By the late 1980’s, fourteen Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), offering facilities for the three stages of Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Long Term Care, had been certified for senior citizens in New Jersey. Nine of these had only recently opened their doors. Newly formed Resident Associations were facing problems for which there was no prior experience. They began to reach out to each other for help. In 1991 the presidents of the fourteen Associations met at Applewood Estates in Freehold and officially founded the Organization of Residents Associations of New Jersey (ORANJ).

Residents Associations in all of the twenty-five CCRCs presently certified for occupancy in New Jersey are members of ORANJ.  Over 10,000 seniors are currently in residence. Living units are being added to reach a total of over 9,500.

Soon after the organization of ORANJ, its leaders reached out to help in the formation of the National Continuing Care Residents Association (NaCCRA), founded in 1992.

Although the Mission Statement and Goals of ORANJ have grown over the years, the central purpose remains working cooperatively for the well being of senior citizens. Across the state, issues and challenges faced are similar. In working together, senior citizens multiply insight, strength and influence for change and improvement.

The Organization of Residents’ Associations of New Jersey (ORANJ) was founded in 1991 by Walter Neidhardt, a resident of Applewood Estates in Freehold, NJ. Walter had the belief that, with so many Continuing Care Retirement Centers (CCRCs) being built, communities should talk with each other and learn from each other how to face mutual problems. At first, there was discussion about including campus administration in such meetings, to get a broad perspective of continuing care retirement center activities.

There existed at that time an organization, known as the Consortium that had representation of both residents and campus management. At a meeting in early 1991 of that organization it was apparent that administrators dominated the discussions and resident views were not popular. In spite of this, many residents initially resisted the idea of a second organization consisting only of residents. Walter persisted with the objective of an organization of residents, working by residents and for residents, distinct from a union of residents and management.

The first official meeting of ORANJ was held at Applewood Estates on May 8, 1991, with seven CCRCs represented. The number of CCRCs in the state had increased from only four, about five years earlier, to 13 in 1991. All 13 had been contacted and invited to send representatives, but only about half participated.

At the May meeting, it had been agreed to hold a second meeting in August at Medford Leas in Medford, NJ. The attendance at that August meeting increased to 12 of the 13 CCRCs in the state. Both of the two early meetings were devoted primarily to discussion of the expected role and activity of the organization. The name that was originally adopted for the organization was New Jersey Organization of Continuing Care Retirement Community Residents’ Associations. This name, and even its abbreviation, NJOCCRCRA, was a mouthful, and it was later condensed to the present name.

A decision was made to hold two meetings each year, one in April, and an annual meeting in October. The number of individual attendees was always an issue. Initially the representation from each CCRC was limited to the president and one other officer of the Residents Association, and one member at large to provide for continuity of representation. This restriction was adopted for practical reasons and was one of the reasons that the organization was slow in flourishing.

The custom was adopted that the host organization would provide a noon meal for the attendees, and the expense of this plus the limited physical space called for a limit on the total number of attendees. Some relief to the issue of expense was provided by a practice adopted in the early years that each attendee pay a nominal fee, originally $5, to offset the cost of the lunch. The space limitation still exists because the total number of residents in the state is more than 10,000, and although 100 or more can be accommodated at a meeting there are no facilities at present to accommodate a group several times that size.

Following the first two meetings it was decided to expand and include other communities then being formed. Walter Neidhardt served as president of ORANJ until the fall of 1993, when Betty Fiedler of Crestwood Manor in Whiting, NJ was elected president. In 1994 John Cook of Applewood Estates was elected president and Bob Anderson of Medford Leas was elected vice president. These two filled those offices interchangeably for the next eight years. During those years they traveled to many communities to assist them in the creation of their own Residents’ Association, and to encourage them to participate in the state organization.

Without the dedicated effort of these two, especially that of Bob Anderson, who served as President from 1996 until 2002, it is doubtful that the organization would have survived.

During those early years Bob and John traveled, not only throughout New Jersey, but also to neighboring states to speak with organizers of groups in the other states. In addition, they attended meetings of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) where concerns of CCRC residents were discussed. It was in a hotel in Philadelphia in 1996, at the time of an annual meeting of AAHSA, that the inaugural meeting of the National Association of Continuing Care Residents’ Associations (NACCRA) was held. Bob and John were two of the original directors of that organization. Because ORANJ had a small treasury, the expense of these travels was borne by the individuals. In fact, most of the costs or ORANJ were borne by the participants. As the organization grew in size it was divided into four geographical zones with a vice president for each zone. At the same time, internal organization created committees assigned to specific areas: legislative, finance, communication, etc. The development of these committees led to the growth of ORANJ.

In its formative years, ORANJ was assisted by Len Fishman, a lawyer with extensive experience in CCRCs. Also Jim Ianni, who was the Supervisor of Continuing Care Retirement Communities in the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, was very helpful to the organization. Communication with members became more and more important as members were added. The ORANJ Tree publication was started in 2003. Bill Stoll of Medford Leas was the first editor.

In 2011 Fran Stoll sent this message. “I remember those days! I went with Bill to many ORANJ meetings.  Bill was the editor of the newsletter. Betty Wood was the secretary of the organization at that time. There were many consultations, of course, between the two of them. Bill took on the job of starting a newsletter at Bob Anderson’s request. It took hours and hours, especially at the start, when there were decisions to make about the size, logo, formatting, selecting a printer, arranging for circulation, etc., in addition to collecting and editing the stories. This was a new field for Bill, but he enjoyed the challenge. At Bill’s memorial service Bob spoke of his contribution to ORANJ.”

ORANJ continues to make its voice heard in the legislature of New Jersey and it continues to provide guidance to its membership. ORANJ will continue to work for the betterment of individual residents of CCRCs throughout the state of New Jersey.  ORANJ has benefited greatly from the efforts of its presidents:

*Walter Niedhardt, Chair, May 1991 – Oct. 1993
*Betty Fiedler, Chair, Oct. 1993 – Oct. 1994
John Cook, Chair, Oct. 1994 – Oct. 1996
*Bob Anderson, Pres. Oct. 1996 – Oct. 2001
*Bart Bartholomew, Pres. Oct. 2001 – Oct. 2003
*Charles Germany, Pres. Oct. 2003 – Oct. 2005
Gary Baldwin, Pres. Oct. 2005 – Oct. 2009
*Dan Hartley, Pres. Oct. 2009 – Oct. 2011
*Ellen Handler, Pres. Oct. 2011 – Oct. 2013
David Hibberson, Helen Vukasin, Regina Tetens, Ron Whalin, Acting President Oct. 2013 – Oct. 2014
Ron Whalin, Pres. Oct 2014 –

* indicates deceased