The following is an article I wrote for the Two River Times which appeared in the Jun 9, 1993 issue, about John E. “Jack” Westlake. Mr. Westlake died August 8, a month to the day after his 89th birthday, making this 26 year old story part of History and Happenings.
PHOTO: John E. “Jack” Westlake
Some refer to John E. Westlake as the Renaissance Man. But those who know him well think of him as Jack: that finely chiseled, handsome, nice guy from Jersey City, the one with the boundless energy, spectacular ideas, and fierce affection for his friends.
“I guess I’m an entrepreneur,” he mused, in a rare and unusual reflection on himself. “I guess you could call me an opportunist; I just go with the flow. I also believe that if you can’t enjoy what you’re doing, you shouldn’t do it.”
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It’s obvious Jack enjoys what he’s doing.
And it’s also obvious that more than an entrepreneur, more than an opportunist, Jack Westlake is a people person. He simply loves people and loves bringing them together over projects.
Jack was born and raised in Jersey City, in an era when this city was safe. Jack laughs, saying that he somethings t thought his family “had a disease.” They were non-Catholic and Republican in a city where people asked which parish you were from, rather than which neighborhood you lived in. It was a time when Frank Hague reigned supreme to the delight of the masses. The Democratic machine was well-oiled in Jersey City in the ;’40s and ‘50s, and there wasn’t much room for Republicans.
“But it was a special kind of place,” Jack recalls. “Even if you weren’t Catholic, you showed up at the Holy Name Parade. You just had to be seen at that Parade, either in it or watching it. Religion or race had nothing to do with anything, we were all just there.”
Sadly, he concedes the Jersey City of today is not the same as the one he loves and remembers so well. While none of his family still lives in Jersey City, although many are buried there, Jack still holds dear to this heart the people and memories of the old Hudson County that have been so much a part of his life. Traveling with him to any of his old haunts is guaranteed to get you at least a dozen stories about the fine people he grew up with and knew. It was one of his Jersey City cronies that got him to come to Monmouth County.
Jack’s good friend Bernie Sweeney was looking at another restaurant besides the Shore Casino in Atlantic Highlands and Jersey City Casino in the Park, and Jack expressed interest in being a part of it. Bernie introduced Jack to Jim Snyder. “It that deal had worked out, I’d probably be in the restaurant business right now,” Jack says.
Instead, Jack and Jim teamed up and Jack got involved in the former Atlantic Highlands mayor’s construction firm, Snyder-Westerlind. The firm, located in Middletown, built Top of the East, now Eastpointe, and the Twin Lights Condominiums in Highlands, as well as a residential project in Hunter Mountain and Great Adventure in Jackson. “I guess I just have a way of getting involved in what I like,” Jack says.
His tastes are as eclectic as Jack himself. His involvements are as diversified as his solutions to sticky problems. And his mind never rests.
Professionally, he’s a consultant for Health Care Properties, the health service facility that maintains five resident care homes, including the King James Care Center in Middletown. He’s also partners in half a dozen businesses, planning and building everything from the spectacular Spy House Harbor project on the former J Howard Smith property in Belford to the even more ambitions waterfront revitalization in South Amboy.
He’s on the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Alliance for Action and the Monmouth Conservation Fund’ he’s a past president and active member of the Monmouth County SPCA and he’s a consultant to a number of other business.
In his spare time, Jack also serves as a member of the Monmouth County B board of Taxation and is Chairman of the NJ B board Regulations Commission.
He and his partner in Direct Line, Walter Mihm, started the first rapid ferry system from the Bayshore to New York. They later dabbled in whale watching b oats in New England and now still operate Harbor Shuttle, the ferry shuttle from LaGuardia Airport to all Street that the company operates for Delta Airlines. But through all his businesses, in all his interests, at every stage of any project, it’s the people who are the most important to Jack. Jack b rings people together.
In the old days in Jersey City, one of Jack’s friends was George Pedersen, a brilliant man who grew a technical company, Mantech, with two employees, into a 3,000-employee worldwide operation. One of the firm’s divisions studies the environment and pollution problems. Jack recognized that the State, with its unique environmental and pollution concerns, is actually a field laboratory to improve the quality of life. So he contacted another of his friends, Bob Roe, ,the former Congressman known for his efforts to encourage new business to settle in Ned Jersey, and linked him up with Mr., Pedersen.
The result? Mr. Pedersen was convinced of the advantages of moving into New Jersey and is discussing with Mr. Roe the possibility of expanding the technology division here.
When Spy House Harbor made its plans for the Belford waterfront, Jack and his partners weren’t content with just creating an attractive ratable in Middletown. He though: Why not improve the entire area/ So he began meeting with Freeholder Directors Harry Larrison, a Republican Jack had campaigned against in the past.
The Freeholder Director has long been an advocate of waking up the Sleeping Giant of the Bayshore, and like the idea of preserving environmentally sensitive land for future generations. Jack, being his people-person self, is continuing to work with both Congressman Roe and Freeholder Director Larrison in securing $13 million in Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency ct (ISTEA)Funds to rebuild he bridges over Compton’s Creek and to create a county ferry terminal in Belford.
The once-staunch Republican in Democratic Hudson County switched parties and became the Democratic leader in the Republican stronghold of Rumson when he moved to that borough many years ago., It isn’t because he likes being the underdog that Jack made the change, but rather his personal believe that no party should have complete control of any m unicipali9ty.
Now a Red Bank resident, Jack has never run for office himself, and he not intention of running. “I feel I get more out of being a chess player,” he laughs, “I love moving the kinds and pawns around.
He does admit to a certain strategy in accomplishing the goals he’s set in life. “You have to involve everybody in everything, “ he explains, “You bring everybody into the loop, and you don’t try to put anything over on anybody.”
What does Jack feel is his greatest asset? He doesn’t hesitate a minute: “My friends, they’re my strongest asset.”
Why are his interest so diversified? “I like people and I like to get to know people. That’s what it’s all about.”
His philosophy in life. It’s easy, and he practices it openly.
“You have to roll with the times, each day is different, and you have to take each day at a time. You have to enjoy the good things, the warmth of friendship, the affection of a grandchild, the feel of soil when working in the garden. And you have to enjoy your work as well.”
And that’s also the reason why Jack Westlake will never retire. “I don’t think I ever could,” the effervescent entrepreneur says. “As some point, I may shift to a lower gear, but I’m never going to get out of the fun and fascination of working with people.”
Muriel J. Smith