UNION, NJ — Union Historical Society trustees Tom Beisler and Tom Haggerty presented a program entitled “Mayor Biertuempfel: A Legend in His Own Time and Ours” on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Union Public Library, offering residents a deeper understanding about F. Edward Biertuempfel, the man who served as mayor of the township for 34 years, a record at the time.
Haggerty and Beisler spoke about the life and career of the man who is considered by many to be the architect of modern Union and the township’s most important and successful public official.
His motto was, “What helps youth helps Union,” according to Beisler, who said Biertuempfel prided himself on keeping Union homeowners’ property taxes low by attracting light industry to the township. maintaining a suburban environment and good public services.
On permanent display at the library is Biertuempfel’s vast collection of elephants. A Republican, he was elected to 15, three-year terms as a member of the Union Township Committee and selected by the committee to 34 terms as mayor between 1930 and 1973.
According to Beisler, Biertuempfel left an indelible mark not only on Union, but on other towns as well.
“Many of his innovations established during his time are still in effect or practiced today and were adopted by other towns,” Beisler told the Union Leader. “More than 40 years after his death, residents still lamented his passing,
especially when paying taxes. As time goes by, fewer and fewer residents are around who knew him, but current residents are still affected by his 34 years of service.”
Beisler said Biertuempfel established himself as a political leader during his first eight years in office.
“His early years as mayor during World War II and the early postwar years — the 1950s and the commercial and social development of the town — were probably his best time,” Beisler said.
The 1960s saw Biertuempfel facing his first political challengers, according to Beisler, and from then until his death in 1973 at age 78, Union’s former mayor suffered from deteriorating health.
Born in Newark in 1894, Biertuempfel was his family’s first generation to be born in America. He moved to Union in the 1920s.
“He wanted to be an artist and had a patent for a table game he designed, but ended up selling cork products for his family’s company,” Beisler said.
As for Biertuempfel’s legendary elephant collection, Beisler had an interesting story to tell.
According to Beisler, Biertuempfel corresponded with Union residents in the military when they were stationed across the world, during WWII, and these residents began sending Biertuempfel small statues of elephants, the symbol of the Republican Party, along with their letters, in return.
“After the war, Union residents travelling around the world would bring back small elephants for the mayor to add to his collection,” Beisler said. “This went on for years, ending up with what is in the Library Meeting Room.”
Biertuempfel got his start in politics while helping his uncle, who was a prominent official in Newark.
According to Beisler, Biertuempfel, who was born Frederick Edward, decided to call himself “Ed” when he moved to Union because there was a family member, possibly a brother, already living in Union, named Fredrick.
“During most of his time as mayor, he had no private-sector job and worked full time at being mayor, which was unusual for a township at the time and enabled him to accomplish what did. Biertuempfel’s main legacy was as a community builder. He supported and encouraged just about any kind of social, civic, recreational, charitable, youth, veteran or religious group active in town. He was also a member of many of them. He was the architect of what seemed to be, if you lived here in his time, what eventually became a ‘big, small town.’”
Biertuempfel’s death was reported in the April 20, 1973 edition of the New York Times.
In the article, it is reported that although Biertuempfel earned an annual salary of just $4,500 as Union’s mayor, that did not stop him from devoting his time and energy to the position.
“He spent many hours answering the phone, which rang day and night at his office and at his home at 1109 Overlook Terrace,” reads the article. “When a caller reported, “cat up a tree!” he would notify the Fire Department and check later with a solicitous call as to the cat’s welfare.”
Beisler said that Biertuempfel made Union much of what it is today. “The unique character, traditions, and — call it personality — of our town, much of which still remains today, were developed by the efforts of this man,” Beisler said.
Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas told Union Leader that the township takes pride in Biertuempfel’s legacy.
“Here in Union, we pride ourselves on our ability to learn from, and incorporate the past in order to propel us into a progressive future, Cavadas said. “Mayor Biertuempfel was ahead of his time in many respects, and laid a solid foundation with building blocks that we still build upon, even today. His legacy of tireless dedication to the community will always be honored here in Union.”
For more information about Mayor Biertuempfel and to see more photos, visit the Union Township Historical Society at www.unionhistory.org.