History and heritage: John Rudd, one of Montclair’s leading lights
By MIKE FARRELLY
For Montclair Local
“History & Heritage” is a series on Montclair history, written by representatives of the
John Herman Rudd was a successful businessman, who helped make Montclair great. He was named “businessman of the year” by the State Assembly in 1982, according to an article in The Montclair Times in 1982.
People in Montclair don’t just go to work and come home. The Rudds are a perfect example of how people in this town get involved and make things better.
He did not start out wealthy: his great-grandfather Buck (aka William) had been a slave on the Rudd farm in the Columbian Grove District. Buck worked as a blacksmith. He bought his freedom and set up a small farm. The farm passed to John’s father, John William Rudd. His father died young. His mother, Rosa, married Calvin G. Thomas. They moved to Montclair in the late 1920s, and lived on Miller Street.
After John failed to make the farm profitable, he attended high school in Washington, working summers in upstate New York. He still came to New Jersey, however, visiting his mother and his sister, Hannie. When Hannie’s husband died in 1928, John moved to Montclair permanently to help the family. He worked as a domestic for three years and saved enough money to build a house at 9 Gray Street. His mom and stepfather moved in with him for a short time.
But it wasn’t a straight uphill climb: John was laid off from his job as a butler during the Depression. He scraped up enough money to buy a truck, and started a landscaping business. In 1934 he married Emoral Howard, who was also from Virginia. In 1935 John got his real estate broker’s license, and that work supplemented his landscaping business. The first house he sold was 8 Willowmere Ave. He sold that house two more times during his 50-year career as a broker.
Most people believe that John was the first African American real estate broker in town. However, that honor actually belongs to Alexander Thrower who came to Montclair from North Carolina to work as a chauffeur before WWI.
The Rudd landscaping business was successful, but when most of the employees were drafted during WWII, John had to find work in a factory in Newark. In 1945, he opened a dairy business with his younger brother, Wyatt. The business was originally based at 4 Gates Ave. In the 1940s, John dipped real estate for himself. In 1948 John bought the building at 312 Orange Road to house his real estate business, for a whopping $25,000. He also bought 310 Orange Road and moved the dairy business in. He opened Rudd’s Dairyland in the 1950s, an ice cream shop, with his brother Wyatt. In 1964, when grocery stores began selling milk in half gallon and larger containers the home delivery business fell off, John sold the dairy business at a loss. Wyatt operated the ice cream business for a few more years at 310 Orange Road. The brothers sold the back building to John Wood who ran a catering business.
Larry Wood eventually opened up Wood’s Dairyland and sold ice cream. Wood’s was known as one of the best places in Montclair to get ice cream until it closed a few years back. A martial arts school now occupies the building.
John was a member of the Montclair Chamber of Commerce. John died in 1986.
But for all his success in business, Rudd’s story is not just a story about a successful businessman. John was extraordinarily generous with his time. He was on the board of the Washington St. YMCA and the Park St. YMCA. He was president of the Neighborhood Council, which oversaw the activities of the Neighborhood Center. He was treasurer and on the board of Montclair Community Hospital. He served on the state welfare board and was active in several political organizations. First a Democrat; he later became a Republican. He was involved in all kinds of local groups.
Perhaps the most generous thing about him was his legacy. With the full consent of his wife, they had an agreement that, after she died, their assets would be divided up between some important local agencies. Representatives from the funded organizations made up the board of the Rudd Foundation. In its 10-year life. the foundation donated over $600,000 to: Mountainside Hospital (now Partners for Health), the Montclair-North Essex YWCA (now the Montclair Fund for Women), The Montclair Volunteer Ambulance Unit, The Montclair Neighborhood Council, and the local chapter of the American Red Cross.