Long before he joined the Civil War Roundtable (and became Waldorf to Bill Sia’s Statler of Muppets fame), Ed Komczyk was a star-rank Boy Scout concerned about the environment.
Ed was born in 1939 in Woodbury, NJ and lived with his family in the Red Bank section of West Deptford where he was raised. He was about 12 years old when he discovered an oil slick in the river that appeared to generate from the local Texaco oil refinery near Red Bank Ave. and Front St. the place locals know as Soupy Island, a 15-acre parcel along the Delaware River in Gloucester County. That scene stayed with Ed and he vowed to help create through advocacy a cleaner, greener future for West Deptford. “Yes, I’m a tree hugger!”
At the independent age of 15, Ed started offering accordion lessons at Klayman’s Music Center in Woodbury. He was unsure if he was good enough at the instrument to teach others but it WAS the instrument of the 50s and enough people in the neighborhood seemed intrigued to learn it. He bought his first accordion in 1957 for $1700, a fortune then, but Ed assures us he was making the big bucks to afford it. That same year, as a senior at Paulsboro High School, Ed enrolled in a drafting training program offered by RCA in Camden, and upon completion of the program and his subsequent high school graduation, he was hired on. After a year at the company he left to work full-time at Klayman’s.
Ed’s accordion days came to an end when he enrolled at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) to major in science and math. It is mathematics that Ed would go on to teach for 33 years at Pennsauken High School, and where he would meet Miriam Reichenbach, an English teacher and reading specialist, and later in her career, a librarian who has been his loving wife for 35 years. “I was fortunate to be a teacher. I had a wonderful career. I know I impacted lives because I still get together with past students for dinner.”
Pennsauken High School played an important role in Ed’s now 25-year membership in Old Baldy CWRT. There he met with fellow teachers and Old Baldy members Bill Sia (American Government and History) and Bill Hughes (P.E and soccer coach). As union reps, Ed and Bill Sia worked together scrutinizing union contracts (“Bill Sia was my wingman”). And Bill Hughes is the one who asked Ed to tag along to an Old Baldy meeting. All three men have remained good friends and continue to support the Roundtable.
Like many Old Baldy members, Ed has been interested in the Civil War since high school. As he got older, though, his appreciation for the conflict deepened. “You age into loving history. I’d be driving down the interstate highway on really hot days and think about the troops marching in their wool uniforms and how tough they were.” Reconstruction, the period in American history that followed the Civil War – or what prominent historian Eric Foner called the nation’s second founding – is of particular interest to Ed.
“It was viewed as the formative stage of modern America – we had the underpinnings of a nation.”
Ed’s respect for military soldiers is evident in his admiration for 18th century Polish General and military engineer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who not only fought for democracy in the American Revolutionary War but also designed and built fortifications on the Delaware and Hudson rivers. Thomas Jefferson called Kosciuszko “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” A book about the freedom fighter, The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynski sits on Ed’s bedside table. “He embodied the spirit of why we fought the war and why we exist today.”
Over the years, Ed has been honored for his restoration work on the USS New Jersey, berthed on the Delaware River and now a living museum and memorial in Camden, NJ. Together, he and Miriam serve on the West Deptford Environmental Commission: Ed as vice chair and Miriam as chairperson.
Today, Ed splits his leisure time between driving his Chevrolet C8 Corvette Stingray, flying (he’s been a licensed pilot for 50 years), and relearning the accordion. Two years ago he took it up again after 50-plus years of silence.
Profile written by Kim Weaver