Jo Ann Gardner may know more about the history of Lake Hopatcong than many. Gardner’s connection to the lake dates back to the early 1950’s when she was crowned Miss Lake Hopatcong of 1953-just after graduating high school. For over 50 years Gardner has been involved with the lake and an active member of the community.
Married to Dave Gardner for 52 years, the couple bought their first house in the Shore Hills section of Landing.
“The Shore Hill beach provided a spot for our three young sons to swim and play and of course Bertrand Island Amusement Park was not far away,” said Gardner.
In 1965 the family moved to Mount Arlington Knolls where they enjoyed a beach community and great views of the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club and Bertrand Island.
Gardner worked as a teacher for 28 years and Dave, her husband taught for 38 years. They have lived in Mount Arlington for 45 years where they raised their five sons, Daniel, Donald, Douglas, Dean, and Duffy. They have one grandson and four granddaughters and one great grandson.
“All my boys worked at the Bertrand Island Amusement Park, and the Knolls Beach. We all hold Life Saving Certificates and Dave is an instructor,” said Gardner. “The lake was used for year round activities-with ice fishing and skating in the winter. With five sons we were in every possible activity there was.”
When youngest sons Dean and Duffy were born, Jo Ann and Dave opened The Farmer in the Dell Nursery School, where according to Gardner, they “had lots of fun for the next ten years.”
Soon the couple expanded their teaching year to include the summer months and their beloved lake as well, when they ran the All Star Day Care Center.
“Our campers swam, canoed, and had all the neighborhood fun this wonderful area provides,” said Gardner.
Gardner is no newcomer to volunteer work to help her community. As a young woman, she was an active member of the Roxbury Woman’s Club working on committees to establish the Art Association and the Roxbury library. Soon she became involved with the Roxbury Historical Society.
“Being friends with Alice and Walter Apostolik -who were involved in the ‘Lake Hopatcong Breeze,’ I became very interested in the history of Mount Arlington,” said Gardner.
With the encouragement from Harriet Meeker and Anne Hoskings, authors of the History of Roxbury books, Gardner was instrumental in founding the Mount Arlington Historical Society in 1981.
“I have been involved for more than 50 years…even that amazes me. I may be 75 years old but in my head I still feel 25,” said Gardner.
In what little spare time the Gardner’s have leftover; they manage to be successful gardeners. Jo Ann loves the Victorian craft of pressed plants, flowers and herbs. She makes arrangements and color copy them using them for note cards and bookmarks.
The Gardner’s hit the road in their RV spending the winter months in different parts of Florida including, Biscayne Bay, Florida Keys, the Everglades, Sanibel and Hope Sound-to name a few. She makes note card series from her photography of their travels.
The couple belongs to the Knee Deep Club and enjoys fishing.
The Usual Questions:
What is your favorite lake destination?
“Lots of favorite destinations…Our own Knolls beach, the state park, the Fountain, the Windless and Jefferson House, Lees Marina, the historical museum, Mount Arlington town beach, and the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club ‘s public events.”
What is your earliest memory of Lake Hopatcong?
“Coming to Bertrand Island nickel night, swimming at the Mount Arlington beach with a church group and my 8th grade trip to Lee’s Park and climbing on and slipping off the metal elephant.”
Describe the perfect day on the lake.
“We drive the 5 minutes from our house to the Knolls Beach passing the area where Bertrand Island used to be. You can see a large boulder with a bronze plaque that tells of the existence of Bertrand Island. When we pull through our gate, we get a beautiful look at our beach and the lake, on a summer Sunday, you may see the sailboats and a regatta in progress off the Yacht Club which is directly across the way.
Our picnic and grill equipment is set up and the cooking begins, friends and family join us and set up chairs.
The kids head for the water and if the lake has a lot of boats in action, then the shoreline has waves. That is fun.
Just gazing at the water and the beauty of it all is calming and peaceful.
Stacey and Jeff Allen live in the house next door, Stacey and her sister, Amy were my nursery school and summer day care students when they were very young.
Now they are parents themselves. We holler a greeting at them as they play on their dock and invite them over for a burger.
We love the lazy summer relaxation. And if it is the night the Yacht Club puts on the 4th of July fireworks, we stay until it gets dark. We watch the boats come and face the Yacht Club, their lights move slowly as they find a good spot.
We position our chairs and watch the sky darken and the sunset colors disappear. The kids all get some glow sticks necklaces and bracelets, cookies and a cold drink. Then the fireworks light up the sky, son Doug has some patriotic music to accompany the display. The last finale of loud bangs and spectacular displays draw cheers from our beach and grateful honks from the boat horns. We take a satisfied sigh and say good bye as we make our way to the car, carrying all the stuff, and coaxing the tired children to make the final steps to the car. Out of the gate and back home we go. Now there goes another perfect day at the Knoll Beach on Lake Hopatcong. Next time we’ll get to fish off the dock, can’t do everything in one day."