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Austin N. Volk

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Led city during civil unrest of 1960s

Austin N. Volk, who was mayor during the 1967 racial disturbance that spotlighted the grievances of African-Americans in affluent Englewood, died Saturday at his summer home in Southampton, N.Y. He was 91.

Mr. Volk, a white Republican, was 17 months into his second stint as mayor when violence broke out in the predominantly black 4th Ward the evening of July 21, 1967, days after the Newark riots. Fourth Ward residents hurled rocks at store windows and police cars, injuring several officers. Residents told reporters that neighborhood housing was inferior, the police were intrusive, and they felt shortchanged by the rest of the city.

The unrest lasted five days and included at least one instance of gunfire. Mr. Volk was a constant presence in the 4th Ward. On one occasion, he wore his Navy uniform as he strode with police and firefighters along Palisade Avenue.

"He felt that by wearing the uniform, he could create a more stable picture and have a better chance of negotiating to stop the rioting," said a stepson, John C. Glidden Jr.

Mr. Volk appealed for calm on radio and met repeatedly with African-American leaders. He vowed that the city would seek condemnation of slum dwellings and help 4th Ward residents find better jobs. And he made clear he would not tolerate violence in his hometown.

"The responsible, respectable and peaceable citizens, whether Negro or white, must be protected from banditry and guerrilla warfare," he told The Record. "And these citizens will be protected with every legal resource open to this administration."

The Record characterized Mr. Volk, an insurance man who earned $100 a year in the mayor's post, as generally effective and sincere during that tense midsummer week. His "good faith, now that he has seen for himself that conditions are unbelievable & is to be taken for granted," the newspaper editorialized.

"We were all very proud of Austin and worried about his safety," recalled Joan Van Alstyne Johnson, whose father, David Van Alstyne, was an Englewood Republican leader.

But Arnold Brown, one of the black leaders with whom Mr. Volk met, said Tuesday that the mayor "elevated the situation" through a heavy presence of police officers in riot gear. Brown was an assemblyman at the time  the first African-American from Bergen County in the Legislature.

"We had our differences in the '60s," Brown said. "He was just a conservative looking for the status quo."

Austin N. Volk was born Dec. 28, 1918, at Englewood Hospital. He graduated from Dwight Morrow High School and Brown University and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He remained in the Naval Reserve and was recalled to duty during the Korean War. He retired from the Navy in 1965 with the rank of captain.

Mr. Volk first served as mayor from 1960 to 1963. Englewood was ordered during that time to desegregate its public schools. He returned as mayor in January 1966. Less than four months after the racial disturbance, he was defeated in a historic election that produced a Democratic mayor and a Democratic majority on City Council. He later served two terms in the state Assembly.

Mr. Volk was active in Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, the Rotary Club and the Englewood Historical Society, among other organizations.

"Austin lived here his whole life," said Norman Davis, the Historical Society's president, "and one of the stories he liked to tell happened when he was a kid. Charles Lindbergh was courting Anne Morrow at the time and staying at the Morrow mansion. One day, Austin ran up and rang the doorbell. A manservant answered. Austin said he would like to have Colonel Lindbergh's autograph. The servant said, 'Why don't you leave me that piece of paper and come back.'

"So Austin came back the next day and was told, 'Colonel Lindbergh won't give you the autograph, because if he gives you one, he'll have to give every kid in Englewood one.'x"

Mr. Volk ended his bachelorhood in 1979 by marrying Rae P. Glidden, widow of John C. Glidden, an Englewood City Council president. Rae Volk died last year.

He is survived by a brother, Nicholas Volk of Toronto; four stepchildren, Deborah Saliba of Orleans, Mass., John C. Glidden Jr. of Closter, James L.P. Glidden of Holliston, Mass., and Gordon G. Glidden of Huntington Woods, Mich.; and many step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Visiting will be Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Barrett Funeral Home, Tenafly. The funeral will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Cecilia's R.C. Church, followed by interment in Brookside Cemetery, both in Englewood.

E-mail: [email protected]
Published in The Record on Sept. 22, 2010
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