Kelsey: When and where were you born
Varga: I was born in
Wharton and I grew up and lived in a
house, the first house in
Township outside of
Wharton, on West Dewey Avenue.
Kelsey: Tell me a little bit about
your family background. What did your
Varga: My father worked for the
Railroad. He was a
ticket agent. First he was a substitute, so he
in stations from
Dover. My mother was a homemaker.
Kelsey: Did you have any brothers
Varga: No, Iím an only child.
Kelsey: Did any other family members live with you?
Kelsey: So would you say you lived
in a small town?
Varga: Very small. I lived
outside a very small town. My grandmother lived two doors away
with my grandfather and my
Aunt Emma. There were not
many houses on the street at that time.
Kelsey: Describe the schools you
Varga: Well, I walked to
Wharton schools. I was an adult before I
realized I was a tuition student who
was never told I was a tuition student, nor offered
a school bus ride.
Kelsey: And whatís a tuition
Jefferson Township was where we paid our taxes,
so Iím sure that they had to
pay money to
Wharton for me to go
Kelsey: And where did you go to high
Varga: Wharton High
Kelsey: What kind of classes did you
take in high school?
Varga: I took college preparatory
Kelsey: So you did want to go to
Varga: I did. I took typing. I was
told that there was no money to send me to college.
At that time, there was no
guidance department or anyone to help me, so I went
to work. We were offered a part-time job at
Arsenal, I think when I was seventeen, in March.
Kelsey: What year did you graduate
from high school?
Varga: In 1944.
Kelsey: Did your family belong to any organizations or a church or social
Varga: I really donít think so. I
went to church. I went with my grandparents and my
aunt, to the Luxemburg
Presbyterian Church. Did I belong to any clubs? No.
Kelsey: And what about your parents?
Kelsey: Was your father in a
Varga: He probably had to join a
union at the end of his work life, yes.
Kelsey: How were you and your family
affected by the
Varga: Well, my father always had a job. I think he worked twenty-seven
years, seven days a
week. Thatís a lot of work. We were poor. I had
one pair of shoes. My winter coat was a snow
around me were the same or even more poor. You
really didnít think about it.
Kelsey: Do you think because of the
Depression that was why you werenít
able to go to college?
Varga: I wouldnít imagine that my
father would have ever
had enough money to send me to college,
but I wasnít guided to scholarships. Iím currently
the chairman of a scholarship committee, so I always think
about that, how
important that is.
Kelsey: So you stayed in your same
house, you never had to leave your home or anything
Varga: Until I married, I stayed
Kelsey: Did your family have to take in any other relatives or family
members because they had lost their
homes or their jobs?
Kelsey: All right. And you would
characterize your level as ďpoor.Ē
Varga: Poor, but with an employed
World War II started,
were you still in school?
Kelsey: And what grade were you in?
Varga: Well, when did the war start,
1941? So I would have been in my freshman year of
Kelsey: And you were not married at
the start of the war?
Kelsey: Did you find a boyfriend or
a fiancť at some point during the war years?
Varga: No, it was after the war.
Kelsey: So you met your husband after the war was over. Did you have any friends or family who got married during the
Varga: No. Well, remember, when you
said the beginning of the war, I would have been,
what, thirteen, fourteen years
old. Letís say a year or so after we were out of
high school, one of my friends married, but no one
my age was getting married at that timeóI donít know
whether it would be legal! (laughs)
Kelsey: You had a friend who got
married a few years into the war. What was that
Varga: Well, the war was over by
then. It was a simple wedding, [she] was dressed in
a beautiful gown, and two of us
were her bridesmaids, and we had a small reception
afterwards. Simple. Weddings werenít big
Kelsey: Now, during the war, did you
continue to live in
Varga: Yes, I was going to school,
Wharton mailing address, right.
Kelsey: And you went to work at
Varga: I did. One of the great
things was the bus to
stopped at my door, right in front of my house.
Everything else was a mile away. I donít think we
paid money to
ride that bus, either. Free transportation, to my
knowledge. I never remember paying at all.
Kelsey: Do you have any idea who
would have funded the transportation?
Varga: No, I donít remember any
discussion about it, but my mother was already working at the
arsenal then, and so we both got on the bus.
Kelsey: Were you still in high
school when you went to work there?
Varga: I worked on Saturdays, yes.
Kelsey: What made you decide to go
Varga: It was an opportunity. I had
no money, I had nothing. It was an interesting
Kelsey: How did you find out about
Varga: I think they must have told
us in high school, and offered us employment. And
then when I graduated, I had the
option of training to become a draftswoman, so I
took advantage of that. Going back to
the bus, the interesting
thing about the bus, as I recall it, I was
the last to get on, and I either sat on a board
between the two front seats,
with a freestanding
kerosene heater in
front of me, or if that was taken, I stood in the
stairwell by the kerosene
Kelsey: And how many people did the
bus hold, about? How many people squeezed onto the
Varga: I donít know, probably forty
or so. It was packed.
Kelsey: Do you remember seeing any
posters or newsreels or hearing on the radio that
was encouraging particularly
women to work in the factories, or to join the
military once the war was in full swing?
Varga: I donít truly remember.
There was no televisionóat least not available to
meóat that time. So our news of the
war came through the papers and the news reports at
the movies. My mother went to
for the first time since
she was married.
Kelsey: Did she mention to you, did
you talk about why she had decided to go to work?
Varga: Perhaps we didnít all talk as
intimately as families do today. It was an
opportunity for her to have money of her
own, because a womanís role was not the same at that
time: long days of work, and very little money left
So I guess she took advantage of the opportunity,
the same as I did.
