Louise Randel

TODAY, LOUISE RANDEL KEEPS CHARGE OF HER AFFAIRS, LOVES LORNA DOONE COOKIES AND PLAYING BRIDGE.

The huge crowd surging around Times Square in New York on Nov. 11, 1918 was charged with energy and joyous relief. President Woodrow Wilson had announced that the German high command had surrendered, and World War I was over.

Standing in the raucous crowd was young Louise Randel, in a long skirt and broad-brimmed hat. Above the crowd she saw a man leaning out the second-story window of a nearby hotel. As he began to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in a rich, powerful voice, the crowd grew silent.

"Thousands of people, but complete silence," she says, remembering that day when she was 23. "The man was Enrico Caruso, and he sang all four verses in English," she says. "It was wonderful to hear. I've never forgotten it."

As the upper-middle-class daughter of a mining engineer and a progressive mother, Mrs. Randel remembers that it was not just on Armistice Day that her mother allowed her alone on the streets of America's most congested city.

"You could ride the subway safely," she says, seated now in her two-bedroom garden apartment in Carolina Village, a retirement community. "You could walk the streets then, and it was safe."

At 104, Randel - who still drives her car occasionally - remembers her girlhood in a brownstone on 144th Street with her two sisters as exciting and almost ideal. "Mother had no hesitancy to let me look for a job and perhaps come home after dark," she says in a crisp, clear voice.

In 1918 horses still pulled trolley cars in New York, and the population of the city was around 4 million. Upper Manhattan for the most part was congenial, orderly, and moneyed. Lower Manhattan and the East Side were the world of immigrants and pushcarts.

Randel and her sisters were home-schooled by their mother until they reached the third grade, and then attended public school. After high school, Randel earned a New York State Regent's Scholarship and went to Hunter College, a rare accomplishment for a woman in the 1920s.

At a Saturday night dance for young people in the basement of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, she met Roderick Bradley Randel, a handsome man with a "magnificent baritone voice," she says. It would prove to be a meeting that led to a marriage of 68 years. Easy-mannered and ambitious, Mr. Randel courted her for seven years.

"We really got to know each other," she says of their dating. Their views on life coincided, including having a small family, employment for Randel when the children reached school age, much community service, and lots of walking and dancing.

During World War I, Mr. Randel was drafted and put in charge of troops that guarded New York Harbor. His future wife's first job was with the War Camp Community Service, a national organization that provided recreation for soldiers. Her salary was $25 a week. Few women then, even with college degrees, had jobs beyond secretarial work or teaching. Randel remembers visiting an employment office at JC Penney wearing a hat, an ankle-length dress, and a pair of gloves.

"I was engaged then, and the gloves covered the ring," she says. "The man questioned me and liked what he heard. He handed me an application to fill out. I took off my gloves and he saw the ring. Then he took the application back and said, 'We don't employ engaged or married women because engaged women get married, and married women have babies.' I was quite crestfallen, but I am so glad that such treatment can't happen today."

After the Randels married in 1920, they moved to Mountain Lakes, N.J. They bought a house for $12,000 in a planned community close to Mr. Randel's office. The couple lived in the house for 53 years and raised two sons.

Besides being a mother and housewife, Randel also taught school, and became a principal at an elementary school. Today she continues to tutor students at her apartment several times a week.

In the quiet of a recent morning in her apartment, she says she misses her husband, who passed away in 1988. "We were walkers and dancers," she says of their life together, which included traveling all over the world and learning how to accommodate their differences. "If we had differences of opinion, we tried to sit down and talk it out," she says. "We learned how we would react to certain things and that helped. If we fought about anything, we knew we had to apologize."

Still, when asked if she has any regrets in her life, she pauses for a long time, and answers from the heart with great candor. "I think maybe I could have shown a little more loving kindness to Mr. Randel," she says.

"Everything for me had to be perfect, had to be done just right. He hugged me, but I couldn't seem to respond in the way that I think I should have responded. I took it and was so glad to get it, but I would never think of going over and hugging him."

Yet she describes their evenings together before his passing with affection and love. "He would sit here, and sometimes I would sit over there," she says. "And before we got ready for bed, I would come over and sit beside him, and he would put his hand on mine, and there we would sit for a few minutes, and it seemed that all the worries of the world were washed away."

