Former Town Supervisor Vandernoot Reaching Age 100

Many Issues From the 1970s Are Back on the Burner

by Judy Silberstein

(May 8, 2008) Joseph F. Vandernoot, the former supervisor of Mamaroneck Town who turns 100 on May 20, has only lived in Larchmont for 64 years – but that’s enough to give him a healthy perspective on current issues of flooding, firefighters and property values. He was only married to his wife Alice, who died in 2006, for 74 years, but that was enough to earn them honors in 2004 as the longest married couple in the Archdiocese of New York. He estimates he has taken around 10,000 walks through Manor Park, though these days instead of walking through the park he only walks to the park and enjoys the views from one of the benches. He also remains active in St. Augustine’s Church (where he attends daily mass and serves as a lector) and continues reading and traveling – largely to visit his large and far flung family.

VandernootAsked the secret of his longevity and continued vigor, Mr. Vandernoot credits genes inherited from his godmother, an aunt who lived into her nineties despite having battled tuberculosis in her early years. His parents, on the other hand, died in their early forties. “My health, I attribute to my dear wife – who was very careful about what we ate and when we ate.” All the grandchildren know her mantra: “eat two veggies, each a different color.”

With a memory for details that those of us many decades younger would envy, Mr. Vandernoot responded amiably and eloquently to additional questions about his long life and long service to the community.

What brought the Vandernoots to Larchmont?

27 Walnut“Actually I was not at all familiar with Larchmont until I came here,” he said. With three children and another on the way, the family was outgrowing their 6-room home in Mount Vernon when the son of a friend brought them to look at a Larchmont Manor house for sale. House number one needed a lot of work, but their final choice at 27 Walnut was less scary and they quickly put down $650 – 10% earnest money on the $6,500 sale price. “I’m just so happy that I fell into this marvelous neighborhood so near the water,” said Mr. Vandernoot.

vandernootsWhat’s changed since 1943 – other than home prices? The biggest differences are in the size of families and the number of dumpsters, suggested Mr. Vandernoot. ”There were pretty good size houses here with families anywhere from 4 to 14,” he said. “Now the houses are being enlarged for families of 2 or 3. It’s incredible what’s happening.”

A Rocky Beginning

Mr. Vandernoot was only twelve when his father died. He had earned a scholarship to Regis High School, but had to drop out after only one year to help support the family. In 1922, at the age of 14, he took on a series of jobs – messenger, stock boy, office boy, and runner. Four years later, he landed at R.W. Pressprich and Co, the municipal bond trading firm, beginning as a “runner and back office worker.”

Joseph F. Vandernoot (far left) at his first communion, with his parents and sibling.

Ultimately he trained as a bond trader (1932); was admitted as partner (1956), and remained with the firm until he retired in 1971.

A Plunge Into Town Leadership

The lack of formal education, which proved no obstacle to his career success, also did not prevent him from assuming major leadership roles in the community. In characteristic humility, he said the local Republicans were actually seeking to recruit his wife when she handed the telephone over to him and suggested he might want to get involved. By 1967 he was chair of the Larchmont Republican Committee and by 1969 he was serving on the Mamaroneck Town Council – appointed first to fill a vacancy and then elected in 1970 and 1974. In 1976, he was elected (by only 29 votes, he points out) as supervisor, and then was re-elected in 1978 (by a 1700 vote majority) and stepped down at the end of 1979. “I decided to quit while I was ahead,” he quipped.

Town Supervisor Joseph F. Vandernoot (1976-1979)

During his years on the board, many of the major issues were ones that are still of interest today. The board grappled with flood control (“with the help and guidance of Mamaroneck resident Alan Mason”), rent control (for affordable Section 8 housing) and “narcotics” control (developing what later became the Community Counseling Center to keep kids away from drugs.) Mamaroneck Town launched the Volunteer Ambulance Corps (“Lee Bloom did all the ground work”); developed the ice rink and expanded the playing fields behind the Hommocks.

“Flooding used to be almost as bad as it is in the Village of Mamaroneck,“ said Mr. Vandernoot. “They had a hand operated valve and it had reached the point where that valve was going to go,” he recalled. Controls for the new valves were installed in Dr. Mason’s dental office, where they are still in operation. “They now just push a button,” explained Mr. Vandernoot. “It has worked beautifully.”

Also dating to Mr. Vandernoot’s years as supervisor is the sharing between Mamaroneck Town and Larchmont Village of key staff members. When Mamaroneck’s comptroller died, Mr. Vandernoot approached Larchmont’s mayor, Ken Wanderer, and arranged to share the services of their treasurer, Carmine De Luca, who went on to serve both the Town and the Village until his retirement in 2004. (It was only this month that the two municipalities hired their own financial officers. See:Town Hires New Comptroller.) The death of the Town assessor led to a similar arrangement for having one assessor serve both municipalities. “This was born out of an interest in lowering expenditures,” explained Mr. Vandernoot.

The two municipalities also explored merging their fire departments. “But there wasn’t any great feeling that it was a good idea – there seems to be more support now,” said Mr. Vandernoot.

“Joe was a decent, honest man who tried to help a lot of people. He was always there for you,” said Mr. DeLuca, who still works for the Joint Sanitation Commission.

Back to High School and Beyond?

VandernootUpon Mr. Vandernoot’s retirement from the Town Council in December of 1979, a grateful community attempted to make up for the sacrifices he had to make in his early years by awarding him an honorary degree from Mamaroneck High School. Instead of accepting the diploma then, he opted to graduate “with his class” –donning a black gown and picking up his degree in June along with another graduating family member, 18-year-old grandson Francis Cox IV.

Numerous other accolades preceded and followed his honorary degree in recognition of years of service with, among others, the Larchmont Manor Park Society (as treasurer from 1961 to 1994 and president from 1987-1993); St. Augustine’s Church (as president of the Men’s Club and Parish Council, among other roles); The Friends of the Reservoir and the Westchester Association of Retarded Citizens.

More recently, in anticipation of Mr. Vandernoot’s birthday, he has received a “flock” of congratulatory plaques and proclamations. Westchester County Executive Andy Spano declared the entire month of May to be “Joseph F. Vandernoot Month.”

As he approaches 100, Mr. Vandernoot takes all the “hoopla” in stride and continues living in the comfortable home at 27 Walnut Avenue that he and Alice purchased in 1943, when they only had 4 children. They went on to have an additional 3 children, 22 grandchildren and, as of this year, 19 great-grandchildren – most of whom will be in Larchmont this month along with spouses and friends for the birthday celebration.