Kelsey: So would you say it gave
both of you an opportunity to be more independent?
Varga: Yes. I guess we didnít think
about it, but as we worked, we did become
Kelsey: Do you remember hearing or
seeing references at that time about
Varga: Yes, I do. I can remember my
mother bought an outfit for me.
It was like a brown flannel
shirt and brown
slacks. And slacks were just coming
in at that time. And I can remember people calling
Rosie the Riveter
Kelsey: Did you think of yourself as
Varga: No, I didnít.
Kelsey: And why didnít you?
Varga: I donít know. We didnít
refer to ourselves as
Rosies. We werenít riveting
or doing manual laboróI wasnít. My
mother worked on the line.
Kelsey: Do you think she thought of
herself as a
Varga: Iím not sure, I truly am not.
Kelsey: Do you think she was aware
of the advertising and the
Rosie the Riveter icon that was
developed during the war
to encourage women to work?
Varga: Iím not sure, truly.
Kelsey: Now Iím going to ask you
some questions that describe what you did at work.
Varga: All right.
Kelsey: What kind of training were
Varga: Very little, as I remember.
I went in as a clerk typist. I really donít know
what happened, but what appeared to
have happened was that someone hastily took the
gaugesóI worked in gauge designóand put them, or
them, in the building next door. And so my job was
to typeóand there I got instructionótype a card, on
electric typewriter that Iíd ever seen, and type
these cards that would go with each gauge, so they
could be put
away, filed away, properly.
Kelsey: And the cards stayed with
Kelsey: So that was the first job
that you did.
Varga: Thatís the first job I did.
Kelsey: And that was while you were
still in high school, working on the weekends.
Varga: Yes, right.
Kelsey: And then when you graduated
from high school, you changed jobs?
Varga: At a given point, after I
graduated, and I was working at
Picatinny offered to train us to be
draftsmen. So there was an in-house
training. The previous
year they had invited at leastóI donít know how
schools they invited them fromóbut they had invited graduates to attend classes at
Dover High School
and they had paid them as they were
learning. And then they went to the arsenal and they were
different spots. We were given
on-the-job training, so we were paid because we were employed.
And then I went to work for a checker. A checker
had about four to five people working for him or
her. And we
were put into a large drafting
roomóvery, very big in my eyesówhich had big banks
of fluorescent lights. The
light bounced off of
starched linen drafting paper, which probably
started our first eye problems. So thatís where I
went after I had
finished my course. And thatís what I was doing
when the war was ended.
Kelsey: Did you think that the
training was sufficient for you to be able to do the
Varga: I knew that the war effort
could[nít?] depend upon me. I did what I was told.
I did not chose to go on for a
drafting career after that. And one other thing,
you learned to work at the arsenal, because every
week you had
to do a written report of what youíd accomplished
during the week. Do you understand?
Kelsey: Yes, I do.
Varga: So that you formed ideas of
what work was about, and which side you were going
to be on. You couldnít be a
goof off, and what would you say at the end? Youíd
have to manufacture what you did.
Kelsey: And who were these reports
turned in to?
Varga: Heaven knows. They collected
them, and I donít know, but it was a procedure.
Kelsey: Did they need to be a
Varga: I think simply you had to
summarize what you did for the week.
Kelsey: And you have no idea where
they kept them?
Kelsey: What did you like most about
Varga: I think thereís a sense of
accomplishment in going to work and doing your job,
and finishing your job.
Kelsey: And what did you like the
Varga: I donít think I disliked
anything. Perhaps you form ideas of what you want
to do and what you donít want to do in
life, at a time like that. I never went back to
Picatinny after the
war was over
and I was dismissedóbut
some people did.
Kelsey: So the experience that you
had working as a draftsperson sort of made you feel
that you wanted to pursue other
Varga: Other things, yeah. And it
gave me the money to do it. So I sent myself to
Kelsey: What kinds of rules were you
required to follow?
Varga: The most discipline I saw was
in the interview. Howís about that? (chuckles) I
mean, once you were inside
there were military and civilian personnel. With my
background, I had no problems of discipline.
Kelsey: Your background?
Varga: Well, my upbringing in my
home. I was not a rabble-rouser or looking for
trouble. I did my job and went home.
In some terms, that was dull, you know.
Kelsey: Were there security
regulations that you all had to follow?
Varga: Yes. I think we all had an
I.D., and we went through the gate, hordes,
thousands of people. That was
impressive, the sheer number of people.
Kelsey: Did they tell you things
like you shouldnít talk about what youíre doing
there? Or the ďloose lips sink shipsĒ sort
Varga: I donít remember that, but I
remember that my motherís
letters from her own mother in
Nova Scotia were all
censored. Each one was read.
Kelsey: These were your motherís letters that she wrote?
Varga: That she received from
Nova Scotia. I remember the ďlights
out,Ē and I remember traveling to
Nova Scotia on a train where one side had all the
shades down. We were all very aware how the war was
Kelsey: Did you have to wear any
Varga: No. No, I did not.
Kelsey: So you wore just your
regular street clothes to work?
Kelsey: Did you have any kind of a
coat or anything that you put over your clothing, or
you just worked in yourÖ.
Varga: No, I was sitting at a
Kelsey: Did working in a factory pay
better than other jobs you might have taken?
Varga: Well, I think of it as an
arsenal. I know that the pay was a lot better than
if I went to work in the five-and-ten.
Girls did that, went to
Dover and worked
in one of their five-and-tens so many days a week,
Saturdays. And I was doing better than that, by
working one day a week. And when I look at it now,
say that I didnít earn much money, but what I did
earn was mine.
