At 76, Lois Larkey of South Orange has a treasure trove of memories, and she’s planning to add to them. She tells all in her recently published 516-page memoir, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: The View from Beyond Seventy” (LifeStory, 2019).
“It took five years,” said Larkey. “I would think of one thing that happened, then another that I wanted to write down. I wanted to tell the story of my family so my two daughters and my grandchildren [would know] what happened during my life.”
The Newark native, born in 1944 to Barney and Jeanette Larkey, has been a teacher, a UJA fund-raiser, and now a tutor and college adviser. She’s also an involved member of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, and prides herself on her dedication to social justice and Jewish causes.
“I had a wonderful father and mother, and an education that involved Judaism and social justice,” she told NJJN in a telephone interview. “My parents brought me up that way.”
In her memoir, Larkey writes about a mentoring program she initiated in the 1980s for the Boys Club of Newark. She enlisted the aid of noted lawyer Douglas S. Eakeley, who arranged for Rutgers law students to teach civic responsibility to the young high-school boys in the club. She said the Newark young men saw the law students as role models.
“We made a curriculum and were promoting social justice matters when a lot of people weren’t even talking about it,” she said. “We wanted to keep kids safe and off the street. It’s 2020 and not much has changed in that area.”
Larkey said her first trip to Israel in 1960 laid the foundation for her feeling of connectedness with Jews around the world. Her synagogue, then known as Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, encouraged her to participate in a NFTY trip to Israel, giving her the opportunity to experience the Jewish state in its infancy.
“We saw the movie ‘Exodus’ being filmed at the King David Hotel and later met Otto Frank in Amsterdam,” she said. “These events made me realize I wanted to be a member of the worldwide [Jewish] community.”
After graduating from Connecticut College for Women — now the coeducational Connecticut College in New London — in 1965 and earning a teaching certificate from Kean University in 1967, Larkey began a 24-year career in education. She taught constitutional law at Columbia High School in Maplewood and English and history at several middle schools, among them The Peck School in Morristown and Horace Mann School in New York, “rated number three among schools in the country at the time,” she said.
Larkey’s second visit to Israel occurred in 1977 after she took a break from teaching to have children — daughters Amanda and Diana — 16 months apart, with then-husband Ronald Wiss. She said that the trip, as well as missions to the Soviet Union and Romania, inspired her to increase her volunteer work as a UJA fund-raiser, and after returning to New Jersey she traveled the state as part of a national UJA speakers bureau to solicit donors.
“I met a lot of Holocaust survivors who were successful and wanted to donate to UJA,” she said.
In the early 1980s she made time to work with the South Orange Board of Trustees to create a community newsletter, “The Gaslight,” which is still published and distributed to South Orange homes. “It raised morale in our town,” she said. Larkey also headed the Community Relations Committee, which combats bias and promotes understanding among South Orange’s diverse population groups, and she spent a year as director of development of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
In 2007, she founded Lois Larkey College Counseling and Tutoring, which specializes in writing and college advisement.
“My volunteer work with social justice at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is in the forefront now,” said Larkey, who helps plan speakers and other programs, such as an event featuring conservative commentator Bill Kristol that’s scheduled for October.
“We hope it’s live,” she said.
Her other joys are visiting with her family, including four grandchildren, who live in Brooklyn, and writing for her blog, “Larkey Lowdown.”
She said, “I had several offers to speak to groups about my book, but, like everyone else, Covid has kept me home.”
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