Age", and "The Jews of Newark."
- From Julius Spohn, Newark historian and a multigenerational
resident of Newark:
"She was a wonderful asset to the City - past and present."
- From Glenn Geisheimer, Webmaster of the Old Newark Web site
and a highly-regarded Newark historian:
"Her passing was a big loss for the community."