Lorraine Gancher grew up in Garfield, NJ (named after the Civil War general and president), an industrial town along the Passaic River not far from New York City. She often took the train or bus into New York City with family or friends for various excursions. She remembers seeing the Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall at Christmas time and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. She also has fond memories of her trips to the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and the Statue of Liberty.
Back in high school, Lorraine had a strong interest in history. While learning about the kings and queens of England, she and her friends adopted the personalities of various royalty and wrote each other spoof letters. For example, as Lady So and So, the Lady in Waiting to Princess Such and Such, she wrote her friend, the Duke, “We just visited your estate and really enjoyed our stay.” Lorraine’s love of letters also prompted her to become pen pals with fellow teenagers in England, South Africa and Australia. Her Aussie correspondence continues to this day, causing Lorraine to reflect, “The mail is my friend. I’d hate to see it leave.”
After high school, Lorraine attended Montclair State College (now University), where she received a Teaching degree in Social Studies for Junior and Senior High School and a Librarian degree for grades K–12. Upon graduation, she moved to South Jersey, becoming a librarian in the Bellmawr school system. She first worked 30 years at the elementary school and then 10 years at the middle school as a school guidance counsellor because she received her Master’s Degree in Student Personnel Services from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University).
In addition to her librarian duties, Lorraine also helped organize PTA fundraising and various after school activities. These included decorating for the school dances, and “Read Aloud Night,” where she got the mayor, members of the police force and others to read various children’s books for the students. Lorraine helped out with all the school activities, like Book Fairs and contests. She also got parents involved and volunteering. On holidays Lorraine dressed up to read to the younger students, performing as a pumpkin, a turkey and even a talking Christmas tree.
The school district appreciated Lorraine’s efforts and had a surprise for her before she retired. A friend of hers suggested they attend an upcoming school board meeting to be held outdoors at the school. As Lorraine always went to these school board meetings, she was happy to go. “They were doing work on the outside of the school,” Lorraine recollected, “and a drape hung over one side of the building. I had no idea something else was going on. At the end of the meeting, I am called up to the podium, a cord is pulled, the drape comes down, and there is my name in stainless steel letters on the side of the library.” The Bellmawr Park Elementary School library is now the Lorraine A. Gancher Library. What an appropriate honor for someone who loves reading and spent her career helping students.
And speaking of kids, Lorraine also raised three stepchildren of her own—James, Kristin and Tammy. They have since moved all over the country but she keeps in touch with letters, phone calls and gifts. Lorraine prefers these more personal interactions to email correspondence.
Lorraine first learned of Old Baldy while taking a course on the Civil War with Dr. Pesda at the Camden County College Civic Center during the Civil War Sesquicentennial. At the course, she met Old Baldy members Joe Wilson and Gerri Hughes, who encouraged Lorraine to join our Round Table, which she did six years ago. Lorraine enjoys reading Civil War letters, has visited Gettysburg, including the Eisenhower farm, and has been to several sites in Virginia. But her love of history transcends the Civil War. She’s been to Jamestown, Roanoke, several historic lighthouses, and various places in the Hudson River Valley. Some favorite Hudson River spots include Hyde Park, Olana (Frederick Church’s home), Sleepy Hollow, West Point and Bear Mountain.
To this day Lorraine loves taking classes on all sorts of subjects, usually at St. Peters College, Glassboro University or Camden County College. As she notes, “I consider myself an eternal learner as I’ve been going to classes since I was 5.” And fortunately for us, she also learned about Old Baldy at a Camden County College class just a few years ago.