Kelsey: Did you feel your jobs were
Varga: I feel it more now, looking
back. I think it was important.
Kelsey: And why do you think it was?
Varga: I think we all pulled
together at that time. The war influenced what you
ate, the gas in your car, I told you about
the press and news, the people going to war, the
casualties. So you knew it was an uncertain time.
Kelsey: Were you ever promoted or
given a raise?
Varga: I was, but I donít seem to be
able to find the papers that prove it.
Kelsey: [Weíll take your word.]
Varga: You believe me.
Kelsey: Were your other coworkers,
were a number of them promoted or given a raise?
Varga: I donít think it was
promotion, I think it was just an increase, a small
amount of money.
Kelsey: Were there any women
supervisors or managers?
Varga: There might have been, but I
think most of them were male. There were women in
the room, but most of the
supervisors were male.
Kelsey: Do you remember any women
[supervisors] at all?
Varga: As supervisors, no. In my
memory I cannot.
Kelsey: But you mentioned that you
were a checker and you were checking the work ofÖ.
Varga: Well, no, we worked under a
checker, a male checker. I spoke this morning to
someone that I worked with, who
was a draftswoman under the checker, and he would
give out assignments, check our work.
Kelsey: And were all of the people
who did that job, men?
Varga: Well, I think. As I
say, I canít remember any women checkers, but there
were men and women in the room.
Kelsey: Were there men who were also
doing the same sort of work that you were doing?
Varga: Yes. They were older men,
tooómen who perhaps, say, werenít in the war. Maybe
4-F or something.
Kelsey: Or men who were too old,
like maybe in their fifties or sixties, who would
have been too old to have been
Do you have
any idea if before the war, the jobs that you and
the other women were doing at
Picatinny, do you
have any idea if
those were done mostly by men before the war?
Varga: I really donít know. I knew
that the previous year a number of new high school
graduates had been
Kelsey: And what year was that?
Varga: That would be í43. And they
went to various places in the arsenal.
Kelsey: Do you remember if there
were any cases of what we would refer to as sexual
Varga: I knew of none.
Kelsey: Was there a
Varga: I donít know of any. I
didnít know of rights, and race discrimination, or
sexual discrimination. That all came later
in my education.
Kelsey: As far as you know, were men
and women paid the same?
Varga: That Iím not sure. You know,
itís funny thing, people do not share that
information, either. I really donít know.
Kelsey: It seems from what you said
before that there were jobs that only men did.
There were jobs that both men and
women did, but there were also some jobs that only
men did. Is that correct?
Varga: I think so.
Kelsey: And most of those jobs were
supervisory or managerial?
Varga: Right. At sixteen or
seventeen, I wasnít assessing that.
Kelsey: Did you make new friends there?
Varga: Yes. And Iíd just been cut
off from my old friendsóyou
know what I mean?
Kelsey: And how was that?
Varga: Well, when you graduate,
people do move. Some did go to school, some went to
work elsewhere. So itís a time
Kelsey: So tell me about some of the
friends that you made at
Varga: Well, I spoke to one this
morning. I had taken her to the last Rosie event
here, and we both worked for the same
checker. So she recently became ill, so I was
calling to inquire. She was hospitalized, so I
called to inquire.
Other people, I was friends with
twoÖ. Letís see, Iím forgetting her name. Mrs. Little and Gladys were both part
of the previous yearís training, so thatís how
really know that
Picatinny did make an offer to them, to train them,
for the summer. Mine was a shorter course, on the
Kelsey: And you were trained right
Varga: Right there.
Kelsey: They were sent toÖ.
Varga: They were sent to
Dover High School, yeah.
Kelsey: Were the friends that you met at
Picatinny, were they mostly your age?
Varga: Yes, they were recent high
school graduates, yes.
Kelsey: And what kinds of things did
you do together?
Varga: Not too much. (laughs)
Kelsey: Did you see each other
outside of work?
Varga: Very little, yes.
Kelsey: Did they live near you?
Varga: One or two miles or more
away, right, they did. It was very important that I
have a car, as timeÖ. You know, it
sort of took a while.
Kelsey: And did you get a car while you were working at
Varga: No. No, I saved my money so
Iíd have it to learn something else. That happened
later on. I guess I was
nineteen or twenty before I got a car.
Kelsey: So that was two or three
years after the end of the war, before you actually
had a car.
Varga: Thatís right.
Kelsey: Describe to meóyou talked
about it a little bitóbut a little more about what a
day was like, when you would go
to work, and then what did you do?
Varga: Well, you were given
assignments. Probably I was the low man on the
totem pole in my groupóyou know, with
the least experience. There were gauges that were
used in the field. So you either got an assignment
checker, or knowing that you were going to have to
fill out a report once a week, you got pencil
the back file room and you inked them in. Thatís
Kelsey: And what kind of assignments
did the checkers give you?
Varga: Well, to draw a gauge. I
canít remember what height of experience I reached,
so I couldnít describe exactly what
I did all those years ago.
Kelsey: Did you do the drawings
Varga: Well, you had a slide rule, a
big ruler, and you had instruments. No, you didnít
draw them freehand.
Kelsey: What kind of instruments did
Varga: Well, we were using India
ink, a pen with nibs, where you would draw on the
Kelsey: Did you use any other kinds
of tools other than a slide rule andÖ.
Varga: At this point in my life, I
canít tell you that. (chuckles) Thatís buried in
Kelsey: About how long did it take
you to draw a single gauge?
Varga: I canít tell you that,
either. Thatís faded in my memory.
Kelsey: Do you think that you would
have done more than one a day?
Varga: I think so.
