Jennie Sweetman has been a leading historian of Sussex County for more than 50 years.
She has stood as a figure of great importance for me, during practically my whole life. Many significant times and events in the story of Sussex County have been chronicled by her.
I’d like to share a personal account of some time I had with her.
One incident comes to mind.
I pointed at the muddy slope. Years before, invasive insects had killed off the hemlocks that made the Sparta Glen a place of quietude and serene comfort for many who would picnic near the gentle flowing brook or hike on the hillside.
Now, a 500-year flood had left over-soaked soil heavily laden, causing it to move like jelly, and some of it was sliding across the road. We surveyed the scene, and I gave her a few facts about Sparta Glen.
She was taking notes with her eyes, looking much deeper than I could at what had been a nationally observed event. No notepad was necessary; she just pondered the muck and took it all in. As we walked, her eyes went back to the roadside several times as she checked on her beloved husband, Tunis, who waited patiently in the car.
This was one of the several times that I had the good fortune to have worked with Jennie, to give her information for her column that she would be producing that week for the New Jersey Herald. As usual, the few facts that I supplied were greatly supplemented by her vast knowledge of Sussex County.
When I first met her, in the early 1990s, and introduced myself, she immediately and keenly commented that she recalled my father from her early days as a reporter for the Herald, covering Franklin High School in the 1960s. She mentioned Dad’s involvement in the beginnings of Wallkill Valley High School a few years later. I was greatly impressed with her instant memory and precise detail.
She has been a Sussex County icon for more than 50 years, known to many for her clear understanding of the history of our area. She has been a fixture in the Sunday paper for literally generations. Imagine that fact!
Jennie has been a mentor to me in local history and a constant figure, chugging along like an old steam engine, researching and writing, reflecting and summarizing, foreseeing progress ahead by looking backward behind us so we could see where we’ve been to prepare for the future.
She has been the quintessential example of a role model to me, dependable and correct, informative and comprehensive. She was always present on Sunday morning when the newspaper was tossed onto the driveway; a familiar voice speaking to me and consistently delivering a worthwhile reading.
I know I am not alone in that assessment. All the current historians of Sussex County owe much to Jennie.
Learning about history, appreciating the story and subsequently taking formative action for the preservation of our past has been an increasing desire for me. How does one grow in that feeling?
It takes people like Jennie to subtly impart such a passion. I have admired her storehouse of fundamental facts of our area. Jennie has always been there, a firm fixture on the subject, and a trustworthy and reliable resource.
Because of her deep knowledge and her presence on the topic during so many years, she has instilled in many of us an appreciation of our heritage, resulting in a deeper love for Sussex County.
In the passing parade of life, there have been, in my time, people like Pete Scovern, Howard Case, Marion Wood, Lou Cherepy (Sr. and Jr.), Kevin Wright, Fred Stephens, Wasco Hadawanetz, Jack Baum, Barbara Waskovitz, Bob Longcore, Dick Roy, Jim Wright, Joe Bene, Jack Clark and others from whom I have gleaned an appreciation of our history and who I know have been strongly influenced by Jennie.
She is not forgotten. Jennie has been a blessing to us all.
Bill Truran, the Sussex County historian, may be reached at email@example.com