June Sturz is a Bayonne institution. She lives in a house that—if you look closely—overlooks Newark Bay. You might get the idea—from the wall lined with shelves of books—that she was a teacher. And you would be right. Her varied career includes teaching stints in Bayonne.
Except June Sturz is much more than that.
In fact, if pressed, she will tell you that teaching was the last thing she wanted out of life. Had her parents had their way, she would have gone into medicine, something she pursued for a time, majoring in pre-med at Ohio State University. But she gave it up to pursue a career in writing and music.
In college, her courses sought to satisfy various interests in her life.
“In all four years I never got an A in science,” she says. “But I got excellent marks in English. My professor showered me with praise and said I ought to be a writer.”
After graduating from college, she moved back to Brooklyn where she was raised and enrolled in Columbia University, majoring in Contemporary American History from 1870.
All that jazz
March 2014 marked Sturz’s 30th anniversary writing the monthly column In Tune with June for the Bayonne Community News, although she wrote a column for a jazz magazine before that.
Her rich, music-filled life, in and out of Bayonne, has become fodder for the column, for which she is locally famous.
A small woman with a big grin, Sturz doesn’t look avant-garde, but she was cutting-edge back in the day.
“I used to go out to hear jazz all the time,” she says. “The magazine reporter who was supposed to cover one of these didn’t make it, so the magazine editor asked me to write something.”
Though this was a new experience, Sturz recalls that her editor “thought I could do just about anything. My husband was thrilled with me covering the jazz scene. He was a big fan since he was a kid. We always got a good table at all the clubs.”
Sturz’s column focuses on where she goes and what she sees in Bayonne or in the big city across the river, where she goes to clubs, movies, and the theater.
“My column reflects my life,” she says. “I’m told that I write the way I talk. Some people who read my column say they hear me talking.”
Over the years, Sturz has written about who she’s met, books she’s read, and films she’s liked. She doesn’t write the column just for people her age, but for everyone.
“I like to keep contemporary,” she says.
She talks often to her children and grandchildren, trying to get a sense of what they like and what is current. As a result, her column might well be spiced with reflections on musical legends from Billy Joel to Beyonce.
“I listen to my grandchildren and they bring me up to date,” Sturz says. “I have a wonderful family and a very good relationship with them.”
Music plays a huge part in Sturz’s life. She’s performed as a singer and pianist since she was a young girl.
Early musical influences
“I grew up with music,” she says. “I took piano lessons for a while.”
Her mother always had a piano in the house. Even when Sturz made plans to pursue a medical career, she played music.
At college, she performed in various clubs. When she married and lived in River Edge in Bergen County with her first husband, she sang and played the piano in a duet called The June and Judy Show. In 1991, she resumed her musical career when she joined the Bayonne Senior Orchestra, made up of accomplished musicians who also happen to be senior citizens.
She started out as a singer with the orchestra and filled in when the piano player needed to take a bathroom break. The piano player came back, heard her playing, and left—never to return. She describes herself as a jazz pianist, not one who plays note for note. “I don’t play the same thing twice the same way,” she says, “but it sounds okay.” When the orchestra leader became ill, she took his place as leader and is always recruiting new members.
Much of her musical taste comes from what she heard her mother playing as a child: songs from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s that have become standards in the American Song Book. It includes people like Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Duke Ellington. The songs feature strong melodies, well-thought-out lyrics, and sophisticated rhythms.
She loves Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, but she doesn’t limit herself. With the orchestra, she’s even played some Elvis Presley. She still plays regularly at two jazz clubs in New York City.
Medicine, music, teacher
Sturz’s parents were dentists.
“My father wanted me to be a doctor,” Sturz says. “My father was a dentist. He had gone to medical school while my mother covered his practice.”
She says, “I’ve always eaten healthy. I don’t have cake in my house. Sometimes I have a muffin. My parents also ate well, which is probably why they lived as long as they did.”
Her mother lived to age 89, her father to 94.
Adult classes that she later taught in Bayonne reflect her interest in health, such as “Healthy Bones” and “Sing and Dance for the Health of It.”
“The last thing I ever wanted to do was teach,” she says. “When I was young, all our teachers were old maids.”
Though she refused to be a stereotype of an old-maid teacher, she found a love of teaching later when she gave a lecture on health at Bayonne Hospital.
“I didn’t know what I was going to say, but once I started it just poured out,” she says.
Eventually, she became an English teacher.
Long and winding road
Sturz married her first husband in Brooklyn, moved to Jackson Heights, and finally to River Edge, where she raised a family. She has three children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild. She gets a picture of the child every day and keeps in touch with her family via the internet.
After her first husband died, Mel Sturz, a local insurance agent, proposed to her, and they moved to Bayonne. That was in 1982. Sadly, he died three years later, in 1985. Ironically, her latest romance is with “a boy” who proposed to her at the same time Mel Sturz did 32 years ago.
“Two men asked me to marry them in the same year,” she says. “I said yes to one.”
She reconnected with her current beau when his nephew disclosed to her that his uncle had become single.
Sturz is in her mid-80s now and still going strong. She doesn’t foresee giving up music, her Healthy Bones classes—or her column—any time soon. That melodic sound you hear? That’s her Bayonne fans heaving a collective sigh of relief.—BLP