Lou and Ruth Jaskow, 94 and 91, are the first to cheerfully proclaim that they are the oldest residents of Greenhaven.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Lou and Ruth Jaskow, 94 and 91, are the first to cheerfully proclaim that they are the oldest residents of Greenhaven. They’ve lived in Rye for 49 out of the 70 years they’ve been married. The years have not diminished their insight, ebullience, and charm in the slightest. On a warm, picture-perfect summer day, they graciously welcomed this reporter into their home with iced tea, garnished with slices of lemon and a sprig of fresh mint, and escorted me to Ruth’s favorite room in the house.
Their sunny screened-in porch, where they sit every evening, commands views of Long Island Sound and is steps away from Greenhaven Beach. It also overlooks their pool, where Ruthie, as Lou likes to call her, swims laps everyday. “She doesn’t even mind the cold water,” he noted.
They remember a time when the Greenhaven dock was chockfull of beach chairs and everyone knew each other. “You’d have to run out and put the Times on the chaises to save them,” he said. “There were many community spirited events, including banquets, dance lessons, and swim meets.” Every Wednesday night, people from all over the Sound raced their sunfishes. On weekends, the Greenhaven Yacht Club held popular sailboat races.
The Jaskows fondly recall their sailboat, “Keiki,” coming in 15th out of 30. “That was good for us,” said Ruth.
They’ve been drawn to the water their entire lives. When she was 16 and he 19, they met at Lake Mahopac, where their families would spend the summers. Was it love at first sight? “No” they replied in unison. However, a summer of Fireman’s Carnivals, bowling, and movies led to an everlasting friendship and romance. The Jaskows have one son, Peter, 67 and retired himself, two grandchildren, and three great-granddaughters.
Ruth missed Lou terribly when he was sent overseas during World War II. She likes to say, “He won the war in Germany.” Initially, he served as a signal intelligence officer intercepting German radio traffic and as an intelligence officer with the 21st Corps of the Seventh Army towards the end of the war. Upon returning home, he found work at a camera store in New York City. Soon after, he opened his own in White Plains and ran a successful business, dealing primarily with professional and industrial photographers, for 32 years.
Ruth, on the other hand, worked for The New York Times, making presentations and introducing the paper to a myriad of schools. Later, she earned her Master’s degree and became a schoolteacher in Greenburgh.
Upon retiring, they became professional volunteers, so to speak, spending nine years working for Meals on Wheels, followed by nine years at United Hospital. Up until a month ago, they were hospice volunteers, also for nine years. “It was sad, but we made a lot of friends,” remarked Ruth. While both provided comfort to many families, Lou offered many a WWII veteran the opportunity to talk about old times.
“We don’t know what volunteer jobs we’ll do next,” said Ruth. “Since I’ve been retired, I don’t get anything done,” quipped Lou.
Quite the contrary, Lou is an ardent Greenhaven historian and an avid orchid grower. It was no accident that they christened their old sailboat “Keiki,” meaning an offshoot from an orchid’s flower stern. In greenhouses off their kitchen, Lou has been cultivating an inspiring orchid hobby for as long as they’ve lived in Rye. In 1963, they joined the American Orchid Society merely because the organization was offering a trip of a lifetime. “It cost only $2,000 for two months!” he recalled. The memorable journey took them to London, Africa, India, Penang and Koala Lumpur in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan.
Upon their return, his mother serendipitously gave him a dormant orchid she didn’t know what to do with. When it blossomed under his watch, Lou’s new pastime bloomed, too. Over the years, he has installed two connecting greenhouses partially powered by more one-liter plastic water bottles than one could count.
“A bottle of water holds 100 times more calories of heat than a bottle of air,” explained Lou, assuredly equipped should a power outage seize the heating system.
“There are sufficient bottles to run the greenhouse for two hours.”
He related that there are more than 30,000 species of orchids in the world, 314 in the Jaskow greenhouse alone, which boasts species from Southeast Asia, as well as Charles Darwin orchids. While the prominent naturalist employed these plants to prove his theories of natural selection, Lou explained that for him, “They are mystic, a big challenge, and a show-off hobby.”
In an equally impressive and orderly office upstairs with an 11×14 photograph of Ruth on their wedding day and a bright green rug that typically matches his wardrobe (because “Ruthie loves green”), Lou keeps meticulous records of life in Greenhaven. Annual folders, dating back to 1965, store general information, acquired from Greenhaven Association meetings and various records.
Even more astonishing is the fact that Lou maintains a folder for every single house in the enclave, over 150 of them. Each includes various documents, such as maps, Westchester County records, realtors’ open house printouts, tax notices, Rye Record articles, and computer-generated information. Lou rattles off names, addresses, and dates with expertise and accuracy.
A resident of Greenhaven, myself, I was astonished to discover my own house folder is filled with clippings from all The Rye Record articles I’ve written over the years pertaining to the neighborhood, my home and my husband’s business. That someone has taken the time and energy to create veritable time capsules for the entire community is nothing short of remarkable.
Lou, on the other hand, modestly sees it as a hobby that germinated when he became president of the Greenhaven Association and was handed cartons of documents that needed organizing. He shares his folders and his wealth of knowledge freely and enthusiastically.
“Did you know that part of ‘Cleopatra’ with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor was filmed right on Shore Road, where a garden with Egyptian artifacts still stands?”
When one asks him about Greenhaven’s history, he doesn’t begin with New York real estate developer and neighborhood namesake Vivian Green’s contribution in the 1920s or even John Budd’s purchase of the land from the Siwanoy Native Americans back in 1661. That would be too obvious. Instead, Lou takes one back to the Wisconsin Ice Sheet of 22,000 years ago when a glacier carved out the Long Island Sound estuary.
“I got started and I can’t stop. It’s like eating peanuts,” he said. “There is so much history. Most people don’t care about the past, but I do.” And so does Ruth.