Like all good writers, North Salem’s Herbert “Herb” Geller knows every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
So the former newspaperman has decided that it’s time to turn the page on one particular chapter of his long and productive life.
While he will no longer co-chair the local Democratic Committee, Geller is unlikely to give up his position as politico emeritus or his dedication to issues that affect the community, say folks who know him.
Geller recently celebrated his 98th birthday with baked ziti, a little wine, a lot of song and a dozen fellow Democrats, all of them close friends.
“He’s my personal hero and I’m his biggest fan,” co-chair Emily Jonas Siegel said at the Friday, Dec. 6, soiree at Geller’s Candlewood Lake Park home.
Siegel is in awe of the fact that her mentor’s interest in civic affairs has never wavered in all these years.
At age 97, he was writing a weekly column for the North Salem News and collecting signatures for candidates. He still reads several newspapers a day, she said.
“He’s the most passionate person about politics that I know. Herb will call anyone at any hour of the day or night to discuss his concerns,” Siegel said.
Chock full of praise for the World War II vet’s patriotism and community involvement was Karen Roach, the town’s tax receiver and wife of District 6 leader Tom Roach.
As the longtime commander of American Legion Post 1866, Geller is “the main reason that our young people even know that Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day exist,” she said at the party.
The ability of the inductee of the New York Veteran’s Hall of Fame to inspire others during his talks at the town’s annual parades has boosted turnout, Roach added.
“The crowds go wild when he speaks,” said Solomon Schepps, a lawyer and recent candidate for town justice.
In a 2015 interview published in the North Salem News, Geller guessed that his leadership abilities came naturally.
“I always knew the importance of being involved and being informed,” he said.
A Bronx native, Geller joined the Signal Corps for which his duties included guarding a deserted depot in Brooklyn where unloaded World War I guns were stored.
Then Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. Geller enlisted in the Army. He went off to basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., where, he jokes, he learned something “very important”—how to make a bed.
Geller was trained as a radio repairman at Camp Crowder in Missouri, assigned to the new Army Air Corps and then deployed to England.
After the war ended, he manned a radio tower in ally-occupied Germany. He rose to the rank of corporal and was honorably discharged in 1946.
After returning to civilian life, Geller studied journalism at Long Island University in Brooklyn with the help of the GI Bill.
He wrote for the Army for a while, then after getting married in 1956, moved with his new bride, Gloria (nee Feldman), to Lincolndale and later to Mount Kisco. They eventually bought a home in North Salem in 1956 for $23,000.
The couple had three daughters—JeriAnn, Sharon and Nisa—and he now has seven grandchildren. Back then, it was possible to comfortably support a family on a journalist’s salary, Geller recalled at the soiree.
Geller, who lost his beloved wife in 2015, still resides there with his live-in caregiver, Minervas Rodriquez.
Geller got a job writing for the Patent Trader, a local newspaper owned by the Tucker family, and worked there until 1971 when it was sold to a new owner. He became a reporter for the Bridgeport (Conn.) Post, where he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his a series on the bicentennial. There were earlier stints at the New York World Telegram and the Bronx Times, as well.
Geller’s work also garnered recognition by the New York Press Association and the New England Press Association.
But one of his proudest accomplishments as a writer was a play he wrote about the struggles of the Irish immigrants who had settled in Bridgeport, Siegel said.
(Geller didn’t limit himself to just writing about politics, he also ran for the New York State Assembly in 1986.)
After leading his guests in a rousing rendition of “Old Man River,” a song that speaks of toil and class—and before blowing out the candles on his birthday cake—Geller good-humoredly summed up his life as a “political animal.”
Channeling the late actor and social commentator Will Rogers, he pronounced, not at all solemnly: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”