Kelsey: So the way it worked was
sometimes the checker would have something that he
would give you to do.
Varga: Assign me, yes.
Kelsey: And then if there wasnít
anything specific that he hadÖ.
Varga: [I] found work to do.
Kelsey: Then you would go and find
Varga: To do, so you werenít just
Kelsey: Was it sometimes difficult
to find work to do?
Varga: No. There was a library of
filings in the back of the room, of drawings.
Kelsey: And then you would take
these drawings and ink them in?
Varga: Yes, because they were done
Kelsey: When you were doing one from
scratch, would you make those drawings in pencil
Varga: You know, I cannot remember.
(laughs) Iím sorry.
Kelsey: Thatís okay.
Varga: That was a long time ago.
Kelsey: Yeah, it was, a very long
time. I think you
said that you lived with your family during the war.
Kelsey: And basically the same
people that you lived with while you were growing
Varga: My mother and father.
Kelsey: How did the war change your
activities and routines? You were fourteen when the
war started, so you were in
your first year of high school. So after the war
started, say, in í42, by the end of 1942, how had
Varga: Well, I know especially after
my mother went to work, there
was more money. I think all of
us were poor. Itís
hard to explain to anyone who
hasnít been there, but what you wore, what you did,
shoes, what money you had to do something
elseóthings were tight before the war. So there was
a little more
money. I think all of us started to prosper a
Kelsey: So then do you feel that you
were actually able to do more things after the war,
because your motheróeven
before you yourself went to
workóbecause your mother was bringing in additional money into the house?
Varga: Thatís right, yes.
Kelsey: So what kinds of things did
Varga: With my extra money?
Varga: (chuckles) I suppose I
dressed a little better. What did I do? Had a
little more money to spend. Once a year
we went to
Nova Scotia to see my
other grandmother. Having
more money makes you more confident to do
Kelsey: Did you do things like go to
the movies more?
Kelsey: And maybe the soda fountain
Kelsey: As the war went on, and you
got a little older, did people you know start to go
into the military?
Kelsey: Or people you went to school
with, maybe were a year or two ahead of you?
Kelsey: And were they mostly the
guys, or did some girls that you knew join the
Varga: No, just the fellows.
Kelsey: Who did you socialize with
in high school?
Varga: I had two girlfriends who lived in Luxemburg Do you know where Luxemburg is? Itís near Route 80 in
Used to be an IGA Store there, and now
thereís a Food Market. Do you know where Washington Pond is? That
Kelsey: So thatís where your friends
Kelsey: What kind of things did you
Varga: Itís kind of vague to me
now. Just hung out together.
Kelsey: Were they all girls?
Kelsey: When you started working at
Picatinny, especially after
you graduated from high
school, did they have any kind
of organized social
or recreational activities with the military or the
Varga: Not that I know of. Thereís
always, I suppose, been an officers' club there, but
no, not for the civilians. It was
serious business, and thatís what it wasóbusiness.
Kelsey: Okay, we were talking about
basically life during the war, what it was like.
What did you do when you were by
Varga: You mean at home or whatever?
Varga: Well, I liked to read. I
ended up being a spoiled, waited-upon, only child.
I had to help my mother, who was now
working in and outside
the house. I wouldnít say I lived a very exciting
shopped, movies, did things,
Kelsey: Where did you go, to go to
the movies and shopping?
Varga: Well, we went to the movies
Playhouse Theater. There were two theaters
Dover, Playhouse and the
Baker Theater. And shopping, we had a railroad pass
because my father worked for the
railroad, so we shopped
in Paterson or
Newark and not in
Doverófor shopping, thatís
Kelsey: And what were some of the
stores that were in
you went there?]?
Varga: Hm. You know I canít think
of the name of it, but eventually I remember I
bought my wedding dress in
Macyís, Bambergerís. There was a
big huge store, Broad and Market Streets in
Newark, and thatís all I can
Kelsey: Did you ever shop in
Varga: No. I donít know why. Later
I worked in
Morristown, but no, not
at that time.
Kelsey: Did you ever go to any
social events in
Varga: No, I donít think I did.
Kelsey: Do you remember there being
Varga: I donít remember those.
Kelsey: Some people have mentioned
Newark especially, at the
hotels. How did you
feel about the war? What
did you think about? You
were pretty young when it started, but
can you remember what you thought about it,
feel like it was something that was really
impacting you at that point, or was it something
that was more like going on someplace else, and you
nothing to do with?
Varga: I think I looked at it with a
childís eyes, compared to the way I look on it
today. At the end of movies you were
shown graphic films, especially when they discovered
the prison campsóyou know, it was revealed.
Kelsey: That was at the end of the
Varga: That was at the end of the
war. So it was just a very horrible thing, and when
we were looking at what I had
saved, I didnít think of the horror of my working at
a place that produced ammunition that was made to
deter others. Since it didnít happen here,
it was a war you heard about, saw pictures of, read
about, but itís
nothing like living in an occupied, active war.
Kelsey: Thatís actually an
interesting point that you just made about the work
that you were doing, and what was being
Varga: Yes, especially with that
booklet I showed you, where it showed actually what
Picatinny Arsenal produced in
armament. I donít think they
would give everyone one of those booklets today.
(laughs) I mean, it just seems a
little cock sure way to handle
Kelsey: So you and the other people
who were working there, how did you feel, did you
really think about what it was
that you were making?
Varga: As I say, I donít thinkÖ.
Each person would have to answer that for
themselves, but if theyíre like me, I was
more of a child then. Itís like when they dropped
the bomb over
Hiroshima. Was it
Doolittleís men? Whoever
flew, it was a big thing, and it was
ďRah! Rah! America!Ē
Kelsey: That was early in the war.
