The Not So Silent Generation: Part Three

A series that gives an inside look into the extraordinary lives of ten humans over 75


Series Content Editor, Talin Hakopyan

Josephine Van Rhyn, 82, Brooklyn, New York

Story and Photos By Jacqueline Pinedo

“Sometimes I lay in bed and think back at the times I lived with my husband and it feels like a fairytale.”

Like a true Brooklynite, Josephine Van Rhyn recalls always having a bold personality. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933, Josephine, 82, credits her character to her rich Italian culture and her strict father. Growing up during the war, some of her most vivid childhood memories were filled with fear.

“The day of the bombing in Pearl Harbor the lights went off in New York City. There was no smoking allowed because they didn’t want any light penetrating into the sky,” Josephine said. “It was scary! It was a crazy way of growing up — constantly fearing, it was frightening. Every time a plane would go over, we were looking over. It was frightening, frightening, very cautious.”

Josephine’s father, Frank Tessararie, was an old-fashioned man. He immigrated to the states from Italy at the age of 17, arriving through Ellis Island. He served during World War I, which perhaps fueled his stern nature. As a result, he raised his children under a strict household.

When Josephine and her sister would go out and play, her father would blow a whistle to signal that it was time for them to come home.

“He had a whistle for us that we would hear five blocks away,” she said. “If we were outdoors, my sister Anita would hear the whistle and we would run like the dickens back home.”

As she grew older, his parenting style never let up. After graduating Bushwick High School in 1950, Josephine wanted to go to college, but her fathered demanded that she work in her family’s sewing factory.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to go to college, and he said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to go at night after you are done working at the factory. You need to learn the business.’”

Each day, she worked eight hours at the family factory, then went home to make dinner for her family, then went to class at Brooklyn College where she majored in language.

Her father told Josephine that he wanted her to go to Italy with him, but she didn’t want to go with her father, instead she was devising a plan of her own. One night, instead of attending class, she went to a club, The Rose Glen Ballroom, where she met her future husband, Peter Van Rhyn.

“So I got my bags like I was going to school, but instead I took the train and went to Manhattan. And at the time they had the Rose Glen Ballroom. They had a huge dance floor and they had cushion seats, and I sat all of a sudden this guy comes over. He was dressed to the nines. He comes over and says to me, ‘would you like to dance?’ I said no I don’t dance, and he said I’ll show you. So I said, HELL ALRIGHT! It was like I had danced with him all my life.”

Josephine and Peter met in March and got engaged in August. They had were in love.

When Josephine broke the news to her father about her engagement he wanted to assure that his daughter’s future husband was financially equipped to marry his daughter. He took a good look at the engagement ring and ordered Josephine’s younger sister to take it to the pawn shop to get an estimate on the ring.

Being that Josephine was the oldest in the family her wedding was larger than most. “We got married and I was the first daughter in the family to get married so we got stuck with a 200 guinea wedding…it was nice.”

Josephine and Pete had one daughter, Joselyn Van Rhyn. They lived in New York until 1981 and then packed their bags to move to California.

Josephine now lives in California where she spends her days babysitting her grandchildren or cooking delicious pasta.

Annette Van Wagner, 79, Los Angeles

Photos and Video by Daniel Sanchez

After being married twice, Van Wagner realized: “I had grown quite a bit and I decided I didn’t need that in my life and I could be happy without being married.”

After being married twice, Van Wagner realized: “I had grown quite a bit and I decided I didn’t need that in my life and I could be happy without being married.”