The huge crowd surging around Times Square in New York on Nov. 11, 1918 was charged with energy and joyous relief. President Woodrow Wilson had announced that the German high command had surrendered, and World War I was over.

Standing in the raucous crowd was young Louise Randel, in a long skirt and broad-brimmed hat. Above the crowd she saw a man leaning out the second-story window of a nearby hotel. As he began to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in a rich, powerful voice, the crowd grew silent.

"Thousands of people, but complete silence," she says, remembering that day when she was 23. "The man was Enrico Caruso, and he sang all four verses in English," she says. "It was wonderful to hear. I've never forgotten it."

As the upper-middle-class daughter of a mining engineer and a progressive mother, Mrs. Randel remembers that it was not just on Armistice Day that her mother allowed her alone on the streets of America's most congested city.

"You could ride the subway safely," she says, seated now in her two-bedroom garden apartment in Carolina Village, a retirement community. "You could walk the streets then, and it was safe."

At 104, Randel - who still drives her car occasionally - remembers her girlhood in a brownstone on 144th Street with her two sisters as exciting and almost ideal. "Mother had no hesitancy to let me look for a job and perhaps come home after dark," she says in a crisp, clear voice.

In 1918 horses still pulled trolley cars in New York, and the population of the city was around 4 million. Upper Manhattan for the most part was congenial, orderly, and moneyed. Lower Manhattan and the East Side were the world of immigrants and pushcarts.

Randel and her sisters were home-schooled by their mother until they reached the third grade, and then attended public school. After high school, Randel earned a New York State Regent's Scholarship and went to Hunter College, a rare accomplishment for a woman in the 1920s.

At a Saturday night dance for young people in the basement of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, she met Roderick Bradley Randel, a handsome man with a "magnificent baritone voice," she says. It would prove to be a meeting that led to a marriage of 68 years. Easy-mannered and ambitious, Mr. Randel courted her for seven years.

"We really got to know each other," she says of their dating. Their views on life coincided, including having a small family, employment for Randel when the children reached school age, much community service, and lots of walking and dancing.

During World War I, Mr. Randel was drafted and put in charge of troops that guarded New York Harbor. His future wife's first job was with the War Camp Community Service, a national organization that provided recreation for soldiers. Her salary was $25 a week. Few women then, even with college degrees, had jobs beyond secretarial work or teaching. Randel remembers visiting an employment office at JC Penney wearing a hat, an ankle-length dress, and a pair of gloves.

"I was engaged then, and the gloves covered the ring," she says. "The man questioned me and liked what he heard. He handed me an application to fill out. I took off my gloves and he saw the ring. Then he took the application back and said, 'We don't employ engaged or married women because engaged women get married, and married women have babies.' I was quite crestfallen, but I am so glad that such treatment can't happen today."

After the Randels married in 1920, they moved to Mountain Lakes, N.J. They bought a house for $12,000 in a planned community close to Mr. Randel's office. The couple lived in the house for 53 years and raised two sons.

Besides being a mother and housewife, Randel also taught school, and became a principal at an elementary school. Today she continues to tutor students at her apartment several times a week.

In the quiet of a recent morning in her apartment, she says she misses her husband, who passed away in 1988. "We were walkers and dancers," she says of their life together, which included traveling all over the world and learning how to accommodate their differences. "If we had differences of opinion, we tried to sit down and talk it out," she says. "We learned how we would react to certain things and that helped. If we fought about anything, we knew we had to apologize."

Still, when asked if she has any regrets in her life, she pauses for a long time, and answers from the heart with great candor. "I think maybe I could have shown a little more loving kindness to Mr. Randel," she says.

"Everything for me had to be perfect, had to be done just right. He hugged me, but I couldn't seem to respond in the way that I think I should have responded. I took it and was so glad to get it, but I would never think of going over and hugging him."

Yet she describes their evenings together before his passing with affection and love. "He would sit here, and sometimes I would sit over there," she says. "And before we got ready for bed, I would come over and sit beside him, and he would put his hand on mine, and there we would sit for a few minutes, and it seemed that all the worries of the world were washed away."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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