Varga: Well, it was when we were
trying to have
Kelsey: Oh, the nuclear bomb, the
Varga: Yes. Well, I certainly feel
the horror of it all now, in a way that I didnít
then. Do you know? We really didnít
know anything aboutówe the peopleódidnít really
understand the true impact of that
bomb. So you can
[at] that life through a childís eyes, or an adultís
eyes, or an older personís eyes. So thatís what I
have to say
Kelsey: Your parents, who were
older, did they ever talk about the war in a way
that would maybe give a different point of
Varga: Well, I donít know. My
father had been a soldier
headquarters in France in World War I.
I told you
my husband was a soldier, but I
met him at that time. He went to war after he
high school. So I didnít hear his
views until later
on. But war is hell. I mean, especially if itís in
your own land,
right? It isnít like two basketball
know what I mean? So what does one know of war
until it happens.
Kelsey: Did you have close friends
or family members who
Varga: Yes, I had a cousin in the
Kelsey: Was he in the
Varga: He was in the
navy, yes. He
was a local
Wharton fellow who just
passed away a few years ago.
Kelsey: Do you remember what battles
he was in?
Varga: No, I donít. He told us, and
we should have recorded it. Iím not sure that it
was ever recorded.
Kelsey: Were any of your friends or family killed or wounded?
Kelsey: So they all came home?
Kelsey: Did they behave
differently? Did you notice that when they came
home, whether they acted differently from
what you remembered?
Varga: I donít think they acted too
Kelsey: How did you communicate with
people you knew who were away at war?
Varga: Write letters.
Kelsey: So it was all letter
Kelsey: You mentioned that letters
from your grandmother to
your mother, from
Varga: One time she must have
mentioned whether a ship was sunk off the coast.
Now, this is an older womanóIím
saying thisóshe was older at the timeóand she was
censured. You know, I donít know, they must have
her so that she wouldnít speak of anything that was
happening off the coast, or internally in
Kelsey: So someone actually
contacted her and said she shouldnít have done that?
Kelsey: Did they black out something
in the letter, or did the letter just never get
Varga: No, I donít remember the
details, but I remember that someone actually sat
and read the letters, and that she
Kelsey: Did you get
Kelsey: And what did that look like?
Varga: I really canít remember now.
Kelsey: It was real small, they
microfilmed it, right?
Kelsey: Iíve seen some of my parents
ďVĒ mail. Did you ever get
letters, can you remember getting
letters where you
could tell that they had
information out of them?
Varga: I donít remember that.
OíHagan: What is
ďVĒ mail? Maybe other people might not know,
because I donít.
ďVĒ mail was
victory mail. Is that what it stood for? And
they would take a letter and they
would microfilm it, so that it was reduced in size,
so a regular sheet of paper would be reduced to like
of that size. And then thatís what would actually
get mailed. And I guess it was to conserve paper.
the reason for it?
Varga: Or to indicate that it was
censored. It really was, right?
Kelsey: Yeah, that somebody else had
actually opened it and read it.
Did you have
Varga: Well, we didnít think of it
victory garden, but my
parents always gardened: string
beans, carrots, tomatoes,
peaches. My grandmother had a huge apple orchard. But
I mean, these were things that
they always didóthey
didnít do it because there was a war on.
Kelsey: Were there any
that you did, that was totally because of the war, that you
hadnít done before?
Varga: Well, first of all, there was
no garbage collection. So there wasnít
to my knowledge. What did we do
with our newspapers? Perhaps burned them, because
you could still burnóand your garbage. My father would
go out and dig a hole. He
had considerable property, so he buried cans.
Thatís all I
Kelsey: What about things like
Varga: Well, maybe weíd put those
where there was a collection for certain things: aluminum and rubber and other
scarce items that could be used.
Kelsey: So that you saved things for
those collections. And had you done that before the
Varga: I donít know. And I wasnít
the woman of the house, and that wasnít my job, so I
donít remember. Iím passing on
that. Now today we conserve, we recycle, we mulch.
Kelsey: Did you ever worry, or were
there people around you that worried that the
might not win the war?
Varga: Perhaps my father, who read widely, did. I did not. I did not
worry. I was naÔve.
Kelsey: So you just figured
everything would turn out okay.
Varga: I didnít look at it
fatalistically, as if we were going to lose.
Kelsey: But your father did?
Varga: Iíd say he may have, because
he was a man whoíd been in war, and he was more
widely read than I, deeper
Kelsey: At the end of the war, you
mentioned seeing in the newsreels about the
concentration camps. How did youó
and you were older
thenóhow did you feel when you saw those?
Varga: I thought it was
unbelievable. Last summer we went to
just beyond belief. You know, when you read
stories, or hear the storiesÖ. And there are people
around who do tell the stories locally.
Kelsey: Do you remember if you had
any idea while the war was going on, that these
kinds of things were happening?
Varga: No way.
Kelsey: Were there any refugees that
you came into contact withónot necessarily Jewish
people, but any refugees
Europe that might have come to this area?
Varga: No, I had no idea.
Kelsey: What did patriotism mean to you?
Varga: Probably saluting the flag,
going to war if you were called, voting. Thatís
Kelsey: And thatís what it meant to
Kelsey: And how did you show your
Varga: Well, I didnít go to war, I
saluted the flag, I voted, I paid my taxes, I didnít
cause myself to be arrested, I obeyed
Kelsey: Did you feel that going to
Picatinny was a way
of showing patriotism?
Varga: At the time, probably not. I
wasnít an adult, thinking that deeply.
