By Carol Freas
I was eight years old in mid-September of 1951. Shy, quiet, and scared, I waited with my two brothers on the corner of eleventh street in Surf City for the big yellow school bus. Our previous summers, for as long as I could remember, were spent in a two-story carriage house with an outdoor privy that our family had owned since the 1920s. Dad had just built two rooms on at the back of the house, a real bathroom and kitchen; we would all live there full-time now.
The bus arrived and soon delivered us to a sprawling building on 19th Street in Ship Bottom, the new Long Beach Island Grade School, where I joined forty other wide-eyed third graders, all just as fearful as I. I do not recall what transpired over the next few days until one morning that I was part of a group greeted by a beautiful young woman. She was introduced as our new teacher, Miss Nadler. Her enthusiastic love of teaching eased me into this new life on LBI and ignited my love of school.
In 1987, I returned to LBI with my own family, gradually meeting with past school friends and finally reconnecting with Joan Nadler, now Mrs. Edmund Lange. Her forty years of teaching Long Beach Island Grade School is an exceptional story of dedication, and I was thrilled to learn details of her past.
In 1951, as a nineteen-year-old sophomore at West Chester College in Pennsylvania, Joan worked weekends at her family luncheonette on the northeast corner of 13th Street in Ship Bottom. One eventful day that fall, she heard the new school desperately needed another third-grade teacher, so she quickly arranged an interview and was hired on the spot. Over the next seven years she continued to study for her degree, taking classes at Rutgers on Wednesday nights and Saturdays. It was a three-hour drive before the Parkway was built. She dated some until meeting Ed Lange, owner of a masonry business in Ship Bottom whose family emigrated to Philadelphia from Germany in the early 1940s. They married in June of 1961, at Holy Trinity Lutheran church in Brant Beach. She took a break from teaching to nurture their own three children, Randy, Jeff, and Cindy and afterward returned to teaching until retiring at age sixty-five.
Joan initiated the first computer classes at both Island elementary schools, established programs for gifted children and all-day kindergarten in addition to welcoming hundreds of young children to the thrill of learning. I remember being enthralled during rest time after lunch as she read chapters from books by Louisa May Alcott. I wonder how many other children also fell in love with Mrs. Lange over these many years.
As I continue to learn more Island history each time I visit Joan, it is easy to fall in love again with this gregarious, kind woman, and ardent Phillies fan, who became my teacher in 1951. Her calico cat, Mimsy, agrees with me and cuddles under her chin to listen.