Ken Lockwood is almost as old as the town he calls his hometown — Fair Haven.
The small, sleepy borough on a peninsula is turning 100 this year; and, Lockwood, who settled there in 1924 at the age of 2, is now 90. And just like the town in which he’s lived a lifetime and loves, he says he’s going for 100.
A proud graduate of the then Rumson High School Class of 1939, this kind gentleman and good neighbor, whom so many are accustomed to seeing out and about on the Parker Avenue street where he lives, loves to tell true tales about his beloved Fair Haven and his “associations” there, as he calls them.
Ask him anything about the area, going back as far as 90 or so years ago, and Lockwood will have a story for you.
And, in telling his tales, some of the things that just casually slip out of his mouth are a bit astounding.
“You bet! Rumson High School, Class of 1939,” he said at his birthday party on Saturday. “My fondest memories of high school? My associations. One of them I remember most … Nelson. Nelson Riddle. We were friends … played together. He liked his music. He was shy. He lived on Fair Haven Road. His bus stop was there. I got off at Smith Street.”
Brow furrowed for a moment, a smile masked his face as he asked, “Do you know Nelson? Big bands. Nice fella ‘n that.” The answer to that was, “Yes.” I know who Nelson Riddle is. Really? Yes, really.
Ladies at the birthday table in the background explained, “That Nelson Riddle grew up around here and went to Hollywood to play in the band with that Frank Sinatra.” Nelson Riddle was an R-FH graduate.
But he was just Ken Lockwood’s “association.” To him, it was really as simple as that.
As clearly as he remembered the famous, Lockwood also recalled his "association" with the businessman down the street, Tommy Bond, at the corner of Parker and Cedar avenues, who had a storage building there. No longer functional, its still there. It’s likely no one remembers Bond. Ken Lockwood does, though, because his “associations” are what has made his life so full.
He remembers the insignificant to some, yet fascinating to others. He remembers those who, perhaps, should have mattered more, but held a dear place in his life — each and every one of them. And there are things he remembers, too.
Did you know that the empty fields on Parker Avenue where homes now stand used to harvest asparagus? Who knew? Ken Lockwood. And the “highest” house on the street was none other than mine. “Yes, the man who built it was very short,” Lockwood said. “He would climb on that roof in his sneakers and we would just watch him and wonder what he was thinking. Thought for sure he'd fall off. Never happened. There he'd be ... up on that roof hammering a nail or something almost every day."
Then, there was his stint after high school graduation as an usher at the Carlton Theater in Red Bank, now the Count Basie. “I graduated from Rumson High and looked at my father and said, ‘Well, now what?’ He said to me, ‘Well, go out and get a job.’ So I did. I was walking down the street in Red Bank and I saw a sign that said ‘Ushers Wanted.’ I thought, ‘Well, I think I can do that.’ So, I went and got the job.”
Lockwood worked there and made $1 a day, or $7 a week — a good salary for that day. He confessed that he spent it all on candy — candy from the theater.
It was at that same theater, watching movies, where he also confessed that he “fell in love with (actress) Claudette Colbert,” he said. “I met a gal who had that look and just fell in love with her, too. I asked her to marry me and she accepted.”
That would be his wife Peggy. The couple has been married for more than half a century. It’s an obvious rarity. She anticipates his every move, gently chiding him for talking too much and telling him to sit while he drinks his iced tea so he won’t spill it. She is and always has been his shining star. Many have seen it.
Oh, and on the subject of stars, Ken Lockwood’s love of showfolk shined through more as he got a few words in about how he used to watch the steamboats transport actors, directors and producers to the docks of Fair Haven. Back in the day, Fair Haven was a vaudvillian actor's haven. “Oh, yes, there was the steamboat, the Albertina (ship) and another,” he said. “Used to dock right over at the Shrewsbury Yacht Club. It was an actors’ club. Wonderful people. So full of life … colorful. What a great time in Fair Haven. Loved the show people.”
His production was and is his Fair Haven life.
Ken and Peg Lockwood very recently left their dream-like little red homestead on Parker to live in the Chelsea in Tinton Falls. It was time, they admitted sadly.
They are dearly missed by neighbors who are used to seeing them outside daily doing something yet more meticulous to their perfectly manicured lawn, never judging others for being less than perfect, always caring about all around them — their neighborhood "associations."
It was very difficult to keep either or both from taking a stroll to the Acme, wobbly in horrid weather or not. They easily put many to shame, giggling at the notion of doing less than the routinely ambitious daily norm, seeing themselves as just the people on the block, not the lawn whisperers they were.
"I get nervous not being there, sometimes," Ken said. "So much to do. I had planned on digging up the entire lawn this summer and replacing it. Oh, I guess I shouldn't think about that."
Nevermind the lawn. Trying to give the Lockwoods a simple ride to the store was like asking a racecar driver to admit his car was broken while rounding a corner in flames. They’d gladly offer to share their bus schedule with you, though.
“Ken, it’s time for the people to clean the room. You have to stop talking for now,” Peggy said at the end of her husband’s 90th. “Oh, OK,” he conceded. “If you come back I can tell you more,” he said. “I’ll tell you all about my time in the Navy.” Yes, Lockwood also served in World War II. Happy Memorial Day, Ken! The memories you have given all in your life is another kind of memorial celebration in itself.
“I’ll see you next time and tell you more,” he said. ‘Til next time …
* Stay tuned for our video of Ken Lockwood ...