Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ridgewood Park Ministers to All, as Did Its Namesake

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ridgewood Park Ministers to All, as Did Its Namesake

Article excerpt

Who was Lee of Fort Lee, Votee of Votee Park and Merritt of Camp Merritt? The Name-Dropper gives you the lowdown on some of the people whose names you see on public statues, memorial plaques, park signs, highways and even some local streets around North Jersey. Have suggestions? Email them to features@northjersey. com and put Name-Dropper in the subject field.

In the legendary first intercollegiate football game, when Rutgers beat Princeton, 6-4, John Alfred Van Neste of the Rutgers team may have kicked the ball, may have helped score a point, may have blocked a Princeton player.

Then again, maybe not.

Accounts of that game played in New Brunswick in 1869 report the score, but provide little about how individual players performed.

It seems easy, 145 years later, to assume Van Neste got a chance to play since the rules of that time dictated large lineups, 25 players per side.

But in one respect, how Van Neste played doesn't matter since it was not his exploits on the gridiron that caused the Village of Ridgewood to name a sweet little downtown park in his memory. Rather it was for the remembrance of Van Neste as an adored minister in mid- 19th to early-20th-century Ridgewood. He was the Reformed Church pastor who helped people of other denominations establish and build their own places of worship, and in the meantime allowed them to use his church.

Van Neste was born on Christmas 1850 in Weston, a small unincorporated hamlet in Somerset County. His great-grandfather, Abraham Van Neste, served in the Continental Congress, later as a county judge and in the New Jersey State Senate, thus making John Alfred Van Neste a Son of the American Revolution, and a chaplain of that organization.

His father, Abram, was a Union soldier who was killed in action during the Civil War.

In 1872, John Alfred took a bachelor's degree in classics from Rutgers, where he also found time to edit the student newspaper, join the rowing team, and serve as the secretary of the Class of 1872, all in addition to playing football.

He then enrolled at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Newly ordained by the Reformed Church in 1875, Van Neste was assigned to Ridgewood where he and eight other villagers founded a new congregation. …

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