In 1994 Susan Ruble and her husband James bought a home at 27 Lake Ave. in Hamilton. Among the house’s highlights is its unusual garage, which is exceptionally long and has a very high ceiling. It seemed the previous owners used the garage as a workshop of sorts.
As Ruble was cleaning out the attic above the garage, she found something equally unusual—an old painted sign that read “Board of Education; Township of Hamilton; Office.”
“I came across the sign, which I thought was so cool because I was a teacher in Hamilton Township,” says Ruble, who teaches in the Advanced Learning Programs for Students at four Hamilton schools.
Not knowing what to do with the sign, she put it aside, but then a couple years later she asked then-superintendent Neil Bencivengo whether he would like the sign. He said he would, and Ruble handed it off to Bencivengo. This was the last she had heard about the sign until a month ago, when she saw the sign front and center on the district web page.
“I said, ‘That’s my sign.’ I was shocked,” she told the Post. “I didn’t know if [Bencivengo] had stuffed it in a drawer or took it when he retired.”
She immediately contacted current school superintendent Scott Rocco, and told him she had noticed the sign on his website. A history buff, Rocco was interested in hearing the story of the sign. It turned out to be more layered and interesting than expected.
Ruble knew the name of the previous owner, John Peoples, who had died but had children. She also knew the house’s sizeable garage that Peoples had used the space for the school buses he painted lettering on.
An online search for 27 Lake Ave. to see whether more information might be available about the Peoples family, to shed more details on the lettering business and potentially the sign Ruble had found, yielded a 1940 Census record posted on Ancestry.com. It showed a family named Peopen (suggesting a misspelling or misreading of the original handwriting or a name change) who lived at 27 Lake Ave. in Hamilton, including the grandfather Edwin H. Massen; his daughter, Clara M. Peopen, and her husband, John J. Peopen; and his three grandchildren, John G. Peopen, then 9, Thomas Henry Peopen, 8, and Theresa Peopen, 4.
Additional research located John G. Peoples, who indeed turned out to be the son of John J. and Clara Peoples; he lives today in Ormond-by-the-Sea, Florida, where he moved with his late wife Carol Ann Kroesen Peoples.
The house at 27 Lake Ave. was built in 1936, Peoples told the Post, by his maternal grandfather—whose name, Carl Maahsen, also differs a little from the Census record. Peoples’ mother, Clara, grew up there. His father, also a Hamilton native, earned his living doing lettering on trucks and school buses, including Rick buses. He worked in his garage, which served as his shop. John says that his father is most likely the person who lettered the sign. Born in about 1906, John J. Peoples died at 94.
Rocco said that the sign was in his office when he started as superintendent in May 2017. Appreciating the sign’s value as history, but in the middle of putting his own stuff away—which included a lot of New York Yankees paraphernalia—he asked his secretary to put the sign aside until they could find a place for it.
About a month ago, Rocco says, he really looked at the sign for the first time, and thought, “This is legitimate. It is an older sign, and somebody didn’t make it look older.”
He and his secretary decided to hang the sign in the superintendent’s conference room in the Board of Education building at 90 Park Avenue. The room sees a lot of traffic—staff training, board of education and supervisors meetings—and his secretary said, “It’s a perfect place for it.”
The Board of Education building at 90 Park Avenue has its own history. It used to be the K-6 Hamilton Square School, where the building’s night custodian, Jimmy Nalbone, graduated in about 1972. During his tenure, he says, “it was an old building—like it is now,” and lunches cost 30 cents. He estimates that the original building dated from about 1900, with a new addition in 1925. Before the board office moved to 90 Park Avenue, it was in the basement of Greenwood School.
Ruble grew up in Hamilton, where she attended McGalliard Elementary, Grice Middle School, and Hamilton West High School. Her mother worked for Public Service as a general manager, and her father worked for Sherwood Leasing Company in Trenton.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher by age 14,” Ruble says. “I loved kids; I babysat.”
Since then she has taught exclusively in Hamilton, first at Sayen—in first, second, and fifth grades, then a half year in fifth grade a Lalor, and now the ALPS program at Lalor.
Although student teachers were not normally placed in their native towns, her future was perhaps charted when she was placed at Sayen Elementary in 1989, under principal Amelia Marini.
“She happened to be my first-grade teacher and was now principal and eventually hired me—and that sums up what Hamilton is like,” she said. “Hamilton is the largest small-town community in the world. We grow up here, we live here, we work here, we stay here; if we leave for a while, we come back.”