rbr oral history kayla williams

rbr oral history kayla williamsPHOTO: RBR Senior and Red Bank resident Kayla Williams is pictured on the main street in her hometown where she is currently working on an oral history project in alliance with the Red Bank Library.  The purpose of the project is to record long-time Red Bank residents’ impressions and thoughts of their hometown in years gone by.

Little Silver, NJ – Residents in Red Bank and other towns flock to the Galleria parking lot every Sunday to pick the fresh produce at the area’s farmers’ market.  Just down the road, however, at the picturesque park, where locals cast their crab boxes off the railing to the Navesink River, a similar scene played out decades ago when Red Bank was an operating port. Boats brought the fresh produce straight from New York City’s farmer’s markets for sale to Red Bank residents.  That was the memory of 97- year-old Anthony Trufolo, a former Red Bank High School teacher as recorded by 17 year-old Red Bank resident Kayla Williams, a Red Bank Regional (RBR) High School senior.


Ms. Williams spent a good part of her summer vacation interviewing and recording the memories of other senior Red Bank residents in collaboration with the Red Bank Library’s on-going oral history project.

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Kayla volunteered to participate as she thought it would be interesting and fun.  She found it to be all that and in her words, “just amazing.”

She adds, “so many of the elderly people in Red Bank, may not be able to get out that much, but they have so many stories they would like to share, and it is good for them to tell them and good for us to learn them.        

The project was a long-fermenting idea of the Red Bank Library’s Acting Director Elizabeth McDermott. A recent bequeath of old photos from Mr. Trufolo to the library catalyzed the project when one day, Ms. McDermott also happened to observe Kayla at the library, donning her RBR Creative Writing t-shirt. Kayla is a Creative Writing Major in RBR’s Visual & Performing Arts Academy.

Ms. McDermott recalls, “I asked her if she would mind using her creative writing talents in putting together a list of questions for an interview with Mr. Trufolo and writing it up.  What she created showed such insight.”

Kayla has won numerous awards from the National Scholastic Competition for her poetry submissions and has performed her works with her classmates locally and on a European tour. She is an honor roll student and member of the Spanish Honor Society. Kayla is also a youth leader in her church and a member of the Navesink River Rowing Youth team.  She hopes to study biology in college upon her 2015 graduation.

From her crafted questions Kayla would uncover a wealth of fascinating information.  Responding to “what did you like to do as a teenager?” she learned of the vastly different physicality of Red Bank since young Anthony would play pick-up games with friends in the many vacant lots that permeated the town.  Also dotting the town where numerous primary schools, one of which now houses her alma mater, Red Bank Charter, on Oakland Street and River Street School, near Kayla’s home, which is now a senior residence.

In response to her question on growing up during the depression, Mr. Trufolo recalled his siblings scouring area wood shops for scraps to heat their homes.  The injustice of the times were recounted, ironically in the memory of the iconic Count Basie theatre, now named for Red Bank’s most famous resident. Mr. Trufolo recalled its segregated predecessor“The Carlton Theatre”into which he would try to sneak in with his African American friendsto the lower level (the balcony was designated seating for “colored”).

Elizabeth McDermott was heartened to see a connection instantly form between the teenager and the nonagenarian during their interview.

She comments, “Kayla learned that both he and his beloved wife were born in their respective family homes; and that Mrs. Trufolo was born in the house diagonally across from Kayla’s house. In addition, Mr. Trufolo fondly recalled Kayla’s grandfather, Horner Williams, whom he taught in school.”

Kayla later wrote a culminating article on the interview which Ms. McDermott recalls, “I was blown away by the article.  I felt she not only took notes but even captured the man in his speech patterns.”

Kayla and Ms. McDermott collaborated on several other oral history interviews of Red Bank residents, all longtime residents of Red Bank.  The two volunteered at a Pop Up Museum on Monmouth Street at the 60th annual Red Bank Sidewalk Sale.  Through announcements at town council meetings and a subsequent press article, the list of prospective residents eager to tell their tale grew.

Ms. McDermott would hope to conduct as many in-depth interviews and post the write-ups with pictures on the library website and as a fluid display in the library.  Several years ago, a similar project was undertaken by Kayla’s creative writing teacher and her students.  “Keeping Things Centered” was a collaboration of the school’s creative writing, commercial art and photography majors.  It produced an amazing celebration of the students with the elderly participants of the Red Bank Senior Center and prompted a commendation to the students and school from the Red Bank mayor. 

It is contemplated that a similar program can be on-going at the Red Bank library. Kayla hopes to help bring this to fruition.

As she reported on her synopsis of the Anthony Trufulo meeting, “Interviewing Mr. Trufolo was an amazing experience…Hearing what he had to say, learning about life from generations before was almost like traveling back in time. Mr. Trufolo has been alive since before the 19th amendment was ratified, before the first commercial airplanes, toasters, masking tape, bubble gum, sunglasses. The first supermarket in America a Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis the year he was born! I loved talking to him!”

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...