Kelsey: Actually, thatís
interesting. If you had been given the choice of
two jobs, one at
Picatinny and one in an office
that paid basically
the same amount of money at that time, which one do
you think you would have picked?
Varga: Well, it was convenient when
I was in high school to have a part-time job. I had
the time, and I could use the
money. And I didnít know what the arsenal consisted
of until I got there. You just donít walk in the
would have been interesting to make a decision on
that, but it didnít happen. (chuckles)
Kelsey: And you said you didnít
really know what was going on in there until you
actually went in.
Varga: Itís a little city, or a
Kelsey: When you went in and started
working, what did you think about it?
Varga: Initially we were handled by
a military officer. This man demanded that we say
ďsir,Ē and I had never said ďsirĒ to
anyone in my entire life. And everyone had to say
ďsirĒ on every sentence we spoke. The medical exam,
my blood was like an experiment to find a vein. I
mean, I still remember it to this day. That was
sort of a rude
way to start your first job. But we all handled
it. I was amazed at how big the arsenal was, the
vast numbers of
people there. Then they brought in people from, I
Haiti, I believe, at the one end of the
block of buildings I was in. They brought people in
from every backwoods farmóthey were on my bus ópeople
who hadnít worked,
There were a lot of people there. This wasnítÖ. Like today we
have many people from many countries, many stages of
life, income, from many countries, speaking many
languages. So itís a different world. In my town
Wharton, I donít know if there was one black
had a lot of Hungarians. At that time
I didnít know I would marry a Hungarian (chuckles) and go to see
too. So life was different. My excursions
took me to my grandmother in
Canada, so we lived a very simple narrow
Kelsey: They brought in all of these
Varga: From different places to work
in the arsenal.
Kelsey: Did you say
Varga: I think they were from
Kelsey: The island of
Varga: I think so.
Kelsey: And then they brought people
in from farms all over Northern New JerseyÖ.
New York City.
New York City. Now, did these people stay here, or
did they go back and forth?
Varga: Well, certainly the ones on
the farm from Northwest New Jersey, went back home.
Kelsey: Every day?
Varga: Yes, because my bus was bringing them in and taking them home. Iím
really not sure
where they all lived. Iím sure some of them must
have commuted, because the area wasnítÖ.
Victory Gardens may have been built to house government workers, but
not to the extent that
Itís a good question, I donít know.
Kelsey: Do you rememberÖ. You said
that the population was not as diverse at all, as it
is now, and that you donít
even recall even one black in
Wharton. But these people that they were bringing in from
Varga: Was a mixture.
Kelsey: Was that group more diverse?
Kelsey: Were there blacks in that
Varga: I think. But my memory back
that far probably was very self-centered: I saw
what concerned me, and I wasnít
intimidated by all these people, just the sheer
numbers. I wasnít used to walking with so many
people around. It
was like a cityóespecially going in and coming out.
I mean, big turnover.
Kelsey: Going in and out of the
Varga: Yes. Yeah, going to your
Kelsey: I guess they had shift work,
Varga: They must have. But my
mother and I worked regular
hours, but I do not know the answers
to shift [work]. One
would think that they worked
three shifts, but Iím not sure.
Kelsey: But you never worked
anything other than the day shift?
Varga: Yeah, I had the day shift,
Kelsey: Everyone who was hired, even
part-time, had to have a physical?
Varga: Their physical, yeah. It
wasnít a thorough physical. And everyone passed.
Yes, everyone passed, do you
understand? I mean, itís only after youíve gone
through this, becauseÖ. Well, I certainly went to a
doctor, but I
never had the experience I had there that day with
the nurse. And I had never gone through an
especially with a military man. So perhaps heís
still talking about his experiences, I donít
Kelsey: So tell me a little bit more
about that interview.
Varga: Well, it was just like a rude
awakening. Innocently I was passing by, never
having been treated that way, and
that was his manner.
Kelsey: How did he treat you?
Varga: Well, he was very demanding.
I had not met anyone like him before. And then we
all passed. I mean, I think
Kelsey: Do you remember what kind of
questions he asked?
Kelsey: Or did he just tell
Varga: His manner was very
demanding. My school and family life
had not prepared me for that man. So
maybe thatís part of the awakening, right? Lifeís
not all like your mother's and
your teachersí lives.
Kelsey: When you went to the
physical, were you lined up like you see the
pictures of the guys going [unclear]?
Varga: Having inoculations?
Varga: Well, we werenít having any
inoculations. I canít really tell you that, I donít
know. Itís faded in my mind.
Kelsey: They took your blood
Varga: I donít think they took your
blood pressureóthey took your blood. Thatís why I
wasóthey were probing, I was
very thin at that time, from walking to and from
Kelsey: How many miles was that?
Varga: Itís only two a day, but if I
could only walk two miles a day, Iíd be a much
thinner person. (chuckles)
Kelsey: What was your most memorable
Varga: Hm. I think there wasnít any
highlight or low bad experience. I entered my first
work experience of my life for
which I got paid. And the discipline, especially
when school was over and now Iím working eight hours
every day. It was just a smooth time. And the war
came, and I think I took a month off, maybe two
then I went to secretarial school in the fall.
Kelsey: This was after the war?
Varga: After the war.
Kelsey: Do you remember anything
particularly funny or humorous that happened while
you were working at
Varga: I really donít.
Kelsey: How did you feel when the
Varga: Well, we were all happy.
Thatís what we hadÖ. I mean, I wasnít planning to
stay there for my life. We were
happy the war was over, and I accepted that my job
was over, and that Iíd move on.
