By Cheryl Conway
When Theodore “Ted” Largman first moved into Morris Township in 1964, he complained about his rusty water so he joined the Morris Twp. Environmental Commission.
When he retired in 1990 as a research scientist, he went back to school and became an artist. To stay active and connected in the community, he formed the first Renaissance Group, which has spread nationwide.
When he tried to grow his own garden years back and failed, he turned to township officials and requested that a community garden be established. It took a lot of years, but at the age of 92, Largman is seeing the fruits of his efforts with the first community garden in town recently dedicated and named in his honor.
Disappointed that he did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Largman is pleased to know that he has left his mark.
“When I was a young man, to get a Nobel Peace Prize that would be my greatest accomplishment,” he says. “I didn’t get it and didn’t do anything to deserve it but I always felt I owed a debt to society and achieved it with the environmental commission.”
Largman, was speechless when they recognized him at the Jan. 6 Township Committee meeting and announced that the new community garden will be named after him.
“It was complete surprise,” says Largman. “I was invited to a township meeting; being hard of hearing I didn’t even hear they were going to name the garden in my name.”
His son, Rich Largman, explains, “We knew he was being honored for his 50 years of service” on the township environmental commission, but when they announced the news about the garden, “it was a beautiful surprise. It caught us all off guard knowing how much it meant to my dad. It was very heart warming. When they honored him, the committee mentioned that they do not believe they have ever had a resident that has served/volunteered for as many years as my dad has.”
The official dedication of the Theodore Largman Community Garden was set to be held Sun., July 24, at 11 a.m., with some township officials at the site of the garden on Picatinny Rd.
Located on three to four acres in the new ValleVue Preserve, the town began accepting registration for plots at the new garden on Jan. 31, 2016 with cultivation and planting that began April 1.
“It’s just beautiful,” says Largman who hopes to one day get a plot with the help from his family or donate some seeds. But just knowing that others are enjoying the garden makes Largman proud.
“I’m happy the people are enjoying it and they’ll remember me because my name will be on the entrance,” he says.
Largman lives on one-third of an acre and says he tried to plant before but was not successful.
“I tried to grow vegetables, tried to grow corn,” he says, but “there are too many animals, deer, squirrels, every sort of bird. It’s difficult to raise vegetables. You need to put up screens, fences to ward off deer with chemicals, so I stopped gardening.” He says he tried raising tomatoes a few years ago “but deer got to them before I did,” and the chipmunks were eating his flowers.
When Largman was chair of the town’s environmental commission, “I tried for many years” to get the township to start a garden, he says. With either no water supply or some difficulty, Largman’s request could not be met.
Living near the Morristown Armory, Largman would often pass 15 acres of unused land with a water reservoir “surrounded by a fence overgrown with weeds.” Morris Twp. bought the land from Morristown and “it just sits there,” he says. With a dam on the property, officials thought it ‘was not worth reconstructing it,” he explains. Money would have been required for parking, insurance and engineering studies. “It would be too costly for the township,” he says.
“This was one of my challenges: what can I do with that 15 acres? It still sits there.” His thought was that would be a good location for a garden. “The township engineer kept steering me to various sights.” But none of those sights had parking or no water. “If you have a garden, you need water.”
Largman also attempted to get a garden at Fosterfields, but also hit a roadblock. That was when he stopped trying. “That’s one of my failures,” he admits. “One of the things that aggravated me, they’ve done a fantastic job in Morristown. They got a piece of land from the Morristown Board of Education. They teach children about farming and growing vegetables. They sell food to the community. They are very successful. Why couldn’t we do it in Morris Twp.”
Now, after 53 years of living in the township, Largman has a garden in his name.
This year, the town purchased some land near the armory “which makes me proud. It’s in full bloom.”
Fitting how the garden is named after Largman, a volunteer who has served on the town’s environmental commission from 1965 to 2015, serving as its chair for 12 years.
“When we moved into the house my wife was doing the laundry and the water was brown. I called the township and said our water is rusty. They told me to go to the environmental commission to complain about the rusty water. So they told me to join the commission. The water department fixed it; a pipe had to be replaced. Everyone but me smoked at the meeting.”
Largman also served three years on the Whippany River Watershed Committee and nine years on the Morris Wildlife Management Committee.
With his master’s in chemistry from Temple University and a PhD in chemistry from Indiana University, after serving in the army during WWII in the South Pacific, Largman worked for 39 years as a research scientist with Allied Signal now called Honeywell. He transferred from Philadelphia to the main headquarters in 1961, first settling in Madison and then to Morris Twp. in 1964 with his wife Doris, a former school board member.
During his career, he developed 35 patents in plastics and amino acids.
As a member of Temple B’Nai Or in Morristown, Largman would attend the rabbi’s breakfast. When Rabbi Levi was getting to retire around the same time as Largman, he said “Ted, what are we going to do now? So I said, we will form a group and discuss things.”
Largman called the group the Renaissance Group, which means rebirth. A group of seniors get together regularly to go on trips, attend lectures, eat lunch, discuss issues.
“It’s an achievement I’m proud of,” says Largman, who started the group in 1990, the same year his wife died after 31 years of marriage.
Since then, his local group grew to 120 members with “literally thousands across NJ, NY” with currently 33 groups distributed throughout the country.
“The nation is getting older, people are living longer,” he says. A lot don’t want to sit around in a rocking chair and knit. They want to go to shows or go back to school. They want to participate. We sit and talk a lot. We always eat a meal, listen to a lecture. It keeps us occupied and something to look forward to. We found a lot of people who want to do something constructive.”
After he retired, he also started taking courses at County College of Morris I Randolph, taking “every art course” starting with photography, painting, sticks then Found Art. He spent the next 20 years making three dimensional art boxes, with stained glass, creating more than 70 themes boxes, about art, religion, politics, “things I’m disturbed about.” Some of his boxes have been sold to private collectors, won awards and are displayed in his house.
For Largman, the surprises keep coming.
In Feb. 2014, his son Rich submitted some artwork to the 9-11 Memorial Museum on his dad’s behalf.
“I didn’t hear a peep from them,” he says. “I had no idea whether or not they received the email. Had no idea if the work was accepted or rejected. I heard nothing. Quite frankly, I forgot completely about it. Then yesterday, as my dad and I were searching on Google for something completely unrelated, this popped up! https://www.911memorial.org/registry/WorldinaBox.
“What an amazing and wonderful surprise! It is a virtual museum with artists displaying online at the 9-11 Museum website.” To see Largman’s artwork, go to https://www.teleazer.com/.
Largman has stopped making the art boxes as they became a bit heavy to manage. He’s turned to making collages for now. When he is not doing that, he looks forward to spending time with his two grandchildren… and visits to his community garden to watch the fruits of his labor.