By Steve Sears
He’s keeping history alive and passing it on to the next generation to allow it to live on.
His current book, Manning Avenue Cemetery, which includes a history and a photo of every gravestone, and obituaries and biographies of some of the people buried there, is currently available. His next book, History of Federal Hill, will be available sometime this summer.
“There’s a very minute amount of local history in the local elementary schools. So, that’s what I used to specialize in. What better way to turn kids on to history,” he says of his teaching days, “than to say, ‘This happened right here in your town. You can go right up there on Federal Hill and see where this stuff happened.’ I used that for the Hill, to get kids turned on to history. There’s so much there. It worked like a charm.”
Riley, who holds B.A., M.A., and M.Ed. degrees, taught primarily History for almost forty years in the Bloomingdale school system. He also for twenty years served as an adjunct professor at Sussex County College. Riley is also a member of the North Jersey Highlands Historical Society and other local historical organizations.
Riley feels a special connection to the Manning Avenue Cemetery. His great-great grandmother, great- grandfather, and many other relatives on both sides of his family are buried in the cemetery, and he, Alan Bird, and Bob Meier recently completed a restoration project there (“Historic Manning Avenue Cemetery Restored”, Hometown News Bloomingdale, February 2019). He has also written Bloomingdale Centennial 1918 – 2018 (written with the Bloomingdale Centennial Committee), Guns of Ringwood Manor: The Abraham S. Hewitt Civil War Firearms Collection, DeLazier Field 1946 1947 1948: Bloomingdale Troopers, and Brown/Sanders Cemetery.
Since his retirement in 2010, Riley has set himself to expedition and writing. “The fun part is the research,’ he says, “You’re taking bits and pieces of stuff and it’s like solving a puzzle; you’re putting it all together.” He gathers his information, lists it on a yellow pad, prioritizes it and places the details in order of the way he wants to say it, and then he starts writing and editing.
Riley’s next project is to revisit his DeLazier Field 1946 1947 1948: Bloomingdale Troopers book. “I have gathered so much new info. It warrants a second edition. Secondly, my study of the ancient Maya, especially Maya cave archaeology (16 trips to Belize, other Central American Countries and the Yucatan in Mexico) should be put on paper. I have seen some unbelievable amazing stuff. So that’s what I’m going to work on next.”
Riley’s main goal with his books is to bridge the gap between the history that “lived” in past generations, and get the current generation to know it and, hopefully, respect it. “That’s exactly what it’s all about. I like to say there’s so many stories there that haven’t been told. That’s where the Trooper book came from. I grew up a half a block away from where the Troopers played, but nobody ever told the story of ‘This guy made it to the major leagues,’ ‘Babe Ruth was there,’ – these are all these great stories.” He adds, “It’s not even the physical existence of the book. The fact that the information is going to be shared with people, that’s any teacher’s goal and that’s what the books represent: the disseminating that information to people who have an interest and this fills in the blanks for them. It’s really rewarding.”
Riley’s books are available at the Bloomingdale Public Library.