Kelsey: Was it understood before the
war ended that at whatever point it did end, your
job would be over? Was that
Varga: I donít remember it being
stated, but I accepted it. I must have understood
it, because I accepted it with ease.
Some people I know were called back. And Iím happy
that I wasnít. Howís that?
Kelsey: And why were you happy that
Varga: Because I went on to other
things. I mean, I live in a community where Iím
and retirees. My
husband was quite shocked when
everyone retired at fifty-five from
Picatinny, and he worked ítil
rules to different games.
Kelsey: Where were you on
Varga: I can remember being at my
grandmother's, thatís the
only thing that sticks in my
mind, and she gave me
something because it was the
end of the warósome little thing she picked up from
around the house. Thatís all I
Varga: And what about
Varga: I donít remember where I was
OíHagan: Was it the grandmother from
Varga: No. My [paternal]
grandmother lived on the
same street I did, two doors away. So I used to go see her every
Kelsey: Once you had been laid off,
or your job at
Picatinny had been terminated, then
you said you took a couple
Kelsey: And what did you do?
Varga: I took a trip to
Nova Scotia I enrolled in school and started
Kelsey: September ofÖ.
Varga: What would it be, í45,
war with Japan ended in í45,
Kelsey: Yeah. What school did you
Varga: I went to Summit Secretarial School.
Kelsey: And that was in
Kelsey: And how long were you in
Varga: Probably nine months. Then I
went to work in
Madison for the
principal of the high school.
Kelsey: At Madison High School?
Kelsey: How did you feel about your
job as a secretary, versus the jobs that you had
Varga: Well, I liked it better. But
now I was an experienced person, having worked. I
mean, donít you form your
opinions as you go along?
Kelsey: Were you paid the same,
Varga: I was paid better.
Kelsey: Than what you had been
Varga: Right. And strangely enough,
when I married, I made more than my husband. When he
came out of service, he
Parks College, which
was a part of
St. Louis University, and he was an
aeronautical engineer. And in
í49, there were no
jobs for aeronautical engineers, so he had a hard
time getting a
job. He was the first college
graduate in his
family. He eventually became a
got his masterís.
Kelsey: Where did you meet him?
Varga: I met him at
Egbertís, square dancing. Did you ever hear of
Kelsey: No, donít think so. Where
Varga: Well, itís somewhere outside
of Denville. Itís on a lake, and it
Kelsey: And he had moved to
Varga: No, his parents lived in
Dover, and he went to school in
Kelsey: So he was originally from
Kelsey: You just had never
encountered each other.
Kelsey: Getting back to your job,
did you feel that you had more responsibility?
Varga: You mean as a secretary?
Varga: I worked for a very unusual
man. There were two secretaries, and I was really a
year older than, say,
high school seniors. It was nice, I liked it.
Kelsey: And how long did you stay
Varga: I stayed there seven years
and eight months. And by then my husband had his masterís
degree, and I was
pregnant with my first son.
Kelsey: And thatís when you quit?
Varga: Thatís when I quit.
Kelsey: And at any time after you
Picatinny, did you
ever consider not finding another job?
Varga: In those days, the man
worked. We all lived on one salary, and you made
do, and the mothers stayed home
with the children. There were some exceptions, but
basically thatís how it was.
Kelsey: But before you were married,
when you left
then [unclear], did it ever
occur to you at that point
that you wouldnít
be retraining or looking for another job?
Varga: It never occurred to me, no.
I knew Iíd work somewhere. Itís just that I really
didnít have any skills, except
typing, drafting. I wasnít going to save the world
with my drafting. I knew that. So I had to move
Kelsey: Was it because you did have
typing skills thatís why you focused on going to
Varga: Well now that Iíve had time
to think about this through the years, there was no
guidance when we were in
school. I did well in school. I wasnít guided to
scholarships or how I could do it. Thatís why I
working with the scholarship committee. Iíve done it about
thirteen years, so I know what Iím doing, and Iím
giving the assist that
I wish I had been given. I try to keep up
with changes and opportunities. So some people
did learn how
they could do it, and they did go to school
or college from
Whartonóbut I wasnít one of those
Kelsey: But being a secretary was
something that you knew that you could do, it was a
job, an avenue that was open to
Varga: Thatís an avenue I tried,
Kelsey: And ended up liking it.
Kelsey: Better than being a
Kelsey: What year did you meet your
Varga: In 1949.
Kelsey: So youíd been working for a
couple of years then at that time.
Kelsey: And when did you get
Varga: In 1951.
Kelsey: And then you had your first
Varga: In í54.
Kelsey: And how many children do you
Kelsey: Through all weíve talked
about, weíve talked about how when you were growing
up you felt you were poor, you
had very little, you really had to make do, and you
all needed to work.
Varga: Go without, yes.
Kelsey: And go without.
Varga: But we werenít aloneóa lot of
people were doing that.
Kelsey: With your family and your three children, how did your experience
growing up make you feel about
their growing up?
Varga: Well, I think my generation
of women at that time were staying home and using
their skills, stretching the dollar,
learning how to sew, making it all work, staying
home with the children. I went back to work when my
was, I donít know, about eight
years old. She had to be fifteen minutes home
alone. And I took a job in Dover
part-time. And I liked it, I liked working. It was
experience, especially now Iíd had a little
experience and I had motherhood, and it was good to
get back to work.
Kelsey: Did the economic
insecurities that you had when you were growing
upódid you feel insecure with your
children? Were you worried that there might not be
enough for them, the way there wasnít enough for
Varga: No. We started saving before
we had children, for the children and their
education. A good man, he was a
financial planner, and the skills, we both knew how
to save, go without. ďGood enough will doĒ is the
grew up with. So would I do it differently? I
think Iíd be a different mother if I had another chance, but itís not
Kelsey: So the skills that you had
to learn growing up during the
Depression, you used those skills to
make things better for your own family.
Varga: Right. Thereís nothing like
living through it and going through it, to learn how
to do it. Sometimes you wonder if
the current generation, how they will do. You know,
when you meet adversity, if you donít have those
going to be very hard.
Kelsey: So do you think that the war
changed your life and the lives of your family and friends more than the
Varga: Well, certainly all the men
who went to war and took advantage of the
had their lives
changed and improved. War did bring better
things to them if they survived to be able to go
through and go to
school. I guess going through the
Depression was something like a war for some
people. My father always had
a job, my
husband's father did not
always have a job. So I only know how it worked for me, and
take different approaches. You
must know that, with your friends.
Kelsey: So for you personally, do
you think the war changed your life?
Varga: I think it did, yes.
Kelsey: And how did it change it?
Varga: How did it change it? Well,
weíll never know if there were no war, what I would
have done differently. Certainly,
as I told you, the war gave us more money to do more
things with, to have more opportunities. And as I
maybe I became a different person.
Kelsey: In what way?
Varga: Well, I was taught to be meek
and mild and to keep my opinions to myself, be seen
and not heard. And Iím
more aggressive (laughs) than you can imagine. I
mean, I have changed, so thatís my experience.
Kelsey: And do you think that was a
good thing for you?
Varga: Definitely, yes.
Kelsey: You mentioned the
G.I. Bill. Did your husband take advantage of the
Kelsey: Do you think that the
education that he was able to get made a difference
in the economic situation of your
Kelsey: So when you said that was a
positive result of the war, that was what you meant?
Kelsey: After the war, when you went
to secretarial school, and then you went to work at
Madison High School, where
were you living? Did you continue to
live with your parents?
Varga: When we married, my husbandís parents moved to
Somerville, and we moved into their house two weeks later.
Kelsey: Their house in
Dover. And then
we lived there for twelve years. We had a five-year
plan. We were going to have a
new house in five years. And in twelve years, I
wasnít getting itchy, and I still was at home. And
by then, by
twelve years, we had three children. Is that
right? Ginny was born in 1964.
No, Ginny came
after we moved.
So there was a development on the
top of our hill, and we bought one of those houses.
time we bought it,
we owned a houseówe were buying
the new houseóa lot, and we had the other
we had too much
going on, financially, at one time.
Kelsey: You had how many housesótwo
houses and a lot?
Varga: I guess we had bought the
house on Prospect Street. Then we bought the [lot]
we were going to build our dream
house on. In the meantime, this development opened,
and so we bought a house in the development. But it
worked out, and we got rid of that one house and
lot, and we have our house that we live in.
Kelsey: Did you live with your
parents until you got married?
Kelsey: So you commuted from
Madison on the train?
Varga: Yes. Well, once I got a car, I drove, so I drove.
Kelsey: How long did it take you to
save for a car, or to get a
Varga: Well, I had to go through
school, and then I worked about three years.
Kelsey: So by the late fortiesÖ.
Varga: Yes, I bought the car.
Kelsey: What kind of a car?
Varga: It was a Chevy, it was very
nice. Your first car is
Kelsey: Yes, it is, I remember.
Did the work
that you did during the war change your feelings
about what kind of work women should or
could do, and what women could do outside the home?
Varga: I think when I really came to
be very pro-woman was here in the
County College of Morris. When I came here, I
had some friends who were having hard times, and this was
mecca for women who were having hard times. They
could use the daycare center, they could go to
school here, tap into the grants, console each other. It was
teeming with women like that. And I became
Kelsey: And when was that?
Varga: Well, I came here, letís
seeÖ. I came here about 1973, part-time. But when
did I work here? Yeah. So I must
have come here to work. First I worked as a temp
here, then I worked for Humanities, and I worked here from
about í73-í74 to
1978. And I went to school, so I talked to a lot of
these women on the job and at night. It was
interesting. You must have some of this
experienceóhad great conversations.
Kelsey: You mentioned daycare as a
real positive [unclear].
Varga: It was a great thing, yeah.
Kelsey: Do you rememberóof course
you wouldnít have had any need for itówhen you were
Picatinny, do you
remember if there were
any kind of arrangements for women who were working
and had children?
Varga: For daycare? No, I donít
remember. Well, I donít remember if, in 1944, if
the average woman who had a child
had a car, either. You
know? In other words, you werenít seeing people on
the bus with children in their arms. I
donít know that, really
Kelsey: Yeah, youíre right, at that
point in time, not that many people had carsóit was
the gasoline and the tires and all
Varga: They may have had a sitter at
Kelsey: But you donít recall, all of
these people that were coming into
Picatinny, and most of
them were coming on
some sort of transportation that
was being provided, or public transportation, but
recall seeing any
Varga: No. And see, if
they could bring in buses, they could cut down on
all the cars that were coming in. But I wasnít
thinking of all that when I
was that age.
Kelsey: Is there one thought about
your wartime experience that you would want to share
with future generations?
Varga: Thatís quite a question.
(pause) I guess you can look back at a time when
all this happened to you. I would
think that you have a collection of experiences, and
maybe your deeper thoughts come about the whole
later. I donít have a thought for future
generations, except avoid war, if there were ever to
be a perfect worldóIím
not sure there will ever be.
Kelsey: Is there anything else youíd
like to add?
Varga: No, thatís it, thank you.
Kelsey: Thank you very much.
Varga: Youíre welcome.
[END OF INTERVIEW]